My long hair was somewhat of a shield when I was a girl — an effective way to hide my multicolored hearing aids from classmates with lingering questions and bullying tendencies.
I’ve worn hearing aids since I was 3-years-old. Being hard of hearing caused delays in my mental and physical development, which made going to school an everyday struggle.
My peers didn’t see me as “normal,” and that’s all I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be seen as the girl who was “different” because she wore hearing aids.
I was raised to always believe in myself. Yet all of my life, people lowered their expectations for my impact on the world. I’ve realized that it’s okay for people to expect less of me, as long as I demand more of myself.
Now, as a 19-year-old college student, I still wear my hearing aids. I’m just not hiding them anymore.
I started the honors program at Pace University in the fall of 2017. I knew that I wanted to be involved in Jewish life on campus, so I became involved with Hillels of Westchester. It was there that I gained a sense of Jewish pride and the courage to confidently express my Jewish identity.
My involvement also taught me that my hearing loss isn’t a loss, but rather a gain.
I realized that my experience could help me connect to other Jewish students with disabilities and work toward making them feel more included in Jewish life. I had the ability to listen to their concerns, and I had the passion to do something about them. With a newfound pride in myself and my abilities comes a responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities are welcomed and supported in Jewish life on campus.
That’s why I chose to become one of the 28 Ruderman Inclusion Ambassadors on campuses across the United States. Supported by the Ruderman Family Foundation, we work to create and implement programs that support the inclusion of students with disabilities in campus Jewish life.
I’ve connected with a wide range of students, brainstorming ways to make Pace University a more inclusive campus. That led me to connect with the Office of Disability Services on campus to begin laying the groundwork for a dating workshop for students with disabilities.
And I will continue to advocate for students with disabilities by listening to their hopes and expectations as well as encourage students from all walks of life to share their ideas for disability inclusion.
It took me a long time to be proud of who I am: A woman who is Jewish, a woman who has hearing loss and a woman who is different. I am now proud to say that I am proud to be me.
This story "How My Hearing Loss Inspired Me To Help Others" was written by Daniella Harris.