Having confines set on you by other people is incredibly frustrating, especially when you and those close to you understand that you are completely capable of anything but hearing like everyone else. Anyone who has grown up deaf or hard-of-hearing understands exactly what I mean. It is also frustrating when, after years of learning to accept that it is okay to ask for help and accommodations, you are rejected.
When I was in middle school, my family requested CART (Communication Access Realtime Transcription) as an accommodation from the Poway Unified School District. While I was doing well in school, I would spend several hours outside of school studying and going over the class material to make sure I accessed anything I had not heard. I would use my FM system and ask clarifying questions, but I had no way of knowing if I missed something. It was exhausting. I had always used closed captioning on the television, and the idea of being able to read the dialogue of real life as in a show or book and being able to understand what everyone else heard sounded like such a relief. However, it quickly became clear that it would become something I would have to fight for. It was at that point that my family and I initiated a lawsuit against PUSD. They overlooked my disability and right to education—despite the Americans with Disabilities Act—and defined me by my test scores and grades. I have always done well in school because I wanted to learn and had a great support system. Not everyone is fortunate to have the family I do, and many children with disabilities struggle greatly in school. This is not something that administrators and people in power often understand.
After the next four years of time, energy, and aggravation –as I was taking honors and AP classes without any form of transcription– I’d had enough. I drafted a petition that raised over 1900 signatures from around the world with the support of various organizations and news outlets, and presented them at the School District Board meeting. I was terrified, but also invigorated. I stood before the very people who had made the decisions regarding my education my entire life so that I could tell them my story, and that they needed to change their system.
This was the first time I truly stood up for not only myself, but also for the kids who never learned how to fight for themselves.
I recall one IEP in particular. I stood in front of the “team”, and told them that I was going to succeed in life whether I had their help or not, but that it did not mean that I do not deserve equal education that they are suppose to provide. I said that many of them were not deaf, nor had children that were, and could never understand what having this disability is like. Therefore, I did, and still do, understand my needs and experiences in a perspective they never can. They put what I said in the IEP notes. While I hope the educators and administrators there really understood the frustration I had withheld for all those years, and why I was truly fighting, I have no way of knowing if I ever had their support, even without their courage to speak up.
The second semester of my final year of high school, I won an injunction at the 9th Circuit demanding that I receive CART while the District continued to appeal my rights. It was long overdue, but a relief while approaching my impending graduation. I did not fight for the semester of appropriate services I received, but for every year that every deaf student would spend in this district.
This outcome, deeming their actions a violation of the ADA by the Federal Court, has and will continue to make it very difficult for any school district to deny future requests for CART. They continued to appeal the case throughout all this, fighting as hard as they could to withhold education from disabled students for the sake of money. I wanted to be able to make sure that deaf students would not have to fight as I did for equal education, simply because I truly believe that this type of discrimination is wrong. To this day, the Poway Unified School District has yet to accept responsibility for their actions (or lack, thereof). I believe that there is no need to pursue a federal law as a result of my case, because I never should have had to sue them. We, as deaf and hard of hearing citizens, already have these rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, though they chose to disregard them.
I am now entering my second year at the University of Dayton, where I receive CART and other accommodations with ease. It will not always be a fight to be treated with respect and humanity, but it will also not always be easy.
My whole life I was told to be an advocate, but it was not until these past few years that I learned what advocacy really means and how necessary it is. Maybe advocacy is asking for caption glasses at the movie theater, asking a play if you could follow along with the script, or standing up for what you believe is right. Regardless, it is a skill that I intend to use when necessary for the rest of my life. As I often say to others, “my brain works, my ears don’t.”