Diversity and Difference
Office of Multicultural Affairs Recognizes Disabilities Awareness Month
A conversation with Judi Pasino, MDiv, MA 4th Year Clinical Psychology Student…
If it is not to invasive of a question, may I ask what your disability or disabilities are?
Officially, my primary disability is hearing impairment. However, I also have a collagen deficiency called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that causes my joints to be hyper-mobile, or "lax." This means that it's very easy for me to injure or overtax my joints.
How have these disabilities changed your life?
They have become more of a factor as I have grown older, especially in the last two or three years. The main issue has been the need to find accommodation to be able to participate in whatever it is I am doing. Most often, that means figuring out my own accommodations, and that can take some creativity. In the past few years, I have spent approximately $8000 buying different items intended to augment my hearing impairment (including a pair of hearing aids, which are not covered by insurance), and my physical comfort.
Hearing impairment is particularly difficult because it asks a lot of other people. Think for a moment about your reaction when someone cannot see something, and compare it to your reaction when someone needs you to speak more loudly. In that situation, you are being asked to change something that is pretty central to who you are, i.e., how you speak. That's an inconvenience! More often than not, it is left to the person with the hearing impairment to either exhaust themselves trying to hear, or give up. It just becomes too much work. Hearing impairment that is, not or cannot, be accommodated is extremely isolating.
From a clinical perspective, does having a disability influence your clinical lens when treating patients?
It is definitely an empathy builder. Just about everyone has a "difference" with which they must contend, some visible, many not. Because mine has had a substantial impact on my daily life, I am pretty aware when I encounter someone else who has obvious challenges.
What advice would you offer to those working with those who possess a disability or disabilities?
As with many other situations, please don't assume that you know what the person needs. The person with the disability is often in the difficult position of having to make their needs known, while possibly feeling self-conscious about that need, or even ashamed. It can be very painful.
Be aware that families vary widely in how adaptively or maladaptively they accommodate to a family member's disability. If the family has not been affirming or supportive, that can add to the individual's burden. On the other hand, the individual's disability may have been, to some degree, a burden for the family as well.
Be aware that our national population is aging, which is often accompanied by hearing impairment - among other challenges. It is one thing when an individual has grown up with a hearing impairment, or has had it for a long time, but it can be devastating when the hearing impairment develops with age.
With respect in particular to hearing impairment, understand that no hearing aid (or personal listening device, as they've been renamed) can completely restore hearing. Glasses can give us 20-20 vision, but hearing aids can only amplify the affected frequencies, and only within some relatively narrow limits. Even with a hearing aid, a person with a hearing disability still has compromised hearing.
What message do you want to send to the student body?
Pay attention to what I have said above, and take it to heart. In particular, if you are interacting with someone whom you know has a disability, please be conscientious about checking in with them first to see if or how you can accommodate them, and then check in to make sure the accommodation is helpful.
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