The government may be too big for some people, I grant that. However, the government has never paid for my hearing aids. I've gotten through my inability to hear most things because of the communities in which I've lived. When my twin brother and I were born three months premature, the church at which my father served as an assistant pastor had such a generous congregation, they took it upon themselves to raise funds dedicated to any and all medical difficulties my brother and I might endure in our lives. This has been lucky for me, as hearing aids cost about two thousand dollars, and I've needed to dip into that fund more than once in order to obtain the technology necessary to making it through day-to-day schooling, and later, to surviving in today's difficult job market. I've always been extremely touched by this congregation's continuing gift, and I try really hard not to lose sight of the fact that many people out there have been looking out for me all my days, that I need to return the favor by leading a purposeful life.
Two helpful examples of purposeful lives arrived in the form of my childhood itinerant teachers for the hearing-impaired (likely now they'd be called itinerant teachers for the hard of hearing; either way, that title is a mouthful). Both women helped me throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school. They made sure my teachers understood my special needs, and they made sure I knew how and when to speak up about what I needed. They also made sure I understood exactly what my hearing loss was, so I could explain it to the curious. One counselor even made sure I got an early start on advocating for disabled rights by spearheading my 1990's letter-writing campaign to Dick Durbin and President Bill Clinton, in which I demanded to know (in a cute eight year-old way) why hearing aids weren't covered in the legendary health care package they didn't end up pushing through Congress. I would be nowhere without these ladies, and I thank them virtually now, and every day in my head as I encounter difficulties in my hearing and find ways to overcome my problems.
Another big help throughout my life has been my parents, for all the amazing and obvious reasons. They worked with all my schools, and with me, sometimes staying up till all hours with me as I cried over homework (I also have ADD, natch). They likewise stood up for me when teachers misunderstood my problems coping, when people who led my classrooms accused me of stupidity and laziness. My brothers also provided support throughout my life, never making me feel different just because I had to work at a different speed. My whole family actually supported my identification as a hearing-impaired woman (though I was mainstream-schooled); they never questioned the specialness I afforded to such a dsability-centered world view, and they helped me explore my developing confidence through the superhero comics I cobbled together as a kid (all revolved around the wacky adventures of my alter ego, Hearing Aid Girl, and if you ever want a peek at that stuff, you're in for ridiculousness galore, and plenty of self-consciousness from me).
I point all this out not to toot my own horn, or wallow in my personal trials and triumphs. I bring all this up because I know, without a doubt, that I would not have become the person I am today if I had not encountered so many helping hands along the way. Some came from local forces, such as the school district. Some came from my family. Some came from my church community. And thanks to the ADA, I have been promised that I will not be overlooked for work, or discriminated against at work, because of my disability, because of this thing that's made me the hardworking, inventive, occasionally humbled person that I am. Why would America stand up and say, "We will not afford others the same opportunity," WHY? There is no sense in it, and it makes me sad that my largest community, the American one, now holds the black eye of a Congress that refuses to help others based solely on what-ifs and maybes. We cannot pull inward; if we don't reach outward, it's certain we'll leave someone behind. And that someone will have a perspective worth sharing with the world, I guarantee it. So thanks to my family, friends, church, and schools -- for seeing in me someone who's worth having along for the American experiment. I will try to bring purpose to it with all the days I have. I only wish I believed that our politicians would do the same.