So, I’ve been born a deaf person. I’ve had hearing tests and trips to the audiologists many times over but I’ve never really bothered to remember the exact specifics of my hearing loss level. Last Friday, I went to Gallaudet University’s audiologist to check my hearing once again. It was when it really hit me that my hearing loss is more than 110 decibels in both ears.
Why didn’t this information really stick in my mind for all of my life?
It’s because I’ve been raised in a comfortable world via visual bilingualism (American Sign Language and English), an open and friendly community, and learned to adapt to the hearing majority – it was so natural to me that being deaf is anything but abnormal. However, through this summer internship American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) has taught me to really KNOW who I am not only as a Deaf person but also as a professional with disabilities.
Through AAPD, I have a new philosophical and professional perspective on my deaf identity. It is my ambition to work in government. I am interested in policy and law. American Association of People with Disabilities could not have been a better place for me to start my professional experience because every experience is tailored to be uniquely accessible to people with disabilities.
Philosophical: I find myself being immensely proud to be part of such a powerful, talented, creative, and inspiring greater community beyond the deaf community. Though being deaf is cultural to me, I’ve always understood the word “disability” in legal terms. From learning about AAPD's history and disability advocacy during the Orientation, I can say that my previous perspective and understanding of "disability" has really been thrown out of the window. The philosophical journey I’ve so far been on has been both eye-opening and heart-opening.
Professional: Through AAPD’s resources, I have learned many important things such as advice on how to meet and network and make good impressions upon professionals in my field. I really enjoyed meeting other people with various different disabilities who work in government and technology. The spirit I felt during the Orienting was all about being creative, joining arms, and encouraging one another to succeed professionally.
My work experience began this week at House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office at Longworth Building. From the very first day, I could understand that this opportunity is going to teach me a lot about the Congress "from the inside." Over the course of the week, I have learned about how the office works in conjunction with the district and the Congress. Knowledge is a valuable thing and I feel like my internship experience this summer will enable me to improve my skills, add new skills, and become a better advocate for the Deaf AND the Disabled. With each passing day, I have also gotten a greater understanding in how I am assisting Leader Hoyer and his office in their objectives.
My placement in Leader Hoyer’s office enables me to be physically present and visible to my co-interns and supervisors for five days a week as a Deaf intern. This will not only be a learning experience for me regarding working in a “majority” environment (meaning: hearing, spoken-language environment) but also a learning experience for everybody I come into contact with on the Hill. In the end, this internship serves a double purpose and brings about double benefits.
I'd like to mention also that Leader Hoyer is a great friend to the disabled. As a Congressman, he forged a positive and successful relationship with the famous Disability Civil Rights advocate Justin Dart. Leader Hoyer was one of the critical influences in getting the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990. He has always remained very supportive of people with disabilities. My presence in his office is a testatment to Leader Hoyer's faith and support in our ABILITIES as hardworking and contributing American citizens.
I truly do look forward to what more this summer has to bring me!!
- Leah Katz-Hernandez