A Reflection on Disability Allyship and Progress

The following blog was written by ProMedica employee Ayla Beaussejour in honor of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was celebrated this year on July 26. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely the opinions of the author.

As the second child of five siblings, most of my early memories revolve around my experiences in a large family. One of the realities that defined our family early on was the fact that I have a sister and brother with profound bilateral hearing loss. After pushing the pediatrician for further testing when she was not speaking at almost 2 years old, my sister was found to have profound hearing loss. My brother was born not long after, and because of my sister’s diagnosis, he was tested at birth and also found to have very little natural hearing. He had hearing aids by the time he was 12 weeks old!

Now as adults, they both have a cochlear implant on one side and use a hearing aid on the other. One of the first questions asked when someone hears I have deaf siblings is if I know sign language (I do not). The decision made by my parents was to pursue the “Auditory Verbal Therapy” route, which meant amplification with technology, and a heavy focus on speech and listening skills. My earliest memory is sitting with my older sister in ProMedica Flower Hospital’s audiology waiting room while my mom and siblings attended speech therapy or saw the audiologist.

Reflecting on these growing-up years, I am more and more aware of the broad impact that witnessing my parents advocate for their children had on the development of what I stand for in life. I am comfortable stepping into the gap, speaking up for the voice that has been forgotten or silenced, and will always interrupt ableism when confronted with it. I have always been an ally to my siblings because they were family, but now I am proud to be an ally for the broader disability community.

Several years ago, my sister was denied accommodations to serve jury duty. Most people do all they can to AVOID jury duty, but when she received the summons she wanted to serve. So she notified the county of her disability and requested a live captionist (someone to type out spoken words in real-time) so she could participate without fear of missing information. She advocated for weeks to be allowed to serve, and the only response she ever received was a release of duty to show up for jury selection. She was crushed to be excluded, and for me, it is situations like this that display how far we still need to go to accomplish more equitable experiences.

This year for the 32nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, I am celebrating our progress, and challenging myself and those around me to increase our awareness of how to create more inclusive and equitable spaces. Do you need to add closed captioning to your meetings? Do you need to choose a teambuilding activity that does not prioritize the able body? Do you need to confront a coworker who regularly makes a joke of mocking those with developmental disabilities?

I believe that the heart of great allyship is empathy, and empathy means we are able to bring ourselves to a place where we can amplify someone else’s experience to the place that it is as valuable and important as our own. Individual experience does not translate into universal understanding, but as I have grown in my allyship, I have learned that tapping into my personal history is where I have the best chance to be authentically empathetic. It is a high effort and high reward process. As we reflect and understand the impact of our individual experiences, we can then receive the gift of better understanding of different perspectives in return.

(Pictured L-R: Selia, Ayla, Cail, Varalyn, Trelesa, Leisha, Rich)