Ever been to a gathering where you do not know anyone? The invitation comes via email, and you click “Yes, I will be there,” and you put it on your calendar. A few moments later, you realize you do not know a soul at this gathering. As the day of the gathering approaches, you begin to ponder whether you should even attend, but you relent. The opportunity to expand your network is simply overwhelming, so you reluctantly decide to attend.
The day of the event arrives, and you begin to dread the thought of attending. You spend time researching the event to calm your nerves and prepare yourself for whatever you may encounter at the gathering. Finally, you get to the event and look around: the people attending seem nice, the food is incredible, and the location of the event offers incomparable views of the city. As you move around the event, you try to identify approachable people. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice an individual standing off to the corner, and you decide to meet this person. The individual sees you coming and simply nods his or her head and moves to another part of the room. To prevent the feeling of awkwardness, you decide to head to the bathroom in an effort to not feel embarrassed.
Taking a chance
After a few minutes, you gather some courage to reenter the room to meet someone. Eventually, you encounter a number of other people who seem like they would rather be doing anything other than talk to you. Your misery continues to grow, and someone who seems to be one of the gathering’s hosts approaches you for conversation. This person is engaging and has the desire converse with you, which helps ease the misery you have been feeling. Eventually, however, the person asks, “What happened to you?” In the spirit of politeness, you respond with a quick answer and then gracefully make your exit.
The above scenario has been a part of my life for over 40 years. I have profound hearing loss, which requires that I use hearing aids. Whenever I go to a social event, I tend to dread going because of what usually happens when I go. People see my disability (the hearing aids) and not my ability, which means conversations may be difficult and awkward.
Unfortunately, the above scenario is also common for the disability community. For example, parents and caregivers have to research a location to gauge its accessibility for people with disabilities, who must deal with lack of engagement from others at an event. If our communities decided to welcome and include the disability community, the priority would not be my disability but getting to know me and my gifts.
Stephen Taylor, Founder SNs360