By Mac Pomeroy
Recently, I messed up. In one of my classes, a professor announced something important regarding an assignment, and I didn’t hear them. I didn’t even realize what happened until the day before it was due.
This isn’t the first time my hearing has gotten me in trouble. Even with hearing aids, audio has never come naturally to me. Annunciation, accents, pace — there are so many aspects that catch me off guard. When I realized what happened, I approached my professor and prepared to do a lot of explaining in hopes of getting an extension.
What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was for my professor to immediately understand. Within the first few sentences, I was stopped and reassured it was okay. I was told my hearing isn’t my fault and granted the extension.
Maybe this small, everyday situation doesn’t seem surprising to most people, but it isn’t uncommon for people to respond negatively toward these mistakes.
When it comes to disabilities, too often do people claim to understand but not realize what having these issues really implies. While the physical issues do suck, the worst part is really the stigma that surrounds disabilities.
I was so grateful to have my professor truly listen to me and understand my issues, but just as easily could he have called me careless and said I should be trying harder to overcome my problems.
The idea that someone can simply overcome medical obstacles by sheer willpower alone is extremely misguided. Yes, there are usually steps that can be taken to help lift some of the difficulties, but that is for the individual to be concerned about.
Never make an assumption of what someone is physically capable of, or tell them they aren’t trying hard enough.
If someone has trouble with their legs, don’t tell them they haven’t tried to walk enough. If someone has a neurodivergent disorder, don’t tell them they haven’t tried to socialize enough. If someone has any sort of condition, don’t discredit the effort they put into their lives just because you feel they could be trying harder.
When my professor heard what happened, he could have said I should have tried harder, but he didn’t. He could have talked down to me and acted as though my condition meant that I was stupid, but he didn’t.
I was treated like a human, and forgiven for my mistake. It was clear that not a second thought was given, the interaction only took a few minutes.
Perhaps next time you encounter someone having trouble, or making a mistake, you can take a moment and think. What is happening, and how can you provide basic human decency and respect?