last days events, made me rethink of this story.
I am not the hero of the story.
I was in my early 20s, working part time on the tech lab of my uni. In this lab I met another student, I will call him Bob instead of his real name. I was just a couple months away to get my degree. He was ten years older than me, still trying to go through the studies to get his. We met and for the next couple of weeks, worked together, both part time in this lab. Bob was deaf. He could speak but due to the fact that he could not hear his voice, the words he made were not very clear. He was struggling with the courses. Bob was able to read lips but you had to speak directly to him and not very fast.
The majority of our courses had custom textbook and they were difficult. Dual courses, theory and lab was not always on the same subject. Theory was about compilers, lab was about pascal (just to get an idea). It was a difficult time for me. Back then (end of ’90s - begging of ’00s) the internet was not the place it is today. To solve a problem, you had to find the reference manual, read it through, understand it and learn from this process. Nowadays most of us are using search engines to copy/paste commands of software solutions. It wasn’t like that back then.
Bob was a good worker. But it was very difficult for him. He could pass some of the labs but he had problems with the theory courses. Ten years of his life in uni. I tried to help him with some of the courses. I was happy I was able to help, he was happy to find someone to help him. But I could not do much. To explain something back then it was not very easy for me. Also I had to slow my speech, find simple words and somehow translate some of the terminology to something that Bob could understand. I wasn’t the best person to do that and he knew it. I don’t know if I ever managed to actually helped him.
One time, I asked him:
- Why are you not attending the theory courses?
- I can read lips, but it is very difficult to understand if the professor is not speaking directly to me. Also when they turn their back to write something on the board, I can not see their lips. I spent more time guessing what they are trying to explain that the assumption I make is usually wrong. So I can not participate in those classes. I have to read alone from the textbook, buy additional material, search the internet and find someone to help me. We have so many courses that it takes two,three or even more times for me to pass a course. I am trying, but on my own time.
I had never understood the privilege I had, till that moment.
This was a true lesson for me. It was hard, It was difficult. I was in all theory classes, I was active, engaged, worked with other students together, asked gazillion questions and it was still difficult for me. You know what? It was 10times harder for people with a disability ! But I never, ever had any idea, I was looking everything from my perspective and this is not how you build a community or a society. You need empathy and understanding.
He also had some bitterness, it was not fair to him. Understandable but he also was angry with the system. With the systematic exclusion. He had a bad mouth for their peer students and our teachers. He had enough. Some times he wanted to break everything in the lab, instead of fixing it. From time to time, he was depressed, angry but a few times he was also happy. When he worked in the lab, he put his soul in his work but the majority of people didn’t expect much of him and he -sometimes- he would not even try much. This was his life. People saw him as a person with a disability, and treat him like that. He was also proud. Reaching a goal, passing a course, achieving something, overcoming his disability against all odds.
One day, I gather my entire courage to ask him, point blank a very stupid question:
- Why are you still here? Ten years of your life to get a degree? With no help from anyone? I do not think I could do it.
I will never forget his answer. Till this day, I am still thinking about what he said to me.
- When I use the computer, the person on the other side, does not know that I am deaf. They do not judge me by my disability, they actually don’t care at all. They speak to me, as if I am a person.
Lost every word and almost broke into tears.