My invisible disability is an asset, not a deficit

Jul 20, 2020
Above (left to right): son Will, daughter Michaela, me, son Nolan

By Stacey McGovern, Patient Education Specialist II, Neuromodulation Division

At 24, I was an awarded teacher in the midst of completing a master’s degree and a nominee for the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s Teacher of the Year program. Without warning, my world began to fall silent. Before my 25th birthday, my medical charts read “idiopathic profound sensorineural hearing loss” (severe hearing loss). I was now a late-deafened adult.

I stumbled often without my hearing in a world that was foreign to me and worked tenaciously to follow what was being said with lip reading. I often felt the frustration of others as I asked people to repeat things, slow their speech, or write things down for me. “Never mind it’s not important,” became a typical response from people I encountered. When I explained that I was deaf, people often thought I was joking. I’d walk away when they were speaking because I hadn’t heard them, and at times, my deafness was misinterpreted for rudeness.

My doctors recommended a cochlear implant, but I was afraid, and I had never met anyone with one. Five years into silence, I became a cochlear implant recipient. I’ll never forget the day my device was activated as I’d once been told I’d never hear again. I remember hearing my footsteps as I walked out of the hospital that day; I’d forgotten footsteps had sound!

The doctors told me it would take time and effort to learn to hear via the implant. I worked with audiologists to build new programs for my external device and do all that they recommended to maximize my success on this new journey. Within a week of activation, I heard my children’s beautiful voices for the very first time. My oldest son, Will, was truly my hero in this. Only a preschooler then, he never left my side, helping as my brain learned to make sense of different sounds and practice word recognition with me for hours each day. He’d wake up every day and say, “Mommy, I’m going to help you practice hearing today.”

The world was full of sound and I was experiencing it again, even though I’d been told it was gone forever. Little things like listening to music, voices on the telephone and hearing at the drive through, “May I take your order?” brought me so much joy. I was soon asked to be a keynote speaker about overcoming adversity at many universities, schools and organizations, and began volunteering with cochlear implant candidates on their path to becoming recipients. As my first steppingstone, I returned to work part-time. I wanted to gain confidence with my “bionic hearing.”

When I returned to work full-time several years later though, I felt defeated. I realized the world saw me differently now that I was a deaf teacher with a cochlear implant. I learned to not talk about my cochlear implant or ask for even minor accommodations. My experiences told me I was not expected to share this part of myself in the workforce. After two years, I was determined to find my way to an organization that was inclusive and diverse.

I knew I still had much to offer and that my deafness and cochlear implant were an asset, not a deficit. Recognized as a leader in diversity and inclusion, Boston Scientific was at the top of my list. I longed to combine my love and excitement for life-changing medical technology and my expertise and passion for education. My search led me to a position as a Patient Education Specialist in the Neuromodulation division. It was my first interview, back in the workforce, where I openly spoke of being a deaf cochlear-implant recipient and received a positive reaction.

Becoming a Boston Scientific employee has been both rewarding and refreshing. Many of my teammates have been eager to learn more about my device and my experiences, and my managers have always offered to provide what I need to be my very best. Although, all I’ve requested is a headset that fits well over my external device, I know I can speak openly with my manager and make requests at any time.

Last fall, I attended the company’s Everyone Makes An Impact event in Marlborough, MA and I was overjoyed to see messages that reflected Boston Scientific’s culture of inclusion. I felt accepted, valued and appreciated. The speaking event, which was held in a large tent, was closed captioned—something I had never experienced. Listening situations in large venues can be challenging with my cochlear implant and I have to work hard to keep up with what is being said. But the message I heard that day was loud and clear: “What we have to say is important. You are important. We are captioning this event to make sure you have access to all of it.”

A few months into my job at Boston Scientific, I was talking with my teammate, Brian. He thoughtfully asked about my cochlear implant and my journey, and then offered a new perspective: I was in a unique position to relate to patients considering their own implanted medical technology. This was a first for me in my professional life; my differences were being celebrated.

Not only am I a recipient myself, my cochlear implant is based on similar technology used in Boston Scientific’s spinal cord stimulators—which the patients with whom I work are considering. This enables me to bring a unique experience to the Patient Education team. Boston Scientific has also asked me to provide advice on trainings to help employees learn more about invisible disabilities and continue fostering an inclusive culture. Their approach to listening, learning and educating others reinforces the company’s dedication to growth, diversity and inclusion.

My medical chart may say that I have a disability: ‘a late-deafened adult and a cochlear implant recipient.’ But, on my journey with Boston Scientific, I have had the opportunity to show the world just how abled I am. I am valued, accepted and my differences are celebrated. This is the meaning of true inclusion.

For the fifth consecutive year, Boston Scientific has been recognized as a “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion,” scoring 100% on the 2020 Disability Equality Index® (DEI). Additionally, Boston Scientific’s Chairman and CEO, Mike Mahoney, recently joined other top CEOs in signing Disability:IN’s letter urging Fortune 1000 companies to meet disability inclusion standards. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion for all extends to our inclusive policies, practices and programs, such as our LEAD employee resource group, which promotes the inclusion and celebration of people with any disability to be empowered to bring their “whole selves” to work.