AniYa A.

What would you do if your L.I.F.E was in immense danger daily and you had to choose between living in a dangerous circumstance or live in the streets ALL while being deemed as a Disabled Woman??

My name is AniYa A. and I would like to share my story with you.

In 2016, I was homeless after developing many rare conditions and illnesses in S. FL in 2008!! I was diagnosed with a Pulmonary Embolism, Pitting Edema and Nephrotic Syndrome while in ICU after being misdiagnosed for months. After escaping S. Florida’s warm climate and slow paced lifestyle, I finally took my aunt’s advice to seek a second or third opinion from the NYC doctors!! I followed her advise and headed to Wall Street to get medical attention, the only problem was I had virtually no where to stay. After living in a hospital from three plus months in S. FL. the doctors diagnosed me as being Disabled! While in the ICU, every organ failed and there was nothing that doctors could do for me, they left me to die but right before they could pull the plugs, my eyes opened and it was a miracle because no doctor had ever witnessed anything like it before…

Although, it was nothing short of a miracle, I still had to be rehabilitated from head to toe, being taught how to walk, talk, breathe, eat again!! I battled with one problem after another from 2008 to 2015 when I had to put my foot down and get out of dodge!! I relocated to NYC upon my aunt passing away and felt as though she died so I could live. Within several weeks of getting back to the City I was born in, I started to feel better but experienced homelessness because I was living in very uncomfortable circumstances. I moved into a shelter, where I was transferred constantly from one location to another while following doctors orders and remaining brave through every step of the way.

While in the ICU, every organ failed...but right before they could pull the plugs, my eyes opened and it was a miracle because no doctor had ever witnessed anything like it before... AniYa A. Edutainer, Disabled

Was I depressed on several occasions?? Not really, but I did question God a whole lot.. I often wondered, how could this be my life?? I was a smart girl, graduated high school at sixteen years old, studied abroad in London, England, worked all my life and even helped others..

After receiving a voucher from DHS, I found an amazing apartment, so I thought!! I moved in but within days, there were strange knocks on my door, drug heads asking for me to sell them drugs.. I was baffled, I couldn’t believe my ears, I shortly thereafter got in touch with the local Councilman Ritchie Torres’ office as well as Fernando Cabrera, I reached out to them because I didn’t want to go to the police and get put out of my apartment for complaining!! Ritchie’s office reached out to DA Julie DeLeon and within a few weeks the harassment seemed to stop, then one day, I realized someone had broken into my apartment… I ran out and called the police from my neighbors apartment and waited for the police there.. When they walked through, they said that it was safe to re enter and if I had any other issues to call them!! Two weeks later a man tried to push his way into my home and thankfully my ex was there and he was able to block the mysterious mans entrance.. We both explained that I had no drugs and for him to leave immediately, also we both let him know that he could find drugs in the apartment above me, I only found out about the selling of drugs above me after several months of me living there!!

A week later, the same mystery man came back at 330am on April 11th demanding that I opened the door and if I didn’t he was going to kill me because he had the right apartment and he was going to shoot down the door either way.. I screamed, grabbed both of my cell phones and escaped on the fire escape where I called the police and waited for them to come get me from the second floor as the ladder for the fire escape was non operational!!

I gave up my apartment and have now become homeless all over again and just recently started to rent a room from someone. My heart breaks as I have to keep my stuff in storage and they have been there for over a year already!! Finding a new affordable place to live is the hardest thing ever and I am writing today to share my story because I hope my story gets seen by those who are also hard times.. As I still look for an apartment, I continue to fight!!

I have joined several agencies that are fighting to get more housing for the homeless but also we are working to ensure that elected officials like Mayor Bill de Blasio does not go back on his word and keeps his promises…

Although, I am Never giving up, I need the Mayor to do more and these local leaders too!!!

To those whom are facing hard times, keep your head up ~ NO Matter What ~ Never give up..

If you NEED a friend to listen to your story or NEED help navigating through the madness of trying to get help if you have already gone through a situation like this or similar – email Neighborhood Violence Survivor’s Alliance today at: nvsanyc@gmail.com

Click on this link to watch my story of going from Victim to Victorious:
http://4.nbcny.com/X3FRxn9

Jeanne Donnelly

My whole life my family told me that I always had questions about everything from the time I could speak. They would say my favorite question was “Why?”

I never realized how much the question why would be asked of me and how I would have to ask why to other people when I needed or wanted something.

The questions of why was often asked of my parents, as in “Why would you keep her and not put in her a facility?”

Some people that were religious asked “Do you think your daughter’s afflictions were caused by you and your husband’s sins?”

As I got older and started school most of my teachers, physical therapists and other educational specialists that worked with us would ask us what goal I had for the upcoming year? For the Pt department it was walk on crutches, for the OT departments it was independent living skills, dressing, feeding and personal care in the bathroom. In most cases I heard the same thing: that’s an unrealistic goal for you. Those words never went down easy.

Then I started to ask them why don’t you think I can do this? In most cases, teachers and professionals would give me what I call the “the politically correct answer,” like it would be on unsafe, we don’t want to hurt your feelings, but if we did it for you we have to do it everyone.
Most of the if I had a good therapist or a good teacher I would explain my point of view and most of time they would understand.
Those people that did not understand I would have worked ten times harder to prove them wrong.

Those people that did not understand I would have worked ten times harder to prove them wrong. Jeanne Donnelly Public Speaker, Self-Employed

This was especially true when I wanted to enter my public high school. People thought I was nuts. The question of why was on everybody’s lips. Why did I want to do this now? Why wasn’t I happy with Henry Viscardi [school]? Was I being Bullied? My mom questioned it  alot because we had a neighbor that had the personality of Mrs. Kravaets from Bewitched. She thought she knew something about everyone, but as it turns out, she did not know anything about anyone.

She would tell my mom how bad the kids were and there was racial tension and a lot of other stuff so my mom was nervous.

My dad was nervous too. Even though he never said it directly I kind of knew it anyway.

A few months before I left my private school my Dad was at my school every other week asking everyone on the staff what was wrong and what should he do to rectify the situation?

Truth be told there was nothing to fix. The real reason was because so many people told me that I would not be able to manage or deal with real life issues just yet. I knew that was not true because in my opinion the kids that went to Henry Viscardi dealt with real life with more dignity and respect then any group of people I know. When I was young we lost students who succumbed to their disabilities at an early age. I lost friends at fifteen or sixteen and watched kids get sick and weak, but saw them trudge though their life as best they can even though they know they their untimely death was drawing near. If that is not dealing with real life issues I don’t what is.

The big question I had for everyone that tried to dissuade me was, “How can we make this possible and what can I do to help you help me get through this process?”

Yes there were bad days that I questioned why things happened all throughout my life. I had really spectacular moments in my life that I would not trade for anything. I could ask the question why all day long about things that happened to me and my family and my friends. But the best way to move forward is to ask how can I make my situation better or how can I deal with the situation as it is?

At the end of the day it does not matter why things happen but how you deal with a situation once they happen. So think about how you define your “why” and then ask what you can do to make it possible.

Laura Mayer

I was diagnosed at the age of 15 with a progressive degenerative neurological disease. The disease is in my spinal cord (grey matter) and affects motoric functioning. I was told by the doctor I would lose a millimeter a month of muscle strength, be in a wheelchair at 25 and die of respiratory complications at 40. I did not heed to this death sentence.

I was given a gift when I applied to NYU. The interviewer, after hearing and seeing my hands, said I have a choice. I can make it an asset or a limitation. I made it an asset.

I graduated NYU with both a Bachelors’s and an Advanced Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy. I was a licensed OT in the field of adult psychiatry (Staff Therapist-Director) and sensory integration in the classroom. I underwent 15 reconstructive tendon transfers and bone fusions while working for 25 years. I never said no.

The most difficult part was the lack of emotional acknowledgment/encouragement I felt from my parents which is fundamental and oh so critical.

The interviewer, after hearing and seeing my hands, said I have a choice. I can make it an asset or a limitation. I made it an asset. Laura Mayer Integrative Therapist, Intuitive, Author, self-employed

Because of that, I always felt like damaged merchandise, even with my professional successes.

How did this disabling disease impact my career? It made me show up as I was, no matter what was happening to me physically or how I felt emotionally. Being an OT, which is all about helping others to function, was the perfect mirror. In saying that, I couldn’t hide. The greatest part of my own story–I believe it helps others not to hide. Becoming the professional I was, although difficult and exhausting at times, was the greatest thing I have ever done. It helped me to love and honor myself as the AbledDisabled adult that I was. I no longer practice in the field of OT because it’s too physically challenging.

Today, I use my expertise and awareness to assist others to become visible and love themselves for who they are–no matter what the ‘dis’ is. I am most grateful for that amazing man who said over 40 years ago, it was ‘my choice.’

Lucy Del Gaudio

I recently started a new position as a Program Manager with Prudential Pathways Prudential Advisors Onsite Program (PAO) – a series of financial wellness education on-site seminars — and it’s been incredibly rewarding. My primary role is to aid the PAO program in different locations.  I assist with scheduling, as well as marketing and managing the Prudential Pathway series and seminars offered to Prudential employees.

With my disability, sometimes, I feel like a rock star, confident and well spoken.  Other times, I am riddled by self-doubt and anxiety.  At my worst, depression can set in and I disconnect.  My PTSD was diagnosed late in life.  I joined the US Army after my father passed away.  My plan was to make the military a career, but after experiencing military sexual trauma, I made the decision to end my Active status after four years and become an Army reservist.  While I sought assistance from the VA, I didn’t feel that they had the proper tools to help me.  I eventually received help in other avenues and controlled my anxiety and depression with several medications.  Then, while in a previous role here at Prudential, I my trauma was triggered at work.  I was hospitalized and diagnosed with PTSD.  Afterwards, I totally felt like I had a “black cloud” over me. Without feeling I had the opportunity to explain my diagnosis, and how sometimes my interactions might seem off, work relationships became difficult.

It’s difficult to hide your feelings at times but knowing that I’m entering a positive work environment is a breath of fresh air. Lucy Del Gaudio Program Manager, PAO Prudential Pathways, Prudential Financial

I sought the assistance of Prudential Health and Wellness, and I was able to overcome and make my work life much better. I know that they are available for me.  I meet with my therapist on-site when she’s available and when something is triggered.  The mediation hotline is a blessing and the serenity rooms – which provide a place to rest, recoup or meditate in quiet — are wonderful.  Since April 2017, I have found a holistic, prescription free approach to manage my condition and I feel 100% supported by Prudential. I know firsthand that the right type and level of support, gives employees like me what we need to be more engaged and productive – both in and outside of the office.

Around the time I sought help from Health and Wellness, I began volunteering with the Women Veteran Subcommittee of the New Jersey SOSVETS Stakeholder Group. Over last 18 months, we’ve worked to create a day of recognition for Women Veterans in New Jersey.  On June 12, 2019, New Jersey state officials, military service members, veterans, Prudential employees and the press gathered at our Prudential office to watch Acting Governor Sheila Oliver sign New Jersey Joint Resolution No. 114 into law, establishing the day as Women Veterans Appreciation Day. Just one week later, a bipartisan resolution was passed in Washington, DC designating the date as a National Day of Recognition.

Since changing roles, my coworkers have fostered a truly wonderful work environment that is kind and compassionate. Coming out of my last experience, I have been very open with the Prudential Pathways team about my disability. I feel welcomed and empowered.  I am able come to work at Prudential as my full, authentic self, which is so important for me. It’s difficult to hide your feelings at times but knowing that I’m entering a positive work environment is a breath of fresh air.

Amy Warner

My disability was my secret for over 25 years as I climbed the corporate tech ladder. Looking back, it is something I wish I had not hidden for so long!

Amy Warner
Amy Warner

I was 19 when I started losing my hearing. I was studying to become an aerospace engineer with dreams of becoming an astronaut. Like many people with hearing loss, I was in denial. My roommates told me the TV was too loud, to turn down my music, and get my hearing checked. Instead, I isolated myself, spending time in my room with the door locked so no one would bother me.

I realized the severity of my deafness when I awoke suddenly to a fireman shaking me in the middle of the night. I had already lost hearing in one ear and hadn’t heard the alarms blaring throughout the building. This was a rude awakening – I had a hereditary disorder causing progressive deafness. Not only was I deaf in one ear, I would gradually lose hearing in my other ear.

This news was devastating. I worried if I would be able to graduate, lead a normal life, or even get a job. I was determined to persevere. I hid my hearing aids. I became so proficient at reading lips I was voted “best eye contact” in my engineering graduating class. To this day, my focused engagement and “eye contact” have become a major asset, helping me to build relationships.

Letting my team know about my disability – and the ways they have supported me – has been life changing Amy Warner VP and GM, IT Digital Business Solutions & Corp Dir. of Accessibility, Intel

Overcoming challenges in the workplace

Over 70% of disabilities are invisible. I was no exception. As the days and years progressed my hearing became worse. However, the extent of my hearing loss was hidden and often very confusing for people. Sometimes my lack of response could be interpreted as rude, or not engaged, or – one of my biggest fears – not capable.

Cube life was becoming increasingly difficult. For days with multiple calls, I would sit alone in a closed phone booth, exhausted from straining to hear conversations. I struggled in large open forums and town halls. I started to believe I may need to leave the workforce. I wasn’t sure I could continue to be successful as a leader at Intel.

Sharing my story

Throughout my career, I was determined to not let my disability define me, but it was always something I felt I had to hide. I worried people would think I am less capable Or it would limit my career advancement.

In 2018, I was asked to publicly share my story. I hesitated. Why would I want to tell more than 100,000 Intel employees (and then, the world) about my hearing loss? Then everyone would know my secret – I have a disability.

I finally decided to share, hoping it could impact others. What surprised me, was the overwhelming inspiration and empowerment I received in return. Once the news hit, my company, managers, and colleagues rallied behind me. They allowed me to work where and how I work best. Co-workers started reaching out to me for advice, some who struggled with hidden disabilities. Letting my team know about my disability – and the ways they have supported me – has been life changing, enabling me to more empowered, transparent, authentic, and fearless to be my best self.

Leading out loud with my disability

I am early in my journey of living and leading out loud with my disability. It took me a long time to figure out that my disability is a strength. Each day I became more innovative, more resilient, and more fearless, adapting daily to my environment.

I believe it is important to recognize the power and influence we as leaders can have, at work, in life and in the industry. I went from being hesitant to ask for accommodations to leading the way in driving accessibility pilots for new technologies and solutions to help shape a modern workplace where everyone can be productive and contribute.

As a leader, if I am hesitant to share my disability, what are others in the organization feeling? By sharing our stories, being fearless and being vulnerable, we can help lead the way in creating a psychologically safe culture where others are allowed to be their authentic selves. Ultimately, we can help change the conversation and break down social stigmas in our workplaces and in society.

I am proud to work for a company that encourages every Intel employee to be bold and fearlessly focused on going beyond what they thought possible. Intel believes in order to shape the future of technology, we must be representative of that future. As the new corporate director of accessibility, I am excited to lead our initiative to drive a sustained culture of accessibility, embracing technology to eliminate barriers, foster innovation and empower all people to reach their full potential.

Steven Fontaine

As an individual who identifies as blind I use a screen reader, which is software that interprets digital content on all my electronic devices. This software empowers me to successfully do the work that I do and with which I am so passionate. It has taken me some time to find the best fit for my skill set in a professional setting. While I am extremely tenacious when it comes to finding ways around digital barriers, I feel that no one should have to struggle when trying to access websites, mobile apps or everyday electronics that our society has come to rely on. This is where my passion for digital accessibility began.

Recognizing how much I could contribute in helping ensure technology is built to accommodate end-user needs across the spectrum of disabilities, the challenge became finding the organization that would embrace and recognize the value of my skill set. Hilton presented itself at just the right time.

I am thrilled to be working with this leading hospitality company that is committed not only to making their public-facing digital experiences accessible but is also dedicated to ensuring internal technology platforms are accessible to their workforce. Hence, my niche…I am a Senior Accessibility Analyst on Hilton’s Digital Accessibility team. I am assigned to the delivery team, which is building our new, custom call center application. I am a fully integrated and participating member in all agile ceremonies and work directly with all cross-functional roles on this team. My work on this team is critical, as Hilton employs call center agents who are blind and visually impaired. Making this custom Call Center application accessible will allow for career advancement of our agents who are blind and visually impaired, as well as enable Hilton to expand its hiring of people of all abilities, with minimal external accommodations necessary.

My lack of vision does not keep me from living as full and rich of a life as everyone else who I encounter daily. I may just approach things from a different angle. Steven Fontaine Senior Digital Accessiblity Analyst, Hilton

I enjoy working with a dynamic software development team daily to help them understand digital accessibility considerations on all levels of the development lifecycle. I bring a firsthand account to why inclusive design is important so that people of all abilities will be able to not only work but thrive here at Hilton. Although I am only impacted by lack of vision, when it comes to digital content, I think about all aspects of making content accessible for all. I don’t want anyone to be left out.

I have the good fortune to travel across the country to our different Hilton offices for meetings and enjoy spreading the word about what I do at Hilton. People who I encounter express how impressed they are with the direction that the company is going. I also love traveling during my personal time, and my incredibly goofy, smart, and all-around loveable guide dog Robert makes sure I arrive safely wherever I am going whether for business or pleasure.

My lack of vision does not keep me from living as full and rich of a life as everyone else who I encounter daily. I may just approach things from a different angle. I think of that as a major asset when it comes to voicing a different perspective and I hope this will continue to increase the diversity of hiring on a corporate level. I do not feel that I am treated any differently than anyone else on my team, but I do think that it takes everyone who I encounter some time to find the best way for us to work together, and I try to allow everyone to come to that realization in their own time. I have found that sometimes people in larger organizations may not have had the opportunity to engage with someone of my abilities and I always try to educate as gently as possible. It is extremely rewarding to be part of this organization that is helping change the landscape of disability employment.

Carolyn Cannistraro

On a bright sunny spring morning, I woke up and the left side of my body went numb. Then, I lost the vision in my left eye and my ability to write. I felt terrified. But I pushed past it. I could outrun this, I thought. Then, slowly, my symptoms got worse, and I was left no choice but to acknowledge to myself that my body was betraying me.

Seven months later, on a bitter cold December evening, I received a phone call from my neurologist. He brusquely stated that I had multiple sclerosis and hung up. As I stood there, 23 years old in shock and disbelief, I thought that my life was over. However, being the driven person that I am, I knew the show had to go on.

But I made a decision to keep my diagnosis to myself forever. I didn’t want to burden anyone with my fears, and I feared that friends, colleagues, and people in the community would treat me differently. As an employee at a global financial institution, I’ve kept my diagnosis to myself for 12 years—until now.

That ever present question of ‘Why me’ suddenly turned into why NOT me? Wow, that was a powerful thought: why not me? I understood that as I addressed my diagnosis, I had not just a challenge, but also an obligation with my life. Carolyn Cannistraro Assistant VP, Banker , Global Financial Institution

That ever present question of ‘Why me’ suddenly turned into why NOT me? Wow, that was a powerful thought: why not me? I understood that as I addressed my diagnosis, I had not just a challenge, but also an obligation with my life.

I realized that  I could be of service to others, if I bravely shared my story and inspired people to keep on fighting. I knew, though, that the first step was to come clean with myself. I needed to give up blaming myself and feeling ashamed of myself. I needed to stop feeling embarrassed and inferior about having multiple sclerosis. As human beings, we often judge each other by first impressions, and as a result we sometimes miss a lot. By hiding my diagnosis, I was perpetuating many of the myths about people with disabilities. I hope that, by sharing my story, I can help combat them instead.

Carolyn participating in a ballroom dancing competition

Since my diagnosis, I have achieved success in the business world and won professional awards. Currently, I work for a world-renowned financial institution helping clients make their financial dreams come true. In my spare time, I have volunteered mentoring young women and have been a guest speaker on a weekly business radio talk show. During the holiday season, I sang with The New Chorale Society and at Carnegie Hall with Mid-America Productions (I’m a classically trained mezzo-soprano singer). Professionally, to challenge myself even further, I sat for the licensing examinations for the financial services industry and was recruited by a top wall street firm. In addition, I became a certified EMT, established a newsletter, write poetry, have pursued my dream as a ballroom dancer, and recently participated in my first New York Road Runners Race in Central Park, completing the one mile walk in personal record time.

Today, I live joyously, industriously, and vigorously. I wish to be an example through grace, dignity, and equanimity. I arm myself with courage and self-possession. I invite all people, but especially those with disabilities, to embrace the hand we’ve been dealt and to play that hand unapologetically! To refrain from being defined by our circumstances, and create from them a life that inspires. Be unafraid. Be who you are.

Barry Bannister

I incurred a C4/5 Spinal Chord Injury at 18 years old in October 1979. Still, I graduated from high school in 1980 and from the University of Washington with a Bachelors of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1987, joining Boeing Commercial Airplanes in 1988.

Head shot of Barry wearing a bluetooth headset
Head shot of Barry wearing a bluetooth headset

I started with Boeing in a pre-ADA world, and saw a company that was very willing to accommodate and help a young disabled engineer find a good place to begin a career. My 31 year journey with the company has not all been perfect or easy, but whose career is, regardless of physical ability. Overall, the company has shown a good degree of helping those who are willing to try and work and should be complimented.

It’s been a privilege to work with some of the best minds in the world with some of the best intentions to improve the world. Additionally, I have been blessed with a lot of help along the way: God, family, friends, peers and company.

Bethany Foor

I decided at a young age that I have a choice – I can be a victim and feel sorry for myself or I can find the courage to persevere in the face of adversity and succeed. Thankfully, I chose the latter.

A doctor told me at a young age that I would likely never graduate from high school due to my severe hearing loss and being so far behind with my speech and language development. I found the courage to work hard in school and be active in sports and other activities despite wearing hearing aids and living with a 70% hearing loss.

Bethany with Tony the Tiger

When I was a teen, another doctor told me my hearing loss was actually from having Usher syndrome – which is the leading cause of deaf-blindness. Now I had to find the courage to deal with the news that not only did I have a hearing loss, but I was going to start losing my vision and go blind. I continued to be active and work hard in school, and I proved the first doctor wrong – not only did I graduate from high school, I graduated with honors.

By the time I was college age, I started losing my night vision and my peripheral vision. I decided to go away to college 300 miles from home. I earned my bachelor’s degree and graduated with honors. Even though I had a severe hearing loss and was beginning to lose my vision, I found the courage to begin a professional career. I spent time working in both the health care industry and the pharmaceutical industry.

Almost 20 years after earning my bachelor’s degree, I decided to pursue my MBA degree. My graduate degree was a lot more challenging than my undergraduate degree due to the progression of my eye disease and my limited field of vision, but I was still able to achieve my goal and excel in all of my classes.

I decided at a young age that I have a choice – I can be a victim and feel sorry for myself or I can find the courage to persevere in the face of adversity and succeed. Thankfully, I chose the latter. Bethany Foor Writer Coordinator, Corporate Affairs, Kellogg's

After earning my MBA degree, I accepted a position with Kellogg in the Corporate Affairs department. When I was working on my MBA degree, I found the courage to ask someone who is successful despite facing similar challenges to mentor me. He encouraged me to consider Kellogg as he knew the company was committed to diversity and inclusion and fostered a supportive, encouraging environment.

I was nervous starting a new career, especially since my vision loss had progressed significantly in the past few years. I am thankful to have a mentor that encouraged me and I am thankful I found the courage to apply for a position with Kellogg. As someone who has a disability, I can firmly say that Kellogg lives its mission of being committed to diversity and inclusion.

While Kellogg fosters a supportive, encouraging environment, it still takes courage for me to make sure I am successful in my career. I need courage to speak up and ask for reasonable accommodations to do my job. I need courage to educate others on my disabilities and let them know how they can help me by simply speaking a little louder or enlarging their presentation so I can see it better. I also have to ask for assistance navigating through unfamiliar areas. I have found that everyone at Kellogg is always supportive and more than willing to accommodate my requests.

Even though I face daily challenges, I have so much to be grateful for. We often face difficulties we cannot control, but we can control our attitude and our determination to be courageous in order to address challenges and face adversity.

Bethany Foor with her family upon graduating with her Masters of Business Administration Degree

Cassie Liverance

Cassie poses at a L'Oreal facility

It was October 2016 when I left an important management meeting for the first time in front of my new senior management.  During the meeting, I had asked them to repeat themselves three times on six different occasions.  I remember thinking to myself, “They must think I’m an idiot!”  I replayed the scenario over and over in my mind hearing unspoken comments: “What is she, dumb?” “Is she trying not to answer the question?” “Does she not know her business?”  Of course, no one said any of that, but I was sure that’s what they were thinking.

The more I thought about it, the more I worked myself up into a panic, and realized I needed to find a solution.  I had been struggling with my hearing for over ten years.  For the last eight, I had worn a hearing aid and ignored the fact that my hearing was getting worse.  Although I had become quite skilled at reading lips and making a concerted effort to listen to what was being said, I realized I was guessing more and more at what I thought I heard.  This meeting was pivotal for me and even though no one may have noticed, I was embarrassed for the first time.

Not long after that, a video campaign called “Breaking the Silence” that described the benefits of disclosure was broadcast on the L’Oréal Internal Portal and Screensaver.  This campaign resonated with me, and I decided that I would “check the box” acknowledging I had a disability—even though before that day I had not ever considered hearing loss a disability.

When my youngest child saw my new hearing device he was very inquisitive and wanted to “try out” how much I could hear.  He ran into another room and whispered something, then shouted “Mom, what did I say?”  I told him that he had said “I love you mom” and he burst into tears Cassie Liverance VP Physical Distribution, Operations Americas, L'Oréal USA

One of the outcomes of my disclosure was that the Company, which has supported me in many ways, changed its medical benefits to cover the hearing needs of employees.  Before I spoke up, hearing aids were not a part of our benefits package (reimbursable or covered).  The devices can be very costly; I personally changed hearing aids 3 different times in eight years, with the costs increasing each time.  In 2018, after I spoke up, I was excited to “hear” the company had adjusted the medical benefits to include hearing aids and devices.

As VP of Distribution, I lead a team of 500 people to deliver $3.2 billion in goods across 10 consumer goods categories and 4 divisions. Being able to communicate effectively with my team is essential. But L’Oréal’s support has also been invaluable outside of work. When my youngest child saw my new hearing device he was very inquisitive and wanted to “try out” how much I could hear.  He ran into another room and whispered something, then shouted “Mom, what did I say?”  I told him that he had said “I love you mom” and he burst into tears – and at that moment I knew how much L’Oréal’s had provided for me.  All because I felt empowered to speak up about my disability.

How else has my disclosure helped?  I no longer feel embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves.  I don’t hesitate to take a seat in meetings where I can hear better so that I can participate without guessing.  And I feel empowered to ask people to walk on my left so that we can walk and talk as we go to lunch. I feel free.