Accessibility Assumptions

Annie holidng Ghanian child
Annie Keenon, who is hard of hearing, writes about her preparations for an internship in Accra, Ghana and the reactions of her friends, family, and program directors.

For six weeks this summer, I’ll be interning at a media organization in Accra, Ghana. By night I will share a house with fourteen fellow students from the University of Oregon. By day I will likely travel solo to and from work in a densely populated African city. This will also be my first time traveling internationally by myself. Eek!

As I navigated my way through piles of paperwork and broke the news to my family, I was rather amused at others’ reactions to my summer internship.

Most people find it difficult to believe I’m going to Africa, since this presents its own set of challenges, but then there’s this small detail: I’m hard-of-hearing.

“But will you be able to hear cars in the street?” the program director asks. “Oh, honey, what if your hearing aids break down and then you’re all deaf and alone in some African country?” says my mother. “You need to really think about how you’re going to handle phones. And malaria,” my father says.

I don’t mean to paint anyone as unsupportive – my family and the program directors are all standing by me wholeheartedly in this and will do what it takes to make sure my internship is a success.

However, I still find it amusing that they tend to operate on two assumptions: one, that I’m not already thinking about this on my own, and two, that the challenges I’ll be facing because of my hearing loss are somehow radically different from what I face on a day-to-day basis in the United States.

For example, in Ghana, the biggest hearing-related challenges will include figuring out what people are saying, using a cell phone to communicate with others, making sure there’s a fire alarm with a strobe, and access to audiologists and/or hearing aid batteries. But guess what – I have all of those problems here at home, too!

Just as I’ve developed tactics to handle things in the United States, I know I’ll develop strategies to handle things in Ghana, even if some of the solutions might be a little more creative.

And that’s the crux of the matter: If I’m going to explore and discover and play in this big old world of ours, I won’t let the fact that I’m hard-of-hearing stop me!

The accessibility challenges I face here are going to be the same no matter where I go, but the opportunity to be immersed in different worlds won’t happen if I stay at home.

Annie went on to do more international experiences and work for a Washington, DC based international development organization.


Annie Keenon