He didn’t always have an awareness of it or a word for it, but Christopher Lunsford, MD, was affected by ableism throughout his life. It affected how he coped with the challenges that came with being hard of hearing since birth and having a speech impediment. It wasn’t always easy to make his way in a world that focuses mostly on the experiences of people who can hear and speak clearly.
Going on rounds during medical school proved especially difficult. The noisy nature of hospitals with multiple people speaking at once — sometimes in masks — made it extremely hard for Lunsford to know what his attending physicians, patients, and classmates were saying. He said he found himself working twice as hard just to keep up. He did ask for and receive accommodations, but it was a cumbersome process, and ultimately, the accommodations were not helpful. He simply chose to “grin and bear” it.
Now he realizes the pressure to minimize his issues was due to ableism. He also has come to understand that not only is it okay to ask for accommodation, but it’s also important to look at changing systems that lead to inequitable learning environments and patient care settings.
“Rounds is possibly the worst possible way for a person who is hard of hearing to learn,” said Lunsford, an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery as well as the Department of Pediatrics. “The number one ‘coping skill’ that I was given was to minimize the challenge and to make it go away just by ignoring the negative impacts of it. I did not even process it as a systematic failure. At the time, I thought I should have never complained in the first place: ‘I'll be fine, I'll figure it out.’ I now process it differently in the hope that it helps make me a better advocate.”
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