My name is Gracie Phillips.

I came to Hanover College from a small town called Danville, which is about 45 minutes west of Indianapolis. I am a senior and I am double-majoring in English and communication and double minoring in business and creative writing.

I am a Crowe Scholar and I've been on the Dean's List six times. I am also a writer. Through the assistance and mentorship of professors Saul Lemerond and Kay Stokes, my creative writing has been professionally published 10 times and I've been nominated for or won a handful of awards for my writing.

I am a member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority (ADPi). I work at the Gladish Learning Center as a lead tutor and a student success mentor. As the editor-in-chief/president of Kennings Literary Journal and The Triangle (Hanover's student newspaper), I have personally developed and managed their websites and social media accounts. In the past, I have served as president of the hall council for my resident halls and I have served as the vice president of standards and risks for the Panhellenic Council.

As a part of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, I am sharing my story.

Gracie Phillips

I was born with a disability called Goldenhar Syndrome, which is part of the Oculo-Auriculo-Vertebral Spectrum. This is a type of craniofacial disability that has led to the underdevelopment of my right ear. In layman's terms, I'm missing an ear and I am partially deaf. I have a prosthetic ear that helps accommodate some of my needs, but it does not improve my hearing.

I have struggled to accurately articulate how this affects my daily life. Some days, my disability is a firefly on the nose of a lion, and other days, it IS the lion. I feel as though I must constantly justify my right to take up space and my need for proper accommodations because my disability is not "visible." At first glance, it doesn't look like I have anything wrong with me and I have close friends who have gone years never knowing I was missing an ear. I feel very privileged that my disability is something that can simply be hidden by my hair but very frustrated that, as a result, I am not always taken seriously.

I have had situations where I asked a professor to turn on subtitles during videos or lectures and this professor then put my request to a vote to see what the class wants to do. I have had fellow students ask me to move seats because they don't want to look at the deformity left behind by my missing ear. I have had students suggest that I should not have children, in case I pass my disability on to them. I once had to show a staff member my ear to prove that I was actually hard of hearing. I stopped cutting my hair short because it's easier to hide my ear behind my hair.

My disability and my needs as a hard-of-hearing student should not be put to a vote. I should not have to demonstrate my disability to gain validity. I should not have to be an advocate for myself. Having a disability should not automatically make me an activist. But instead, every time I walk into a classroom, I have to be prepared to fight for my right to learn and exist safely in the same space as my peers. I don't think students should have to ask for things like subtitles or ask for lecture material to be put on Moodle for hard-of-hearing students to access. I think it should be mandatory that professors utilize Moodle and put lectures there so they're available for hard-of-hearing students and I think sensitivity training for the faculty and staff could go a long way.

Because I was so traumatized by past experiences with my peers and my instructors, I chose to give up my last year at Hanover rather than justify my need for accommodations in the classroom over and over and over again during an already taxing year.

This isn't to say that I've had an entirely negative experience at Hanover. Dr. Rachel Davidson has always been very accommodating in the classroom to aid with my disability. When I did a project on my identity as a disabled person and discussed microaggressions I faced, Dr. Davidson adjusted how her classroom worked to better fit my needs (subtitles on lectures and videos, sending me material in advance so I could access it easier, etc). Lindsay Faulstick and ADPi helped me access medical housing so I wouldn't be uncomfortable changing my prosthetic in communal bathrooms. All of my sorority sisters have not only been welcoming and accommodating of my needs, but also have been proactive in making sure I am included in events and they discourage microaggressions when they see them.

Debbie Seaver in the accessibility services office has been an absolute blessing. She has worked with me several times to make sure I am doing alright in my classes and when COVID-19 hit, she reached out to me to see if I wanted to talk about mask options that would work for me in the classroom. However, despite Debbie's help, I knew I would struggle in a classroom more than I already do because of COVID-19.

Masks prevent me from lip-reading when necessary and masks muffle people's voices. I knew, even with clear, transparent masks for my professors that Debbie offered, my peers would be spaced far apart and wearing regular masks. I knew there was no way I'd be able to effectively communicate with my professors and peers in the classroom, so I made the decision to do remote-learning for the entirety of my senior year. I had to give up so many senior year activities I was looking forward to, not to mention just simply enjoying my last year at Hanover. I have had so many situations in the past where my disability was poorly received, I did not want to have to deal with it again during a global pandemic.

Like anything in life, having a disability is a mixed bag. There are times where I've been advantaged, there are times where I've been disadvantaged. Like I said above, sometimes the disability is a firefly on the nose of a lion and sometimes it is the lion. What I've learned through my time at Hanover is that no institution will ever be perfect, nor will any disabled student have the same experience as their peers, no matter how hard we try. But what we can do is make things a little better, one person at a time, and my hope is the next hard-of-hearing or dDeaf student to come to campus will be influenced by Hanover's lessons learned from my experiences.