Disability is difference, because people are different

She has had impaired hearing since early childhood. She can’t hear high frequencies, but deeper ones she can. She has excellent coping mechanisms – she can read lips, she knows the order of certain routines off by heart that people with good hearing follow by sound, and so on. She even knows foreign languages, which is particularly challenging when there is no generally accepted method available for learning them. She’s a perfect example of how life without some aspects of sounds can have its interesting side.

Image of Ira Adilagić, story is part of the campaign PonosniNaSebe"When people at home jump up suddenly and start to look urgently for ‘something’ around the house, most of time that means the phone is ringing, which I can’t hear, of course. Or, I remember it happening, that everyone in the class would turn around to look at me all at once and that would normally mean the teacher had asked me something or called me up to the board and I hadn’t heard. But I have developed coping mechanisms to let me join in fully and effectively in everyday life in society and thanks to them I can compensate for what other people take in by listening–by following other, soundless signals from the environment, people’s reactions and behaviour, you can still catch a lot of that,” Ira begins her story.

Ira went through the regular school programme – primary school, secondary school, and then university and a masters in psychology. In a society like oursthat doesn’t recognize all the aspects of disability there’s no way to deal with them successfully and that has meant encountering many obstacles.

"At present, we live in a society where awareness of the status and capabilities of individuals with disabilities is not very developed. Something I am conscious of is that whenever I encounter some form of prejudice or questions, it is a small step forward for our society. People often assume I hear absolutely nothing. Their surprise when I say that I hear one part of sounds, but not another, can be quite interesting, in a positive way. They automatically ask me lots of questions about examples of sounds I can or can’t hear and how I manage with the sounds I can’t. On the other hand, I have also experienced the insecurity of uninformed people about my abilities or my capacity to carry out a given action. I must admit that it can be awkward and even unpleasant, but my motto has always been to persevere and show that I can do those things. When I react in that way, it can change their way of thinking quite quickly,” she says.

Of all her successes and stories, what she is proudest of is having learned English and German. Learning languages has, in her case, been fraught with difficulties.

"People generally learn a language by listening and that made the process of learning harder for me, as quite often I couldn’t repeat a new word correctly. I was lucky, if I may say so, that the rule in our language is "Write as you speak, read as written”, because it’s quite different with English where the same combinations of letters are sometimes pronounced quite differently in different words. At school, the interactive classes for English didn’t suit me at all and I couldn’t learn foreign languages in the same way other kids did. Later I realized that in today’s world there is no way to avoid foreign languages, especially English, and I sat down and learned it with the help of some close friends in the way that suited me best. It took time, effort and patience, but I am so happy now that I did. In any case, the rules for reading German are much simpler, which made it much easier for me to learn it,” Ira explains.

She finds comedy in everyday life, whether in a foreign or her native tongue.

"What I find funniest and cutest is when I tell someone about my impaired hearing and ask them to repeat what they said and then they start talking much slower and opening their lips as wide as they can. I know that people do this out of a desire to help me read their lips, I get that, but it just makes it harder to understand what they are saying. And then I start talking back to them the same way and they begin to understand that talking in that way is not helping”, she recounts with a laugh.

Given her sunny approach to the question of disability and to life generally, she insists on one thing especially – that we all have to stop thing of disability as a special need.

"Disability is just one of the differences which we all have from each other. Everyone has some characteristics, some aspects that make them different from others. I believe that when we talk of difference it’s not about just one thing, but about a broad range of differences we all have. And then again, we are all essentially the same. I don’t like that people without disabilities think of people with disabilities as having special needs. We all have special needs, some are different, some the same, and we all meet them in different ways, and some of us meet the same needs in accordance with our disability”, she stresses.

As she puts it, her way of meeting her need and desire to learn the texts of songs she likes the rhythm and music to is – to go on the internet and find the text and "learn” it by heart, while other people do it by listening.

She has written blogs in which she helps people without disabilities to see everyday situations in which they don’t even notice the things that need to be adapted for people with disabilities at least to some degree. She has also been involved in work with non-governmental organisations advocating for the rights and opportunities of persons with disabilities.

"The story of my getting involved started with MyRight and for me they will always be the heroes of this story. We have worked together on various projects and training programmes where I have been both a participant and a trainer. Every time I have worked with them it has been a great experience with multiple benefits. Every time, I have learned something new, which has helped me in my activities and at work. I have met a lot of new people and made new friendships and partners” Ira says with pride.

And in the end, as she says – happiness is not a matter of disability.

"I am of the opinion that everyone has their own recipe for a happy life, which is based on the activities and things which complete them and they don’t have to be the same for everyone”, she concludes.

Ira Adilagić''''s story was told as part of the #PonosniNaSebe campaign, conducted between April and December 2016 by MyRight in cooperation with five coalitions of organisations of persons with disabilities in BiH.

Ana Kotur for MyRight

Austrian Development Co-operation and Light for the World have funded creation of this web site With funding from Austrian Development Cooperation Light for the World