By David Heitz
People with disabilities should never have to go through life being "good enough" at whatever they choose to do.
Nobody knows that better than Tony Ezzi. Although he pulled Bs and Cs in high school, he knew his hearing disability was impacting the information he was receiving from his teachers.
"I knew I was struggling to understand what was going on in the classroom," Tony said, "Even though I was sitting in front, wearing hearing aids and trying to read lips as much as possible."
When he learned he might be eligible to certain extra help for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, such as a note-taker, school officials didn't understand at first that he was truly having trouble. He wasn't anywhere close to failing. "Each step of the way at school I was fighting," he said. "They just felt like I was doing OK and it was good enough."
With the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), he found an ally. They helped him rip through the red tape that sometimes comes along with obtaining the extra help a person with a disability may be eligible for.
Now, as an attorney, he's helping people better understand laws. He is a member of Midwest Center on Law and Deaf and also works in private practice in Naperville in estate planning, probate, guardianship and small business formation.
Tony was born with moderate to severe hearing loss in both hears and began wearing hearing aids at a young age. The condition has progressed over the years. But when he was younger, like so many children, he would not always wear his hearing aids because he wanted to fit in.
When a new job for his father meant a move to Illinois after his freshmen year of high school, Tony remembers, "I was dealing at that time with a loss of more than just hearing. I was adjusting, making friends, and I knew there was no way I was going to get by any longer without hearing aids."
But when even wearing them faithfully wasn't enough, Tony shifted into self-advocacy mode. He and his mother learned of DRS and connected with counselor Mary Ann Rice. Tony knew he wanted to attend college, and he wanted better grades than Bs and Cs to get into the school of his choice.
With Rice's help, he obtained the note-taking assistance he needed and sported all As on the final report card of his senior year. He went on to attend North Central College in Naperville.
"He had a clear definition of what he could do, and he would not let his hearing loss be an excuse for that," Rice said. "And his mom is such a good advocate and would fight for him."
Rice helped him obtain an even higher level of assistance during college, with a transcription service called CART. Much like having a personal court reporter, CART is a service where a person with special training transcribes in real time what is being said in the classroom or workplace. It's obviously important for college students, attorneys, and people in a variety of careers not to miss a beat.
In Tony's case, he said DRS has helped him do that. "A friend of mine once said people who are disabled are not disabled, they are differently abled. They just have to find a different way to do the same thing as everybody else."
Tony said fighting for the help you need isn't always easy. Having Rice in his corner, much like he advocates for his clients now, really helped. "It helped with my self-confidence having emotional and psychological support. I was not going to just sit back and get a mediocre education."
DHS' Division of Rehabilitation Services is the state's lead agency serving individuals with disabilities. DRS works in partnership with people with disabilities and their families to assist them in making informed choices to achieve full community participation through employment, education, and independent living opportunities.
To learn more, call 1-877-761-9780 Voice, 1-866-264-2149 TTY, (312) 957-4881 VP, or read about DRS Services. Refer yourself or someone else for services using the online Rehabilitation Services Web Referral.