Get to know another hearing loss community member! Today, we are delighted to interview hearing loss community member Angie Fuoco.
You have a Master’s degree in Public Health and you list “ADAC” after your name. What does that stand for?
Officially, it means I’m an Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator. Unofficially, it’s my mission specialty: Acquired Disability & Accessibility Champion.
ADAC or “ADA Coordinator” means I’m certified to serve an organization that must or will voluntarily employ a person to administer ADA law and regulations for its employees and customers. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires state and local governments with 50 or more employees to have ADA Coordinators to administer the ADA and serve employee and customer accessibility needs. I’m trained through the National ADA Network (USA), passed an exam, and take continuing education to maintain this certification. Other organizations, such as state and local governments with fewer than 50 employees, companies, colleges and universities employ ADA Coordinators because they are good for business and good for employees.
Then there’s the unofficial title I give myself: Acquired Disability & Accessibility Champion. I have different experiences with the acquired disability of hearing loss. I lost all of my hearing in one ear at age nine, suddenly, as a result of having mumps. As an adult, I lost a large chunk of hearing in the other ear, over many years, without knowing it. As a result, and with more training and education about disabilities and accessibility, I call myself an accessibility champion too.
Wait, what? You lost half your hearing suddenly as a child and knew it, but didn’t realize that you lost hearing as an adult?
That’s right. Hearing loss is an invisible disability and it can creep up on us or be lost suddenly. Doctors don’t know what caused my adult-loss but that was the loss that affected me most. Though my hearing has been stable for 15 years, I’m not just half-deaf now as I was as a child, I’m mostly deaf.
You discovered and adapted to hearing loss while working full-time for many years. How has that gone?
Not as well as I’d have liked. My career has been with the U.S. Government, which is not regulated by the ADA. Federal government agencies must follow the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary last month (Sept. 26, 1973). Fifty years ago, this Act did not require a qualified person to oversee the general accessibility experience, as the ADA did with its ADA Coordinators. So I encountered processes and communications that were confusing and uncoordinated. This held up my accommodations and I discovered that many agencies have been slow to fully follow 50-year-old accessibility requirements. All this makes for a challenging, even chaotic, work environment. It’s difficult to lose an important ability like hearing, grieve that loss, learn new communication strategies, and keep up with work – all at the same time!
We understand! Many of us have gone through or are still going through that. What might help?
I am currently advocating for an “ADA Coordinator” equivalent in federal government. The position may be called an Accessibility Coordinator (for all areas, not just digital), a Rehabilitation Act Coordinator, a Disability Liaison, or something like this. Importantly, the person in it would be a focus person, a single liaison, to help meet needs for people with disabilities as we navigate a new workplace or a new disability, as disabilities progress, or as we are served as customers with disabilities by federal agencies.
I hope that federal agencies will see this interview and explore this need more with me. My many certifications and qualifications are listed at the end of this article. Yet. my lived experience with an acquired disability has prepared me best to state that I believe such positions are very much needed in federal government. Many colleagues whom I have connected to accommodations or accessibility strategies and tools agree with this assertion.
Currently, I serve as an Employee Experience Coordinator. As part of my job, I try to maintain an accessible work environment and help colleagues with disabilities or accessibility needs. I advocate for captions to accompany every spoken word (for the 1 in 5 of us who have hearing loss and many others who need or want captions). I advocate for audio description and physical accessibility too. And I help agencies follow the Rehabilitation Act and learn inclusive practices, such as installing assistive listening devices and bridging the communication worlds between those who use different forms of language: oral and signed.
What have you done outside your workplace as a disability and accessibility champion?
I have gone out into the community and taught about hearing loss and accessibility. In many arenas, I speak about hearing loss and disabilities. I have helped organizations, such as the Forum on Workplace Inclusion, learn to be more accessible in meetings and conferences. And most satisfying to me, I have connected people to improved hearing (not exactly, but like: “bodily healing”) and have encouraged others in their hearing loss journeys (that are like healing of the heart).
That’s true advocacy, using your knowledge and passion to actively help others in many ways. Do you have a final message you want to give to people who acquire a disability throughout life?
Yes! No matter what stage of life you’re in, when disability comes, consider that it brings blessings along with the loss. Our way of moving, doing, communicating, being, and interacting with the world may change drastically. You’ll experience stages of grief over the loss: shock, denial, grasping at straws to keep your “familiar normal”, anger, and finally, acceptance. But you don’t have to remain stuck in self-defeating behaviors and feelings.
Many new blessings await you on the other side of disability as you adapt to your new normal: new challenges, new opportunities, and new relationships. And there are a common three I want to assure everyone of: Help, Healing and Hope:
There’s help and support for just about any disability. For hearing loss, there are support groups such as Hearing Loss Association of America, the Association of Late Deafened Adults and the (funnily-named!) Say What Club. You’ll find the most amazing people in these groups who will help you in your journey and change your life for good. You could even learn a visual (signed) language that doesn’t require hearing.
There’s healing in medical and tech areas. And for hearing loss, hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other medical interventions may help. And for everyone, there are human- and AI-generated captions or subtitles to help us read to understand what we can’t hear
Finally, there’s Hope. You’ll find hope within you to allow you to thrive in a new life with disability. There’s hope that others will come alongside you in your journey. And there’s hope that you’ll not only embrace, but really love and live into, your new normal.
That’s great, Angie! Thanks for caring and sharing your story.
Learn more about Angie…
Angie Fuoco, MPH, ADAC
Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies (CUNY)
Author, Stories, Statistics, Solutions…People with Disabilities in Faith Communities
Hearing Assistive Technology Trainer
Hearing Loss Support Specialist
Board Member 2023, Say What Club
Board Member 2023, Global Alliance for Speech-to-Text Captioning
Presenter, ADA Symposium and many other conferences
Presenter and Advisor, Forum on Workplace Inclusion