Instead of DISability, focus on the disABILITY

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. -- I'm forever thankful that I was presented opportunities based on my abilities rather than on my DISability.

Although it is indisputable that an individual might have a disability, the focus should be on the root of the word and not the prefix. So, instead of DISability, focus on the disABILITY.

After all, Napoleon Bonaparte said, "Ability is of little account without opportunity."

I read an article August 13 titled "New bill would open Air Force to deaf," which was published on Military.com. The article addressed legislation that was introduced to open the door for deaf and severely hearing-impaired individuals to serve in our Air Force.

"Yes!" I said for our Air Force, because for almost 31 years I worked in the Air Force - more than 20 years of active duty (regular Air Force as well as active duty Air National Guard) and more than 10 years as an Air Force civilian Airman.

My interest in the article has its roots going as far back as 1998. That's when I experienced an abrupt, near complete hearing loss in my right ear. Then, just shy of three years later, I experienced a sudden, complete hearing loss in my left ear, leaving me deaf.

Having recently completed 18 years of active duty and expecting for more years of service before my enlistment would end, I was terrified as to what my future, military service, as well as post-military service, would entail.

Fortunately, I wound up at Wilford Hall Medical Center at what was then Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. This is where my journey began.

At that time, it seemed as though there was only one path for me - medical retirement.

I did not want a medical retirement, and because I definitely felt as though I could continue to contribute to my job as well as to the Air Force and Air National Guard, even with my new challenge.

Due to some very forward thinking people at Wilford Hall I was the first active duty Air Force member to receive a cochlear implant, and I remained on active duty for just over two more years and received a "normal" retirement.

My "story" is documented well by Air Force News; it is on Air Force Link and in Airman Magazine.

My retirement was my choice because I wanted to retire and not because I was unfit for duty.

I must have been doing a good enough job because the reason I retired was to accept a civil service job here at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center doing exactly what I was doing in uniform, and I've continued to do this job as a civilian.

Going back to the recent news article, it talked about accommodations and limitations in impaired service members; obvious concerns. However, just as placing individuals into career fields due to ASVAB scores allows individuals to serve where they best fit the Air Force, additional consideration and accommodation would allow people with "physical challenges" to serve and contribute how they are best equipped.

Granted, there are jobs and tasks that deaf or hearing impaired cannot (or should not) do, but one person does not make a team; does it?

I feel that the bottom line should be about what a person can contribute to the Air Force's mission.