“My disability has made me who I am. It gives me a different viewpoint. A different way of thinking,” says Ben Case. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In 2010, Ben was the winner of the Ann Arbor CIL’s annual John Weir Youth Academic Scholarship. With stand-out academic and extracurricular accomplishments and leadership in promoting disability awareness and acceptance, Ben embodies the opportunities that lie in overcoming obstacles posed by a disability.
Ben has Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome, or LVAS, a condition in his inner ear which affects his ability to hear and control his balance. With profound hearing loss in his left ear and severe to profound hearing loss in his right, Ben wears hearing aids and uses some sign language.
“Being Hard of Hearing – I love it,” he says. “It’s made me who I am. I’m not going to say it hasn’t been without its challenges, but for me it’s been a positive thing, every step of the way.”
Ben says that when he was a child his deafness never posed a barrier for him. But in high school he began struggling to keep up with lectures because of it, and his GPA began declining. “I was trying to prove that I could do everything on my own,” he says. “But I quickly realized that I shouldn’t. I began asking for some accommodations, and they made a big difference.” Ben asked to sit in the front of the classroom so that he could hear lectures more easily, and he asked for help from a Teacher Consultant in accessing learning materials.
“I had never had to advocate for what I needed and was a little afraid and unsure of how to do it when I first asked. But I wanted to be able to participate just like everyone else. I wanted to prove that I could succeed.”
Ben learned that advocating for what he needed was worth it – the school provided the accommodations, and his GPA dramatically improved. Ben says from this he was able to take harder, more challenging classes.
“I figured out that being strong and independent doesn’t mean you have to struggle to do everything on your own,” he says. “It just means you have to know yourself – know what you can do and what you need in order to be able to succeed.”
During Ben’s junior year, he says he got his first real test of whether he would be able to live on his own. “I had an opportunity to travel to Mexico and study at the American School Foundation in Mexico City,” he says. “It was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to take advantage of it, but I was worried about adjusting to the language and culture with my hearing loss. I decided the only way to find out was to try.”
The trip ended up going really well, and Ben says it gave him the confidence to go after his goal of living independently at college. Ben began applying to colleges during his senior year and realized that if he was going to be able to go, he needed significant financial aid to do so.
Ben says he began applying for scholarships and looking for any financial aid that could help. Ben’s counselor at Huron High School in Ann Arbor told Ben about the Ann Arbor CIL’s John Weir Youth Academic Scholarship, and Ben applied. “Initially I applied because I needed the money,” he says, “but after I learned more about what it is about, I began to want it more because of what it stands for. I really believe in disability rights and acceptance.”
The Ann Arbor CIL’s John Weir Scholarship is awarded annually to college-bound high school seniors with disabilities on the basis of academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, and demonstrated leadership in promoting disability rights and acceptance. The scholarship is named after John Weir, one of the founding members of the Ann Arbor CIL, who was a pioneer in advancing disability rights and cultural acceptance. The scholarship is managed and held in trust by the Ann Arbor Community Foundation and provides one winner each year with a $2000 scholarship over a four-year college period and two runners-up with one-time $500 scholarships.
As an applicant, Ben stood out not just for his academic and extracurricular accomplishments, but also for his leadership experiences in promoting disability awareness and acceptance. Ben has spoken on panels at conferences about hearing issues, and when he was a sophomore in high school he participated in the Alexander Graham Bell Association’s youth leadership program in Milwaukee. Ben says meeting other youths from around the country and participating in the program gave him a deeper appreciation for having a disability and the importance of promoting disability awareness.
Ben says his love of talking to others about what it’s like to have a disability began as a child when he would often give impromptu demonstrations to friends and family about what it’s like to be hard of hearing. “I loved telling people my story,” he says. “I had a device that simulates what it’s like to have a hearing impairment, and I had so much fun watching people try out what I experience all the time.”
Since winning the scholarship, Ben has gotten involved as a volunteer at the CIL. “Connecting with the CIL has been eye opening for me,” he says. “I had always been an advocate among my peers in the Deaf community, but until I got this scholarship, I had never been an advocate for the whole disability community. I didn’t realize there was a separate organization out there for all people with disabilities. Getting involved has helped me put my disability in much greater perspective.”
Now a freshman at the University of Michigan Ben says, “I think my disability and all the experiences that have come with it have enabled me to be more of a leader than I would have been otherwise. Most people when they meet me don’t know that I have a disability. I love finding the right opportunity to tell them and teach more people about what it means to have a disability.”
Majoring in pre-med with a 3.6 GPA, Ben says his disability is a driving factor and source of motivation in every thing he does. “I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish so far and excited about the things that lie ahead.” After college, Ben plans to go to medical school to become an Otolaryngologist. “I hope to make a real difference in the lives of those who are hard of hearing,” he says. Right now Ben is working as a research assistant on efforts to redevelop hearing in those who have lost it. “It’s very promising research,” he says. “We are trying to figure out how to redevelop hair cells in the cochlea. It’s exciting.”
“I really appreciate the scholarship and all it has done for me,” Ben adds. “Winning it has not only provided me with needed financial assistance to go to school, but it has also opened up an important new community for me. I now have a new launch pad to become even more of an advocate for disability causes. I feel more driven to accomplish the goals I set for myself now and achieve more with this scholarship. I’m very thankful for it.”