We all have experiences that take us, break us and force us to remake ourselves. This happened to Chris Haulmark when his father prematurely passed at 54. It left him devastated and questioning everything.
He realized he had to walk a different path. At the urging of his children, he left his position as IT Manager for part of the government in Arkansas and set out to solo-travel the world. That’s impressive for anybody. It’s remarkable for somebody who’s been deaf since the age of one.
In the past, he allowed his disability to define and isolate himself. No longer. He went, he saw and he vlogged about it. His video blogs started off with an audience of two – his 9-year-old daughter and his 12-year-old son. From there it expanded to 20,000, as people, particularly in the deaf community, became immersed and inspired.
As he traveled the world and connected with deaf communities in dozens of countries he thought he’d found his calling. Then 2016 rolled round. The country was taken, broken and many were left wondering if it could remake itself.
As the reality sunk in, it became clear that some were worse off than others. This was particularly true for Americans with disabilities. Why? Because the new government promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). This will reduce the protection of all pre-existing conditions. As deafness is such a condition, removing these protections would be devastating for the Deaf Community.
Haulmark could not accept that. And so, putting all thoughts of traveling behind him, he struck out on a third path – to serve his country. To begin with, he wanted to work behind the scenes and assist somebody else into office. Quickly, he realized that was the wrong approach:
1. An able bodied person will only ever be able to understand having a disability on an intellectual level. They can’t grasp how it feels. And so, for them, fighting for people with disabilities would be a cause; never the cause.
2. Crises also offer opportunities. For only during a crisis, when people need solutions, will they reconsider long-held beliefs – like the ones our country holds about deaf people. And so 2018 might be the best chance in our lifetimes for the Deaf Community to get their own congressperson.
3. A disability can be turned into an advantage when running for office. People love feel-good stories about normal people overcoming big obstacles. A deaf person with momentum and a chance to win a seat in Congress would be such a story. The national press would pick it up. And we saw in this last election the power of free air time.
4. If he can reach Congress, then that will open the flood-gates for the Deaf community. More will try. More will succeed.
But even if all that wouldn’t have been true, he still couldn’t stand by. Now is not the time for half-measures. America stands at a crossroad.
Will America be a country where people are considered less for what marks their minds or their bodies? Or will we make sure that a person’s color, beliefs or disability does not say who they are or how they should be treated?
For Haulmark the answer is clear. Back in 2009, he decided he wouldn’t let his disability define him. Now in 2018, with your help, he will go to Congress and stop the country from using disabilities to define people too.
All you have to do is believe.
Chris Haulmark for Congress, 2018.