Quad Cities, IL/IA

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

People With Disabilities Need to Be Heard


By David Heitz

People with a disability 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 impairment was holding him back from a report card full of

“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 entitled to certain extra help for the
hearing impaired, 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 is
entitled to.

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

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.”

To learn more, call 877-761-9780 Voice, 866-264-2149 TTY, 312-957-4881 VP, or visit us at drs.illnois.gov/success.

Photo courtesy of Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services