UCA Bears’ diversity speaker John Wyvill was diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss at four years old.
This was before the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act and individualized educational plans.
Wyvill said medical doctors told his parents that because of his deafness he would be lucky to graduate high school.
Despite the obstacles he faced in the classroom, Wyvill graduated high school, became Hendrix College’s first deaf student and earned his law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law.
He was the first person in his family to graduate college.
Wyvill inspired students with his “Faith, Focus, Follow-through” presentation Sept. 19 in the College of Business Auditorium.
His lecture was hosted by the UCA bEARS Club, a student organization that works to promote awareness about the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.
Junior Morgan Gilsinger said Wyvill’s story reminded her she could accomplish any goal as long as she continued to work toward it and believed in herself.
“If someone who is almost entirely deaf can persevere throughout college and even law school, then I can make it through school and make it into graduate school, if I just keep my faith in myself strong,” she said.
Wyvill said there were three things that were critical to his success: faith, focus, and following through.
“Faith — I was given a belief in myself, instilled by my parents,” Wyvill said. “And a belief in God and that he has a plan. Next, you have to have focus, which is knowing what you want to accomplish. You develop a plan in order to be successful and then you have to follow through, which is the commitment to work the plan. Faith, focus, follow-through.”
Since college, Wyvill has worked on former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s legal team, worked as a commissioner for the Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and was appointed to the U.S. Access Board.
Today, Wyvill works with the U.S. Veteran Affairs department and teaches at the Bryan College of Health Sciences in Lincoln, Neb.
He said he continues to advocate for parents and students to have more access in higher education settings.
Wyvill said that while he recognizes his own personal and professional accomplishments, he realizes that others might not have the same opportunities that he did.
“That’s why I work hard to ensure that all students have that chance to succeed,” he said. “We live in a country where education is a great equalizer. Education is what you make it. It makes the difference between success and failure.”
Wyvill said he may pursue a public office — which would make him the only deaf elected official — but that he wants to wait until his two children are out of school.
UCA professor and Assistant Director of Disability Support Services Veda Charlton said Wyvill’s presentation was a great educational opportunity for students to learn more about the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.
She said Wyvill’s lecture highlighted the importance of “advocating for yourself, despite the challenges you may face.”