Faces Behind the Screen: Anna
Sometimes social media really does help us connect with people!
Anna is one of our loyal Twitter followers and always shows up on our newsfeed for one reason or another — retweeting us, posting something about captions, or talking about current events.
So, we recently decided to reach out to Anna for an interview. We met up with her in Harvard Square this summer to grab tea and chat before she had class at the Harvard Art Museum.
A Boston-area resident, Anna is three years into taking classes at the Harvard Extension School, working towards a Master’s degree in Museum Studies. Anna is deaf and because she relies on lip reading and her cochlear implant to understand speech, she is very appreciative of how accessible her classes have been.
- I really never thought I’d be able to get anywhere with classes online. But Harvard has an awesome program. They have captioners for me. […] Most of the videos are captioned. They’re just with it. I don’t think most people even realize how awesome Harvard is in terms of giving you all the accommodations you need.
Anna also currently works at the front desk in guest services at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, making sure visitors get most out of their experience while there. “I’m pretty much a museum person,” she told us.
“[Sometimes] they’re like, where are you from? And I’m like, I’m from here. ”
Anna speaks with what is often referred to as a “deaf accent,” meaning she can speak English perfectly fine but her speech sounds a little different from that of most hearing people’s.
Sometimes when she talks with guests at the museum, possibly because they haven’t met many people who are deaf, they will ask her if her accent is from another country.
[Sometimes] they’re like, where are you from? And I’m like, I’m from here. “Really?” I’m like, yeah. And they ask, and it’s because of the deaf accent. When I first started working at Peabody Essex, my coworkers would say “just make up a country. See how many people you can fool.” So I tried that. I said, oh, I’m from, Transylvania. Somebody fell for that. But then somebody started talking about, oh, have you been there? I’ve been there, blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, never mind, I can’t lie to you. I’m actually deaf. I tried that for a while, but I just have to accept that my accent is a deaf accent and most people don’t know that.
Anna was raised by hearing parents, grew up with hearing aids, and doesn’t use sign language. So, while she considers herself deaf because she cannot hear without her hearing aid and implant, she says she feel she belongs more to the hearing world than the Deaf world, or perhaps somewhere in between.
[The implant and hearing aid] are just a thing to help me get by in the world. For me, as I got older, I didn’t want to depend on my parents for everything. I want to be able to do things myself. I do identify as deaf, but most of the time it’s different in terms of how other people identify themselves as Deaf. I don’t say I’m hard of hearing. I hate saying that, because, I mean, I’m not really hard of hearing. I really just can’t hear.
“Since nobody else was signing around me, I didn’t want to do it. ”
Just because someone cannot hear, it doesn’t always mean they should be considered a full member of the “big D” Deaf community by default.
But while Anna doesn’t consider herself a full participant in that group, she always feels welcomed.
Every time I do interact with the Deaf community, they’re just so open and welcoming. I have never been pushed away from anything. I just never really had the opportunity in my life [to be a part part of that group]. I grew up with hearing parents. My whole family is hearing. I mean, they tried to teach me sign language when I was a kid. That didn’t last very long.
I’m a visual kind of person, so I just see what’s around me. And since nobody else was signing around me, I didn’t want to do it. I just want to mimic talking and things like that. There’s home videos of me trying to do this.
But there’s just never been an opportunity for me to really be with the Deaf community as much. I do want to try and get more involved with it. I want to learn sign language again at some point. But right now, my life’s too busy.
Busy indeed. Anna graduates from Harvard next May, and when she’s not working at the museum, she’s planning her wedding which is steadily approaching this fall.
- I have the honeymoon to plan. Oh my gosh. It’s going to be crazy.
“ I don’t like having to ask people, “what did they say?” Half the time, people are not even paying attention anyway. ”
But outside of juggling things like hunting down RSVP confirmations and figuring out who will be having the filet mignon or the salmon at the wedding reception, Anna says her biggest struggle right now is the lack of accessibility when flying or taking public transportation.
- When you commute around there are announcements and things like that, I still have no clue what the hell they’re saying. Like, I’ve flown from airports and I have no idea when they’re calling me to board or anything else like that. I struggle. And I’m like, I wish I knew what they were saying over the intercom. There’ve been times where they’ve been calling me over the intercom, I had no clue. Like, I don’t respond to my name at all. If they say my name, I’m just — what?
One of the worst offenders, she says, is the MBTA’s commuter rail which she often uses to travel into the city:
- I’m not sure what the conductor is saying sometimes. I mean, there was a time we all got on the train and it broke down for some reason, but I just had no idea how long I was going to be stuck on the train or anything like that. They were just telling people things over the intercom, and I’m like, what’s going on? I don’t like having to ask people, “what did they say?” Half the time, people are not even paying attention anyway. There’s no point in asking people.
On the other hand, Anna says a lot of today’s technology also works to her advantage and makes life much easier for her.
- I think technology is kind of awesome now. It’s come a long way. I’ve had cell phones since I was 13. And now, it’s so much nicer to text, and I can go on Facebook. Also, this has happened in maybe the last six months — every video I see has captions. I’m like, well, that’s cool. Now I know what they’re talking about. Some people are like, “oh, did you see that video?” and I’m like, yeah! So it’s kind of cool that I’m able to interact with people better because of technology. It just helps me be part of the social aspect when I know what’s going on.
A lot of people always had up captions on their TVs for me when I was younger, but not everything was there yet. I never went to the movies at all when I was younger, because there were no captions for that. The internet [has] made that so much better.
The job market can also be inaccessible to d/Deaf people. While anti-discrimination laws like the Rehabilitation Act exist to prevent employees from deciding not to hire people over the fact they cannot hear, many in the Deaf community, including Anna, say they experience that exact form of discrimination all the time.
- People don’t pick me because they think that there will be a lot more work, like training… So I’m just hoping that somebody will take a chance on me. In most of my jobs, it was that one boss that took a chance on me. And they all said that they love me. I’m awesome. I think I’m awesome. [The trick is] just getting people to see that.
I know what they always say about, “no discrimination,” that clause. And I’m like, I’m pretty sure you just picked somebody else over me because I don’t like to use the phone.
“It’s nice to be able to shut out the world if I have to. ”
Like Anna, many d/Deaf people are self-advocates and know how and when to point out inaccessibility, inequalities, and any other barriers that are in place that prevent them and others from achieving the same opportunities and standards of living as everyone else. Because outside of that minor detail, d/Deaf people are not intrinsically different than anyone else.
- My experiences are basically the same as everybody else. I mean, sure, I’m deaf, but I still have the same lifestyle as most people. I work, I commute, I deal with the same problems as everybody else, I just don’t hear. So I mean, I just don’t want people to see me differently.
But at the same time, Anna says, she likes being different.
- I love being deaf. I wouldn’t change that for the world. People ask me, would you do it over? Would you want to be born hearing? I’m like, no, because I appreciate things a lot more being deaf. And it’s nice to be able to shut out the world if I have to.
I think the best part of being deaf is that I get to see the world in a different way. I love my mornings where I don’t have to put my ears in yet. I just go about my routine, and it’s just a different world for me. Just my own little world. I love that. It’s my favorite part of my day. If I have to put my ears in, I hear all the noise happening.
It’s really nice. It’s really peaceful, and I wish that everybody could have that sometimes.
A huge ‘thank you’ to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) for hosting this series of interviews at the New England Walk4Hearing in Fall of 2016.