Faces Behind the Screen: Lena
Lena’s was our last interview at Boston University, where we sat and spoke with a handful of Deaf and hard of hearing students and staff.
Lena is a sophomore health science major and public health minor who is hard of hearing. She’s not sure exactly what she wants to do with her major just yet, but what she does know is that she likes to dance and travel:
- Well, I do like exploring, to the point where my mom is worried.
“ Well, I do like exploring, to the point where my mom is worried.”
Because, I just walk and explore without much help. I mean, I’m good. I know self-defense, but my mom is like, “oh, you should take a friend.”
…I do a lot of Latin dances. I joined the salsa club here freshman year, September. And now I’m the vice president. And teacher.
…But I dance salsa, meringue, bachata. I’m taking up tango. I know a little bit of swing. I want to learn flamenco next year, because I realized, that, oh, yeah, that’s a thing. I can do that.
While Lena does identify as hard of hearing and relied on a CART stenographer to fully understand our conversation, one wouldn’t know it just talking to her on the street because she doesn’t need an interpreter to speak. So, we asked if she encounters any instances of miscommunication or mistaken identity because some people might think she has full hearing:
- Yeah. A lot. I’m the only person in my family who is either hard-of-hearing or deaf. So, my mom didn’t know what to do [when I was younger], but she caught on, because I was born without hearing in my left ear.
She realized that I was slurring my words at two, or three, or something. So, she went and had them [my ears] checked. And she was like, “oh, hey, she doesn’t have hearing in this ear. Let’s put tubes in…”
The tubes didn’t really work. […] So that has been interesting. Then I didn’t even know what to call myself. I didn’t even know there was a term, hard-of-hearing, until I got [to college].
Lena used to approach her hearing loss very casually. She was born without hearing in her left ear and has been experiencing gradual hearing loss since she was younger. Since her hearing used to be better, she often thought of it as a very minor issue and didn’t want to be thought of as ‘different’:
After I started moving school systems, I kind of forgot about that. I mean, it was just like, oh yeah, I have a hearing problem. Nobody really knows.
My parents were like, “just make sure you tell people.” I don’t tell people, because, I don’t know, it always felt weird being different in that way, especially since I just ignored it a lot.
“ I mean, I consider it fun being hard-of-hearing, honestly.”
It was only recently that Lena began to use and appreciate the resources available to her at BU. She now takes her hearing loss a little more seriously and enjoys the camaraderie she’s discovered in the university’s Deaf and hard of hearing community:
- …I came here, talked to them, because I was like, what services do I get as a hard-of-hearing person, because I honestly cannot hear. I realize this now. You know? What do I do? And they’re like, oh, this is what happens.
Then I took one sign language class to understand more of the culture, right? I mean, I’m probably not going to pick up on sign language that quickly anymore, but it’s now kind of nice to know what I am and there are more people. And you know, I’m not just like the only weird person that is hard-of-hearing. So, yeah. I mean, I consider it fun being hard-of-hearing, honestly.
“ …She made a Facebook post that said, “I’m aware of you, my hard-of-hearing unicorns.” And it was like, oh, my god.”
When speaking with people, sometimes she relies on lip-reading and picking up context clues to understand the speaker. That’s why, when watching videos on the web, she always uses captions or subtitles when she can:
Usually, I have the volume maxed out, because I want to make sure I catch every word. Because, I listen to a lot of foreign music. I listen to Kpop. I listen to Romanian pop, Chinese pop, Japanese pop, K-hiphop. I listen to a lot of different languages.
…I loved how my favorite YouTuber just started using captioning in her videos. Lilly Singh, Superwoman. And it’s like, oh, my gosh. You’re using captions! I even posted to Facebook– “oh, my gosh. She’s using captions.” And she made a Facebook post that said, “I’m aware of you, my hard-of-hearing unicorns.” And it was like, oh, my god.
[Before the captioning] I got about 70%. I mean, she had an accent. Well, sometimes, she’ll turn on her accent. So, I watch it over and over to make sure I catch it more. But even then, it’s kind of like, eh. So, captions are good. Captions are really good.
To our surprise, Lena told us she used to fly airplanes when she was younger. She had to stop because pilots need to hear the radio and being around jet engines on the tarmac was harmful to her hearing:
- …You know, I should have known. I should have worn more hearing protection, because I used to fly planes.
…I was really into that because I wanted to be an astronaut. So, I was like, oh, my gosh. I want to be an astronaut. I want to fly. Let’s do that!
My mom was like, sure, and put money into flight lessons, ground school, everything. I was ready.
And then it was like, nope.
Even though her hearing loss may have ended Lena’s dreams of becoming an astronaut, she says she’s found a new hobby in dancing but still considers herself a student pilot.
“ You have to talk to people. And you have to let people know, this is my disability.”
Lena’s undying resilience and optimism about nearly everything really inspired us. We asked Lena if she had any words of wisdom, or pieces of advice for others — hearing impaired, or not:
Just have fun, you know?
I went to this meeting with all the other people with disabilities on campus. And they were all mad about the disability, about people questioning the disability, about people, not accepting that– well, you know, not coddling their disability. You know, like, “oh, why can’t everybody on campus understand this?”
…You have to talk to people. And you have to let people know, this is my disability.
…That’s my wisdom. Stay happy.
We want to extend a huge thank you to Boston University and the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground for hosting this series of interviews.