The coronavirus pandemic from the eyes and ears of a hard of hearing college student

Grace Avila isajunior sociology major.

When USF first announced it was moving classes to an online format, I cried. As a hard of hearing student, I find it difficult to keep up with and participate in both in-person and online classes. I use Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) — which is basically live transcribing — to follow along with the lessons and conversations in my classes. I also rely greatly on body language and other visual cues when participating. 

While learning to adjust to my hearing loss has been difficult, I’ve been able to learn American Sign Language (ASL) and have friends who have learned it, and I got my hearing alert dog, Charlie, in early January. Having hearing loss has helped me experience the world in a different way, and I’ve learned to push myself out of my comfort zone, especially in school, because keeping up can be challenging.

In person and sometimes over Zoom, people have a habit of talking over each other and interrupting thoughts. This crosstalk cannot be captured through CART, and since there is a delay between what is being transcribed for me to read and what is said, I usually laugh at a joke a couple seconds after it’s already been said, once it’s no longer funny. 

Online courses held through Zoom definitely aren’t as fulfilling as in-person classes and are a whole new ballgame. In between my professors and I learning how to use Zoom, computer crashes, and microphone problems, there have been more moments than usual where I’m angry about being hard of hearing. Have you ever watched a YouTube video with auto-generated captions that lag or are inaccurate? That’s been my life since we came back to school after spring break.

Zoom classes are, frankly, boring, and it’s hard to engage with my classes through a screen. Sounds come out of my laptop, but they don’t mean anything to me — I need to see the words to understand. It’s also difficult to stay motivated and remember that this is indeed not an extended summer break and that I still have work to do.

Over the past weeks, I’ve been learning to push myself to participate in classes, be open to change, and get creative with the ways I participate in class, such as by raising my virtual hand during lectures to speak. I’ve also been trying out new ways to spend time with my friends — we have had group ASL hangouts, where we all practice signing with each other. Quarantine has also allowed me to spend more time training my service dog Charlie! He can now alert me to the sound of my phone alarm most of the time (he’s still in training), and while he is a working dog, we’ve also been having tons of fun together, too.

I think that when all of this is over, I will have a greater appreciation and gratitude for my friends and my education. It can be easy to dread going to class and speaking up for in-class participation points. I chose to go to school in an amazing city, yet it’s easier to have a lazy Saturday night binge-watching Netflix or reading a book by myself instead of spending time with my friends exploring San Francisco. When all of this is over, I won’t take anything for granted again.

When the dust settles, I look forward to saying, “yes!”

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