Hard of hearing student speaks about her experience

Fort Worth sophomore Dena Sadler shares her experience as a hard of hearing student at Baylor. Camryn Duffy | Photographer

By Ana Ruiz Brictson | Staff Writer

“Imagine you were underwater and someone was trying to talk to you, but you also had your eyes closed,” Fort Worth sophomore Dena Sadler said.

When Sadler was in kindergarten, she struggled to hear her teacher, causing her grades to be low. She said she was told by an audiologist and ENT that she was hard of hearing — more specifically, that she was deaf in her left ear.

Sadler said she received no special accommodations in high school because the institution did not provide support to those with disabilities. She said she had to reach out to the school’s nurse if she needed help with anything.

Sadler also said every year, she had to reach out to all of her teachers individually to explain the situation, and during class, she would choose to sit in the front to hear better and to be able to read her teacher’s lips.

When Sadler first got into Baylor, she said she was not planning on getting any accommodations. However, she said she ended up applying for them because she could not rely on lip-reading anymore due to the pandemic.

“The masks have made it really hard, just because the mask muffles a lot with my already muffled hearing,” Sadler said.

Since Sadler got to Baylor, she said the Office of Access and Learning Accommodation (OALA) has always been really open with communication and meeting her needs.

Accommodation specialist Emilee Ashenfelter said OALA’s main job is to try and remove barriers in order to ensure that students have equal access to the educational experience.

“Being able to meet with students to help support them, and just really using the interactive process to be able to identify those barriers and trying to remove them by putting in accommodations,” Ashenfelter said regarding the ways OALA interacts with students.

Ashenfelter also said one of the roles OALA assumes is providing support for faculty and professors who may not be sure how to implement accommodations for students.

“We’re here as a resource for them as well,” Ashenfelter said. “A lot of times, we can offer advice or be a founding board just so students are really able to get the most out of their experience with their professors and class.”

Sadler said pre-pandemic, the hardest part about her disability was having to interact with soft-spoken people.

“I had a friend who always covered her mouth when she spoke,” Sadler said.

Throughout her life, Sadler said she had to become picky with the people she chose to be friends with, depending on whether or not she could hear them.

Sadler’s accommodations include having to hand a microphone to her professors and using a computer. This involves a live closed captioning system that has a stenographer connected to the microphone, typing everything the professor says.

“I’m also really open about it,” Sadler said. “I’m one of those people who like, if you don’t talk about it, there’s no education.”

After more than an hour of wearing her hearing aid, Sadler said she usually gets headaches because she is not used to hearing smaller, more focused sounds. For example, she said she isn’t used to hearing the sounds crickets make or the way the lights buzz in a room.

Sadler said she has had experiences with people who aren’t considerate when she has to take her hearing aid off after a long time of wearing it. She said when people refuse to collaborate, she drops the subject and ultimately tries to avoid people who respond in that way.

“When I have to take them off, I’m like, ‘Oh, I need you guys to yell at me; I’m having a hard time hearing you guys without this,’ and they’ll be like, ‘No, I can’t,’” Sadler said.

Occasionally, when Sadler has her hearing aid off and has to talk with her peers during projects or labs, she said she either tries to communicate verbally or writes things down so she can respond.

Sadler said it wasn’t until this year that she began to advocate for herself. When she was a freshman, she said she was intimidated to approach her professors to communicate what she needed from them. When she began to communicate, though, she said her grades improved a significant amount.

“I feel like I’m kind of close with all of my teachers because of it,” Sadler said. “I think that’s an advantage that I have because I’m forced to communicate with all of my teachers.”