Ottawa

What it's like to be a deaf teenager during a pandemic

CBC spoke to Alicia Mbesha and Kaï Haché — with the help of LSQ interpreter Ginie Petit — to learn about the challenges they faced during the pandemic, their experience at school and their hopes for the future.

Alicia Mbesha and Kaï Haché talk about challenges and importance of community

These teens share what it's like being deaf in a pandemic, and their hopes for the future

5 months ago
Duration 5:48
18-year-olds Kaï Haché and Alicia Mbesha are students at Ottawa's Consortium Centre Jules-Léger, the only school in Canada outside Quebec that teaches students using Quebec Sign Language (LSQ).

What's it like being deaf or hard of hearing in a pandemic? CBC Ottawa reached out to two teenagers at a school in Ottawa to understand their experience. 

Consortium Centre Jules-Léger teaches students from kindergarten to high school who are deaf, blind, deafblind, as well as those with learning disabilities. Because it is the only school in Canada outside Quebec that teaches students in French and using Quebec Sign Language (LSQ), many students live on campus.

CBC spoke to Alicia Mbesha (Grade 11) and Kaï Haché (Grade 12) — with the help of LSQ interpreter Ginie Petit — to learn about the challenges they faced during the pandemic, their experience at the school and their hopes for the future. 

This interview has been edited for length, style and clarity.

Alicia and Kaï say being able to communicate with their peers in Quebec Sign Language (LSQ) makes them feel more connected as a community. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Do you identify as deaf or hard of hearing?

Kaï: I consider myself to be deaf and proud of it. 

Alicia: My community knows my identity is definitely deaf, but with other people I will say that I'm hard of hearing. Often when I remove my hearing aids, I only speak verbally so hearing people can understand me. But my first language is sign language.

Alicia Mbesha is a Grade 11 student at Consortium Centre Jules-Léger. She says living in residence with other deaf students has helped her feel less isolated. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Your families both live in Ottawa, but you decided to live in the school's residence. Why? 

Kaï: I love the residence because I can sign with my community. It's more social, I've got more accessibility with people through signing. I can speak my own language. 

Alicia: I decided to go into residence [a year ago] because I felt very isolated at home. I don't have any other deaf people in my community who can understand me. So it was very important for me to be with my Deaf community. 

For me, being in residence changed pretty much everything. We're all in a similar world. It's easier for me here because at home I'd have to repeat myself. People couldn't understand me.

Grade 12 student Kaï Haché hopes to become an engineer or a teacher after graduating from Consortium Centre Jules-Léger. He says being part of a co-op program has helped prepare him for the future. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

How has the pandemic impacted your experience? 

Kaï: [Despite living on campus] all my courses were online which made us very tired. We constantly had to watch the screen and try to follow.

Alicia: The masks made it very difficult for deaf people. We couldn't read lips for a long time. You also don't see people's facial expressions very clearly. It's impossible to communicate. We'd usually have to ask people if they didn't mind actually taking their masks off so we could communicate better.

What are your hopes for the future as you get closer to graduation? 

Kaï: I would love to become an engineer or a teacher. I love robotics. It's my favourite domain. 

Alicia: My hope for the future is to go to college or university in health care. I'm a person who likes the public and taking care of people, but I'm still not 100 per cent sure.

Haché and Mbesha say they’ve found a community within their school. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Kaï, you've been a student at this school since Grade 1. How do you feel about leaving and entering mainstream education? 

Kaï: Here, all my courses are adapted for me in sign language. We have interpreters, teachers and specialists to help us.

I'd like to go to college first and after, if I can, I'd like to go to a university in Ottawa. But I'd like to have some help. I know I'll have access to an interpreter and accommodations to make things more accessible for me.   

Alicia, how prepared do you feel to enter mainstream education after you graduate? 

Alicia: I feel good, but I am a bit nervous to leave the school and my Deaf community as well. The change of environments, the interactions with everybody is going to be different. I will have to adapt. 

At Consortium Centre Jules-Léger, we can stay in school until we reach 21 years of age. So we have more time. We don't have to graduate until we feel comfortable and ready. 

Consortium Centre Jules-Léger is the only school outside of Quebec that teaches students solely in spoken French and LSQ. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

What do you want people to know about your experience as a deaf student in Ottawa? 

Kaï: Don't be afraid to ask us questions or ask me questions. I can talk. I can sign. I can communicate. I can write. I can communicate whichever way so we can exchange information. It's always possible to make it work. 

Alicia: I want you to know that sign language allowed me to see the world in a different way. My identity is clear now. It's a beautiful language. It is really fun and I encourage anybody to learn this language.

My community is really wonderful. It's beautiful. It's a culture.

Very often people will ask me, 'Oh, can you become hearing? Is there a solution?' For me, it's like, 'No, I don't want to. I was born this way.'

I don't want to change. I can't become a hearing person anyway. I'm very happy the way I am. I am who I am. 


COVID has put a spotlight on communication challenges faced by people who are deaf and hard of hearing, particularly because of the impact of masks. CBC Ottawa reached out to those in this community to ask about their pandemic experiences and what they want people to know about their lives. 

If you have a story you'd like to share about being deaf, send us an email.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anchal Sharma is an associate producer for CBC in Ottawa. Find her on Twitter at @anchalsharma_.

now