Let’s start with the good news: Letthe Riemen (26) has already obtained her Bachelor degree in Economics. A year ago, that felt hardly achievable. Following lectures was almost impossible during lockdown. The sound quality of the online lectures was too poor, and Letthe couldn’t understand any of them. She wasn’t given a speech-to-text interpreter either because, according to the rules, she wasn’t hard of hearing enough.
Not disabled enough for help: ‘My life has needlessly been at a standstill for a year now’
Not being able to hear well enough to be able to follow online lectures, but not deaf…
Studying after lockdown
However, hybrid education does have its plus points, stated Letthe. “For example, lecturers now wear their microphones for recordings in the Theil lecture rooms and they repeat questions from the room for students at home. That’s great for me, because otherwise I don’t hear those questions.”
Letthe needs to sit at the front for most lectures. She doesn’t necessarily need to be on the first row but does need to be close, otherwise she won’t understand the lecturer. That’s not always easy. “It’s a part of your life that you need to adapt because of your impairment. It means I have a love-hate relationship with my deafness. I’d like to fully accept it, but it’s certainly no fun dealing with all the barriers I face.” If the lecturer wears a microphone and the sound is amplified, then she doesn’t need to sit at the front.
It’s not only in the lecture hall that Letthe needs to be aware of where she sits; she actually has to do that everywhere. Just walking into any old bar for a drink isn’t an option. “Take De Smitse for instance, with its concrete floors, walls and ceiling. I can’t hear a thing in there.” If you ever take Letthe to a place where there’s too much reverberation, don’t feel guilty. She understands perfectly well that you couldn’t have known that in advance, but she really appreciates it if you remember for next time though. “A fellow student recently remembered that I always sit at the front. She said to me: ‘Oh, you always sit there don’t you. Should I sit next to you?’ I thought that was so kind.”
Of course, with someone hard of hearing, there are more than enough misunderstandings. “People sometimes think I’m arrogant, but I just don’t hear them. If you call me and I don’t respond; that’s the reason.” That’s why she has taught herself to make compensations on a social level. “I’m quick to ask you how things are going, even if I don’t know you that well. I think if I have a chat with people like that, the uncomfortable times, the times I don’t understand or misunderstand, will be less disturbing for people.”
Letthe not understanding people does sometimes lead to amusing situations. She recalled a meal at the faculty association: “If I’m sitting next to you, I can understand you perfectly. If you’re opposite me, I can’t. However, I do just tend to try to take part in the conversation and sometimes answer a question I’ve not understood. In this case, I said ‘yes’. The question that evening proved to be whether I preferred women. Well, I do like to keep my options open, but I’d just not heard the question. We laughed about that afterwards.”