Contact: Wendel Sloan at 505.562.2253
Reporter: Shane Brown
PORTALES – Elice Valdez, senior public relations major at Eastern New Mexico University from Santa Fe, was born missing 75 percent of her hearing. Although Elice was supposed to never learn how to talk, she's on her way to graduating and pursuing her master's."I was two when we found out. At first my mom thought I was autistic," Elice said. "She would call my name or try to get my attention, but I wouldn't answer. I just kept on doing my thing, not responding."
Eventually, one of her mom's friends who worked at a hearing clinic told her to bring Elice in for a test. "That's when they found out I was missing 75 percent of my hearing, and that's when my mom started to work with me religiously," Elice said.
On Dec. 6, 1983, Elice got her first hearing aids. "I have about 85 to 90 percent hearing with my hearing aids on," Elice said. Elice began the learning process of talking at the age of two.
"I basically learned how to talk because of my mother's hard work and about 10 years of speech therapy." A huge part of Elice understanding people is lip-reading. "I do a lot of lip-reading. It drives me crazy when people mumble, or they have a moustache, because I can't read their lips. "I do appreciate it when people try to talk more clearly and pronounce their words better."
Despite her disability, Elice went to public schools like any other student. "When I was younger I got my fair share of teasing," Elice said. In elementary school she had to wear an auditory trainer. An auditory trainer is a huge hearing aid that's strapped to her body and the teacher talks into a microphone. (Once it picked up a radio station.)
"That was embarrassing because I had this huge hearing aid strapped to my body," Elice said. The older Elice got the better she dealt with the teasing and discrimination. "I was never really part of the ‘in crowd;' I was always that ‘deaf girl.'" With all the teasing it just made Elice stronger. "It's just part of who I am; I wouldn't change it for anything."
In the classroom, Elise's disability didn't hurt her academically; she just had to work harder. "I had to sit in the front of the class and friends would help out with note-taking and such."
A big reason Elice came to school at ENMU is that she felt she could learn a lot more because of the smaller class sizes. She added that the Student Services with Disabilities (SSD) office at ENMU is very helpful. "SSD makes the whole learning process more comfortable for me."
Surprisingly, Elice said, "Sometimes I really enjoy my disability." In the mornings when she gets ready for school she'll take her hearing aids off and enjoy the quiet. "It's so peaceful being in total silence."
Elice added that when she gets stressed she takes out her hearing aids and sits in silence. "But then I'll hear a noise and it freaks me out, so I put the hearing aids back in so I can find out what's going on." She added that she does keep one hearing aid in at night just to be safe.
With Elice being in college, she said people are more mature about her hearing disability. In fact, most of the time people don't notice at first. "I love it when people are being really sensitive towards me, which is cool, but then I'll shock them by making fun of myself. It's just a part of who I am; people can relax around me and treat me like a regular person."
Elice said her boyfriend is great and that her disability doesn't affect their relationship. "The only problem is that he can't whisper sweet nothings to me," she said smilingly.
Elice admits that being hearing impaired is not easy, but she wouldn't change the way she is. "It's just a part of who I am; I wouldn't change it for the world."
Elice Valdez, born with 75-percent hearing impairment, says that she sometimes takes out her hearing aids to enjoy the silence. (photo by Shane Brown)
Elice enjoys a laugh with friends (left) Tina Reeves and Brock Ostrander. (photo by Shane Brown)