How one Concordia student doesn’t let her disability stop her
While Sera Kassab never doubted her career path, she did doubt how she would fit in among other students at Concordia. As a deaf student at Concordia, her scholastic experience is quite unique.
Born deaf in an entirely hearing Lebanese family, Kassab has been in contact with hearing culture from a very young age.
While Kassab said coming to Concordia changed her life for the better, adjusting to her new surroundings was challenging. “I was extremely nervous. I was going into a hearing environment that I am not used to, and everything felt so weird and scary,” she said. The 28-year-old student communicates using American Sign Language (ASL).
Art, in all its forms, has always been Kassab’s passion—she wasn’t going to let being deaf stop her from pursuing it. Kassab is now in her sixth year in the studio arts undergraduate program, pursuing her dream the only way she knows how–by letting her art speak for itself.
When she started university, Kassab said some students were caught off-guard by her at first, since many had never met a deaf person before. One of the hardest parts for her was breaking down people’s misconceptions. “People think deaf people are feeble-minded because we don’t always understand what hearing people are trying to tell us,” Kassab said. She, however, argues her deafness strengthens her other senses and actually serves as an advantage. Being deaf makes her more visual and attentive to details that hearing people might miss, she said. Kassab also developed a stronger memory, which helps her in school. When she paints,photographs, sculpts or designs, it helps her recreate things she sees and likes more easily.
Concordia’s Access Centre for Students with Disabilities offers Kassab interpreting services, tutoring and note-takers. Just like any regular student, Kassab attends her classes on campus, but she is accompanied by an interpreter. The interpreter translates the teacher’s explanations and comments made by students into ASL.
However, if the interpreter can’t make it, Kassab has to skip the class. Trying to follow the course without hearing anything and trying to communicate on her own would be too demanding. She remembers one time the interpreter didn’t show up, but she felt so uneasy with the situation she stayed in class anyway and just asked her teacher and classmates a lot of questions. Some students were patient with her, but she could tell they felt uncomfortable.
Kassab said feeling disconnected from her surroundings can be scary and difficult to deal with. She constantly worries about missing information, especially when teachers and students speak too quickly, or talk over each other. In moments like these, she relies on note-takers and students who offer their help. Other times, she’ll ask the teacher to go back over certain points. “After class, some students will actually come and thank me because they too can understand better,” Kassab said.
Today, Kassab feels she’s settled in and is “part of a family” at Concordia. She’s become more receptive to interactions with other students—some are even learning sign language to better communicate with her. Alongside fellow Concordia students and close friends, she’s participating in an artistic project called Mtl Seekers. The group was started by and for artists seeking to move up and evolve in their artistic careers. Within the group, they distinguish themselves by their different artistic tastes and influences. They will have their first art exposition next fall.
Kassab has never seen her deafness as a limitation, and she encourages both deaf and hearing people to see it as she does. By pursuing her dreams despite obstacles, Kassab hopes to “inspire deaf children to become artists [and to not] be afraid to show their talent.”