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Hearing Loss Community Members: Liza Sylvestre

Get know some of our hearing loss community members! Why? Because they provide valuable resources and inspire us. Spreading hearing loss awareness is going to take a lot of us working together and as individuals. Connections in the community provide more resources and ways to get the word out.

We are thrilled to have artist Liza Sylvestre as our guest this week. Liza is a multimedia artist and curator of academic programs at Krannert Art Museum whose work has been shown nationally. She has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards and has acted as the Artist in Residence of the Weisman Art Museum and the Center for Applied Translational Sensory Science (CATTS).

In 2019, Liza received a Citizens Advocate Award from the Minnesota Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing (MNCDHH). Her work has been written about in Art in America, Mousse Magazine, SciArt Magazine and the Weisman Art Museum’s Incubator Web Platform.

Hearing Loss Turned into Art

Julia: I’m blogging after we filmed our podcast with Liza. BEST TIME EVER! She is passionate about inclusivity and how that can look through art. 

I was introduced to Liza’s art when I was working for the state. I helped Michele and Chelle with video clips for a training class on Oral Transliteration. (This is a great training class for interpreters wanting to expand their services to include oral interpreting). The poem “What if I Told You a Story in a Language I can hear” was a reminder of my hearing privilege.

Wha_ i_ I _old you a __ory in a language I _an _ear from Liza Sylvestre on Vimeo.

As a CART provider, I get hearing fatigue and there are days I envy folks with hearing loss who say they turn their ears off at the end of the day. But something about this poem helped me to remember that my hearing fatigue is a choice. My choice of profession, because I can hear. Michele often says you didn’t choose hearing loss, it chose you. This poem helped me understand that better.

It also helped me better understand why our Lipreading Concept Class (which begins this evening, Feb. 17th) being taught first is so important. A good reminder you must understand the concept of lipreading or you will feel it’s an impossible thing to learn.


Michele: As Julia mentions, Chelle and I used the video above to teach American Sign Language Interpreters to better understand what lipreaders need from Oral Interpreters / Transliterators. When anyone tells me that they want to learn to lipread, I send them the video link. I have them watch it with the sound on first. Then, have them watch it again, muted, concentrating on seeing the words Liza is saying.

I met Liza online in early 2015. A Minnesota friend had sent an email to tell me about a young Minnesota artist who is Hard of Hearing (HoH). The email contained Liza’s newsletter outlining her participation in Art(ists) On the Verge (AOV). This is a mentor-based fellowship program for Minnesota-based emerging artists working experimentally at the intersection of art and technology.

Wha_ i_ I _old you a __ory in a language I _an _ear was included. Liza recites her writing in a normal voice. Then, she recites it a second time enunciating only the parts of each word that she is able to hear.

The video visually demonstrates what hearing loss is like and how the HoH hear. I was intrigued.

However, the video was not captioned so I wasn’t sure that I was getting everything via lipreading. I contacted Liza to ask if there was a captioned version or a transcript. I shared with her what I thought she said. She responded, “You were so close with your lip reading. I’m impressed!” Shortly after that, she sent me a captioned version of the video.

That was the beginning of a wonderful connection with this talented lady. Liza is one of the few people I’ve met over the years who lost their hearing in a similar way that I did…gradually and steadily going into the severe range at a young age. We are both hardwired to lipread. When we meet someone who has a similar hearing loss experience, we recognize it almost immediately. It’s kind of a siblinghood… a deep understanding of a communication style that you share.


I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with Liza over the years since that first online exchange. We connected over other projects as well. In 2018, Liza gave a workshop at the SayWhatClub convention. She donated a large print of one of her abstract paintings to our Silent Auction. I was determined to win the print, and did! It was thrilling to meet Liza in person prior to, and at, the convention. I’ve had the opportunity spend time with her since as well.

Sensory Loss Symposium
Liza Sylvestre (second from right) engaging one of the tour groups in front of a sculpture by Louise Nevelson. Photo by Boris Oicherman.

Later in 2018, I participated in a Sensory Loss Symposium that Liza organized after meeting with scientists studying sensory loss at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Translational Sensory Science (CATSS). The symposium was held at the Weisman Art Museum (WAM) and it is one of the coolest things I have been involved in. Several small, mixed groups (7 or 8) of scientists, artists, and people with sensory disabilities went throughout the museum and confronted barriers together, working out solutions to accomplish accessibility, for those of us with disability, at each exhibit we visited. It was a wonderful learning experience for every participant.

Additional links to the symposium for more information:

The symposium demonstrated how beneficial it is to include hearing partners in developing solutions to overcome communication and access barriers. Firsthand, I saw the impact this project had on the hearing members of our group. How focused and intense they were in thinking about each situation. Finding ways they could make our experience as equal as possible to their own. I have applied this to my own life since, and it works great. Involving hearing people in crafting a solution to overcome a communication barrier makes a big impact and a lasting impression.

Opening the Community

Chelle: My favorite thing to do is introducing Hard of Hearing community members to each other. Connections in the HOH world have a ripple effect. WE share each other’s stories and the inspiration keeps growing. The HoH tribe has some of the best people in the world in it, people like Liza. 

Michele introduced Liza’s work to me several years ago. Liza makes hearing loss visual. She blends her hearing loss with different mediums so people can see, and hear, how hearing loss affects us. Her projects are fascinating. By going to her website, you’ll find her other videos/projects.

Projects like…
  • Flashlight – when we can’t see, we can’t hear. Our vision travels with the light (similar to people turning away or covering their mouth. Yet we focus on non verbal parts of speech; facial expressions, body language and more. It’s a piece of the puzzle.
  • Third Space – demonstrates how acoustics affect hearing devices, yes! If we don’t have captions, we wind up with other thoughts and musings.
  • Music from Christopher – processing sounds with thoughts and visuals. I love how squiggly lines represent complicated translation thoughts. It is a puzzle and we use anticipation. Our interpretations can be way off but sometimes they are right on too. 
  • Audio Description – a clever project that has people translating audio into images. I’m sure this made people think hard.
  • Standing in a Room Without Light – lighting is so important to those of us with hearing loss. Language comes in pieces…but not really. There’s a big picture and so much at work here. We need all the pieces.
  • Interference Drawings – show us the word discrimination puzzle

My favorite takeaway in our podcast with Liza, is when she talks about making our experiences valid. We get things “wrong” at times but is it any less valid? It might not be the same as the hearing world’s experience but it is our experience in the end. Perhaps our version is better! I know what I think I heard is often a lot more fun than what was said! 

Go to Liza’s website, explore and share with family and friends. Then watch our companion podcast with Liza.

Meet others in the hearing loss community…

Meet others in the Hard of Hearing community, like Maclain who makes music accessible and Shanna an advocate out of Kansas.

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