After 27 years of silence, Semhar can finally hear her own voice
Posted Aug 31 2010 4:35pm
Semhar Beyene’s childhood dream was to become a performer, and with her dancer’s physique, love of music and model features, she had all the attributes to make it to the top.
Semhar was born profoundly deaf, but she never allowed this to hold her back.
Nevertheless, once she left school and started attending auditions, the reality of her disability hit hard. She gave up on her dreams, finding work as a graphic designer.
Now, however, the old spark has been reignited — thanks to a cochlear implant last November. At 27 years old, Semhar now enjoy sounds and voices she has never heard before.
Prior to this, the quietest sound she could hear was 98 decibels (the level of noise made by a lawnmower), whereas the normal hearing range is 0-20 decibels. Hearing aids helped to amplify the sounds, but hearing conversations was impossible.
‘For the first time, I’m able to hear my voice,’ she says. ‘And I can hear the way my parents’ names are pronounced — up until I had the implant I had never heard them spoken. All these things make a huge difference. It’s a surprisingly emotional experience. ’
For Semhar, the process of having the implant fitted was the culmination of a lifetime’s consideration. Despite being born deaf, she never regarded herself as disabled.
She grew up using lip reading and hearing aids rather than sign language and attended a mainstream primary school, where she was marked out as a high-achiever.
‘I didn’t even think of myself as deaf. I thought I spoke exactly the same as all the other children although it clearly sounded different to hearing people.’ she says.
Then, at secondary school age I moved to a deaf boarding school and everything changed. I was shocked because everyone was signing, which I didn’t understand — initially I felt like it was some kind of freak school. Looking back, I guess I was prejudiced about deafness myself.’
But the environment led to her making many deaf friends and so, despite several offers of a cochlear implant in her teens and early 20s, she saw no need to seek to improve her hearing.
Indeed, she went on to achieve a great deal. She appeared in Channel 4’s show Vee-TV made for and by deaf people; helped organise a dance troupe and appeared on stage. She also reached the latter stages of selection for the BBC TV show Britain’s Missing Top Model, in which eight young women with disabilities competed for a modelling contract.
When offered a place, however, she turned it down. ‘I didn’t like the way they were make a big deal of my disability,’ she says. ‘They were choosing people with the most severe disabilities and my view was they were trying to exploit these girls, so I pulled out.’