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Deaf Copenhagen student is now an animal doctor

There are some things that make Eva a different kind of vet

A hearing aid makes some background noise audible to her. But for all intents and purposes, she is deaf.

“I manage a bit better with the hearing aid, and it gives me a feeling of space. But I can’t hear the birds on the trees, and I can’t distinguish between sounds,” says Eva Sørensen, who is now a fully qualified veterinary doctor, just graduated from the University of Copenhagen.

Interviewed by the University Post, Eva talks through an interpreter, who translates back and forth in sign language. To be more precise, the interpreter translates only what Eva says, because Eva understands what you say by reading your mouth as you say it.

She has been without hearing since birth, so her speech is also impaired. But you get the feeling when you talk to Eva, that it is you that has the disability.

“I communicate with several of my fellow students without an interpreter, and I talk to my boyfriend. But I cannot hear myself speak, and this makes it difficult for others to understand who are not used to it,” she explains.

Speaking in turn

Through her own six and a half years of study, her hearing impairment has added an extra layer of practical challenges.

In classes and auditoriums, Eva has an interpreter with her through the difficult and technically demanding programme. The interpreter, one of a team that follows Eva, has to be well-practised: like Eva they read up on the slides beforehand to be able to use the right signs for the vets’ terminology. For lectures, two interpreters are present, as it is physically hard to interpret for long periods of time, and they switch and take breaks.

And classmates have had to learn to stop talking at the same time, if Eva is to have a chance at lip-reading or sign-reading their conversations. But “most of them have got used to this, and I think it has helped them too,” she says.

“But the biggest challenge has been in surgery practice, where we have surgical masks on. I read people’s lips, and so this is suddenly ten times harder. To add to this, if I am holding surgical instruments, how do I use sign language?,” she asks rhetorically.

It is hard for the interpreters in this situation too, she explains, smiling at our interpreter, “but things seemed to go OK anyway.”

Group work is harder too, and Eva didn’t do much of it, she says. But when she did, it was with fellow students who were so used to Eva, that she didn’t need an interpreter. Organizing meetings was through text messages and e-mail.

Hands better than sounds

But this is all there needs to be said about the practical difficulties.

Because there are actually some distinct advantages to being a deaf vet, according to Eva. Now she has never had her hearing, so the following is pure speculation, she insists.

But, “I am good at reading people’s body language, and I am good at reading the body language of the animals. In clinical work, I use my hands more, and I notice better the things that I feel with my hands.”

In auscultation – listening to the internal sounds of the body – Eva uses a special stethoscope that re-inforces the sounds of the beats. But also here, she uses her hands to a higher degree than her fellow students, she says.

Right now, her life ahead of her, she wants to do research, or work with small animals in a veterinary practice.

In practice this would need the help of an interpreter, even though “I would be able to carry out most consultations with, say, dog owners,” she says.

Not worth mentioning

She is the first person at the University of Copenhagen to complete her veterinary education without the use of hearing. She scored a ‘10’ on the Danish 12-point scale for her final Master’s dissertation.

But Eva is modest, and this reporter has a hard time convincing her, that she has done anything special.

“I don’t look at myself as having done anything remarkable. I got in on my grade average like everyone else, and I took the programme like everyone else, taking one day at a time.”

”For me, I am just Eva!” she says.

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