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Q&A with Diane Lisanti
By Angela Lynn

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“Travel is filled with memorable sights, sounds and tastes, but it is challenging!” – Diane Lisanti

Diane is a resident of the bustling metropolis of New York, New York, a proud member of the Hard of Hearing community and a true Hard of Hearing Traveller. Her journey with hearing loss began when she was diagnosed at just four years old (believed to be caused by a high fever at 14 months). She started wearing a hearing aid at the age of five, and by 1960, at eight years old, she had embraced binaural hearing aids.

Throughout her life, Diane has shown immense resilience and determination. Between the ages of five to 20, she engaged in speech therapy, demonstrating her unwavering commitment to improving her communication skills. She pursued her education in hearing schools, with the exception of her second graduate program at Gallaudet University from 1993 to 1995, where she embraced a unique educational experience. “At Gallaudet, I eperienced an immersion of ASL in an educational setting which was beautiful and the first time where information/thoughts were visual and understood,” she shared. “On a personal level, it was the first time I met intelligent, Hard of Hearing people who were comfortable with their identity and sharing our stories with friendshi[ andacceptance of everyone.”

For Diane, lip-reading has been an integral part of her communication toolkit. The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its mask requirements, made her adapt even more to the world around her, highlighting the importance of controlling her environment, be it lighting, acoustics or the size of social gatherings. In the days before closed-captioning became widely available for television and movies, Diane’s determination shone bright as she quite literally watched and pieced together the storylines. Her passion for instrumental music remained a constant source of joy, as she found the simplicity of musical tones to be a welcoming and accessible aspect of her life.

What are some of your favourite destinations? 

Some of my most cherished destinations, ones I’d absolutely love to revisit, include Scotland, Italy, Belgium and Israel. These places have left an indelible mark on my heart. Additionally, I’ve had the pleasure of returning multiple times to Cape Cod, MA, and Montauk Point, N.Y., which hold a special place in my travel history. My passion for travel runs deep, though I’ve found it challenging when journeying alone. Over time, I’ve honed the art of remaining composed while explaining to others how best to communicate with me.

Do you have an experience and place that is extra special? 

Scotland, with its captivating cities and majestic mountains, holds a timeless allure, especially Edinburgh, where I felt transported to an era that seamlessly melded the ancient with the modern. Italy, on the other hand, felt like a second home, given that it’s the ancestral land of my great-grandparents. While I’ve had the chance to explore Italy, my heart longs to delve deeper, particularly into Naples and its surroundings, where my ancestors once thrived. The ocean has always held a special place in my heart, making any coastal destination feel uniquely soothing and rejuvenating. And then there’s Bruges, Belgium, a city that enchanted me with its exceptional beer, delectable chocolates and mouthwatering cuisine.

What is travel like for you as a Hard of Hearing person? 

Regrettably, my travel experiences have often been less than ideal, sometimes even a pain in the neck. I consistently find myself having to explain that I rely on lip-reading, and that speaking louder actually hinders communication as it distorts both sound and lip movements. To make matters more complex, my speech quality is often described as too good, which can lead to misunderstandings. To mitigate these challenges, I’ve learned to anticipate my needs, like checking the Inflight magazine for information on available beverages and pre-ordering my food before the flight. However, when it comes to requesting ADA compliant hotel rooms, it’s often a hit or miss situation. Many times, the room is designed for mobility disabled guests, resulting in impracticalities like the toilet being too high and my feet not reaching the floor, or the sink being too high.

Flying poses a particular set of problems for me, mainly due to adverse effects on my hearing caused by air pressure changes. To cope, I must keep my hearing aids on and remain awake to periodically yawn or pop my ears. On two occasions, I experienced hearing loss lasting from one hour to a staggering 15 hours after a flight. To minimize such issues, I do my best to opt for non-stop flights and avoid layovers whenever possible.

Unfortunately, I encountered a tour guide who once refused to face me while providing a tour. In this situation, I had to rely on a friend to provide an oral interpretation of the information being shared.

Do you think the travel industry provides adequate communication options for Deaf and Hard of Hearing travellers? 

It’s worth noting that there are very few airlines that offer captions for in-flight communications and videos. Regrettably, the same applies to public transportation in New York City, where announcements on trains, buses and subways lack captioning accessibility.  In recent times, mobile phones have introduced captioning technology to facilitate interactions with hearing individuals. However, not all hearing individuals are comfortable with me using my phone to decipher conversations, and the accuracy of these captions can be inconsistent.

What are some of the things you do to make travel less challenging for you? 

Right now, I hold TSA Global Entry status, which I obtained in 2022. This has significantly reduced the challenges associated with comprehending security personnel during travel. As always, I make a conscious effort to anticipate my needs in advance, such as reviewing the inflight magazine for information on available beverages and pre-ordering my meals before the flight to streamline my journey.

Any upcoming travel plans? 

I do plan to travel later this year to visit my sister in Los Angeles, California, visit friends and family that I have not been able to see due to the pandemic, as well as revisit Italy and Scotland. Additionally, I’m considering the possibility of exploring Iceland or another northern location where I can witness the Aurora Borealis. However, I’m uncertain about embarking on guided tours, as my hearing has deteriorated significantly over the past year—unless they offer ASL/total communication or captioning accessibility.

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