Amal Faheem and her family in London
Amal and her family.

Amal Faheem '23 developed a 6th sense as a child after she was betrayed by one of her original five. Her new skill was almost a superpower, but it falls short of x-ray vision. That made COVID the kryptonite.  

Last year, Amal and her sister went to a drive-in theater to see Cruella. They had their candy and a parking spot, but the night was nearly spoiled when Amal realized there were no captions on the screen. The speakers hanging inside the window were pointless. They decided to stay anyway. Amal's sister looked Amal in the eyes and relayed major plot points as necessary. 

Amal was born perfectly healthy back in her original home, Kuwait. It wasn't until she was a year-and-a-half old that her parents discovered something wasn't quite perfect. Amal was born 90 percent deaf. She can make out sounds, faintly, but it's as if the volume on life is turned so far down it's nearly set to mute. 

Amal learned American Sign Language (ASL) as a co-primary language, along with English. When Amal was two, her family moved to Kansas (then Idaho, Washington, and Clifton Park, NY). Amal's parents worried that if their daughter was too dependent on ASL, she might fall behind or miss out on opportunities. So, Amal worked with a speech therapist to help her speak and read lips – which she can do with superpower-like accuracy. Her mom also routinely took her to parades and festivals, and to the library, and to see horses. Making those experiences normal as a child, made a normal life easier growing up.

"I hated going to the speech therapist when I was younger. It took time away from playing with my friends. But I learned to lip read. I learned to pay close attention to the subtle shift in the shape of a person's mouth while they're talking. That's how I can detect the length of a vowel, by the shape of the mouth."

Amal is such a gifted lip reader, during conversation you'd forget she's watching you and not listening (though she is able to hear a bit through hearing aids). She associates lip reading with freedom, and then the pandemic took it all away. Amal never once doubted the need for masks early in the pandemic, but that didn't change the reality – when people covered the mouths, Amal was deaf all over again. 

"It took away a sense of independence. With the mask, I had to rely on someone to tell me everything. It was a huge communication barrier for me. I'm so grateful that Siena is a vaccinated community, and that we were able to be mask optional at the start of this year."

Amal's parents taught her to be independent, and with the pandemic waning, she's eager to push the limits. She's planning to travel to South Korea this summer. Why South Korea? She discovered as a teenager that South Korean dramas (both on TV and online) more consistently offered closed captioning compared to American entertainment. After that, an internship, and then graduation, and then most likely a master's degree. And then? Absolutely anything she wants, without limits. 

"I chose Siena because of the size of the classrooms and the relationships I knew I'd form with professors. Those relationships are important to my success, and I really do love my professors. They're so supportive, and they were so accommodating during the mask mandate, doing whatever they could so I wouldn't fall behind. I'm also so grateful to Ifrah Mohammed and Sierra Galusha. They're both amazing friends who helped me tremendously when I've needed it." 

Amal Faheem '23