Benoît Aliaga

Deaf PhD in epigenetics

DNA image

How It All Started

Please note this page is under construction and will be finished soon. Thank you very much for your comprehension. Photo de Benoit Aliaga

I am glad to welcome you here. My name is Benoît Aliaga and I am a PhD student in Epigenetics at the University of Perpignan, in Southern France. Maybe you ended up in my website accidentally, but chances are you are a deaf student or researcher yourself, a professor dealing with deaf students or colleagues or, who knows, a potential employer 🙂 In any case, I am happy you are interested in knowing my story. Because it has been all but an easy, straight line from A to B.

A Minor Hearing Loss

People look at me with a mix of sorrow and surprise when I tell them I was not born deaf, but went deaf later on. They take the sense of hearing for granted and the mere thought of going deaf at some point of their lives makes them scary. And it is, indeed.

I come from a normal-hearing family with no antecedents of deafness whatsoever. But for some reason, I was born with a slight hearing loss. My parents found out when I was around three years old because I had half of the vocabulary of children my age. But nothing really serious — a simple hearing aid and the support of speech therapists was enough to overcome it. It did not prevent me to lead a normal life. I even remember taking off my hearing aid and getting into the shower whilst listening one of Michael Jackson's hits of the moment, Give In To Me, around 1992. I could have never imagined by that time that such a mundane action would soon become thing of the past.

And suddenly, the silence

At the age of twelve, I got vaccinated against hepatitis B at school in the context of a vaccination campaign across the whole country, as lots of children every year. A few days later, I woke up a morning in order to go school and I realized I could not hear anything at all. Believe me it is a real shock to go to bed in the night hearing properly and waking up the next morning in complete silence. At first I thought (or hoped) it was only temporary. But that night would have changed my life forever. I would be completely deaf from then on, at least for a few of years. My stays in hospital had only started...

How It Affected My School Life

When I finally came back to school after a long time in hospital, I started to face the reality my learning would be different, too. Communicating with me had turn very hard. To the extent that my school at the time invited me to abandon the centre arguing that they did not have the means to handle a case like mine, since it was a very humble school in a small rural village in the heart of France. I think there was also a lack of willing, but this is another question…

Thus, I had to continue my education on distance learning through the CNED (French national school at distance), with the consequent isolation and loneliness it implies. Of course, I also had to learn French Sign Language (LSF) together with my mother, who would become the unexpected interpreter and link between me and the rest of the world. I cannot continue my story without thanking ARTIES (Toulouse Regional Association for the Integration of Deaf Children), because everything would have been even harder without their support.

Finally Good News

A few years later, my family and I took two important decisions: first, to send me to an adapted high school in the city in order to live in an environment as close as possible to normal and, second, to get a cochlear implant as soon as I turned eighteen years old. This, especially the latter, would change my live forever for good.

After struggling for so many years, I finally obtained my Scientific Baccalauréat, a French diploma giving the right to go to University. It was definitely the first success and a very encouraging one, taking into account that unfortunately very few disabled students go to University, let alone the deaf (CHIFFRE ET SOURCE). I had won a battle in the war, but the fight continued.

«It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult»
Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, XVII, 104, 26

0.7 percent of disabled student do a PhD

  1. Many difficulties are present at the University
  2. I belong to the 5 percent of disabled/deaf people who go to University
  3. How many people in this 5 percent have a PhD?
  4. Deafness, a disability very unknow in the academic area

Finally I obtained my scientific baccalauréat. It was also hard, because nobody bothered to adapt to me. The reason was very simple. I had always wanted to understand and decipher the Human Biology. Nowadays, I am a PhD student in biology and despite my difficulties, I'm alway motivated to understand and discover the secret of life.

An article written by Céline Garcia, a french student at the University of Toulouse Le Mirail showed clearly that difficulties and the neccessity for deaf student to be mentored.

We need more information and notetaker

Persistence is the key to success

Despite this lack of help, we have a powerful tool, willness

When you are deaf, communication is an incredible challenge.

We need to build the gap between hearing and deaf people.

This article about Phu Duong, an US deaf PhD student in biology showed also that motivation and mentorship are important for deaf students.

I would like acknowledge all the people who accept to help me.

I wish you a pleasant reading through my website. If you want more information about my research works, do not hesitate to contact me. I will be happy to answer you.