Jessica in Sign: Being Hearing-Impaired Doesn't Stop Her From Playing Volleyball

If you were there for the Lady Corsair's first Volleyball triumph on Friday, you might have noticed the middle blocker with the quick hands, a charming smile and the giant blue "4" on her jersey. You may also have noticed her sign language interpreter, Mario, who's present for all her games. Jessica Ensign, 19, lost her hearing in childhood, a disability which hasn't even fazed her in achieving remarkable success. She grew up in San Diego, attended Riverside High School for the Deaf, graduated as an MVP in Volleyball and was part of the American League. She went to college in San Diego for a year and then transferred to Santa Monica College as a photography major.

"I feel amazed at SMC; they really have a good program with the interpreters and they really involve us. They're so much better than the other colleges, honestly," she said. With the interpreter in the background, you really get the feeling that Jessica herself is speaking and soon forget the other's presence. "I wanted to play volleyball because I looked up to my dad. He played volleyball since he was young and then he passed away, so I wanted to take on volleyball for him." She has been involved in the sport and playing with great skill for over 5 years, perhaps thanks to her sharp visual sense. "When I go to the game, I'm very visual because you know I can't hear it ...I look at the ball and sometimes I use my hearing aid to hear the whistle and some voices."

Jessica's accentuated visual sense has given her an appreciation for the art of photography. "I hear about 5%, but I'm real visual. I see a lot." She has a passion for taking black and white as well as fashion photographs and hopes to make it her profession. She also has a very keen feeling sense, whether for touch or internal emotions. "I have a very strong intuition for figuring out right from wrong...I go with my gut," she said, and her heightened kinesthetic awareness allows her to feel what she lacks in hearing. "You know I feel the music, I feel the vibrations, and there's actually a lot of noise to be heard."

Jessica laughed at the idea of having her own personal interpreter, but she alternates between the many at SMC who help her manage through any communication challenges-a compromise that can get frustrating sometimes. "I feel like with the interpreter to follow me around everywhere, they know everything about me," she said. Jessica has many hearing friends, but wishes that more people would learn American Sign Language. "We do pass notes and text, AIM...you know I don't like the interpreter following me around, it's not their business. I really want all the hearing to take sign language so they can communicate with the deaf and I want us to talk to each other, you know?"

"The biggest challenge is getting a job, because some of the bosses won't hire deaf people. They think deaf people can't do it...There's a lot of obstacles to getting a job. That's what I'm bearing through right now." Although there are plenty of laws and regulations to prevent against it, most employers make their decisions long before meeting her. "Some of them hire, like FedEx and other certain companies and fast food/retail stores, but I don't like that, you know? I want a real business profession; it's hard to find a person that'll hire for that. I want to become a professional photographer and that's a serious business."

Despite these setbacks, Jessica's charming personality, enduring character, and natural talent are bound to earn her many great achievements to come.

In the meanwhile, she's been engaged to her High School sweetheart Brian Gutierrez since August 2007. "We've been living together for a while, but we want to take our time. We want to finish school first...then we'll go ahead and get married."

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