All images of Elena LaQuatra wearing crown/sash were taken in 2016 during her time as Miss Pennsylvania USA.
How does Elena hear? With a microphone in her hand, a sash across her chest, and one cochlear implant!
Hi, I’m Elena!
I am a 25-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who graduated from college with a major in broadcasting. Oh, and speaking of Pennsylvania, I just finished representing my state this year as Miss Pennsylvania USA! Now I am a Digital Video Reporter for an online lifestyle and enter-tainment channel.
Hearing My Way
I wasn’t born with hearing loss. When I was four years old, I had an infection called bacterial meningitis that took my hearing and balance. I had to work really hard to learn to listen and talk again—I had cochlear implant surgery, and I went to the DePaul School for Hearing and Speech for four years before I was able to go to my mainstream public school.
I'm lucky that my sister is only 18 months oler than me, so we were almost always attending the same school once I main-streamed. She also participated in the same activities as me—dance, acting, etc.,—so she was like my sidekick and always had my back if I needed something. She advocated for me when I was too young or shy to advocate for myself.
Do you know the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? That’s my family, except no wedding... yet! I love my family and look forward to our family holidays and vacations. I visit our homeland of Ithaca, Greece for a few weeks each year. I love the Greek culture, the thick accents, and the feeling of home I always feel when I’m there.
I spent my teenage years competing in pageants, winning the prestigious title of Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen in 2007 and Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA in 2010. My biggest title was won just this past year, 2016: Miss Pennsylvania USA. I represented my state at the nationally televised Miss USA pageant, and since then, I've met so many incredible people—celebrities, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, humanitarians, politicians, and more! My years of pageantry have really improved my self-advocacy, language, and social skills. I am so confident and comfortable being interviewed for a job and/or by the media because I've been practicing these “interview skills” since I started in pageants when I was 14. You can hand me a microphone and ask me to speak in front of thousands of people about anything and I'm able to grab the mic, speak off the cuff, and entertain the crowd confi-dently. Having the confidence to network and talk to people, whether it’s one-on-one or in a crowd of of a thousand, is something I learned from pageants.
One of the things I love most about what I do is having the opportunity to emcee or serve as a speaker for charitable/fundraising galas. Of course, the foundations close to my heart are related to hearing loss, such as AGBell, Starkey Hearing Foundation, Cochlear Americas, and the DePaul School for Hearing and Speech to name a few. I also work with other charities including The National Kidney Foundation, Glimmer of Hope, The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and more.
Being involved in pageants, people automat-ically see you as someone who is a role model to others. Overcoming the adversity that I faced with losing my hearing is inspiring to people. I, of course, didn’t realize this when I was younger. I was just a little girl doing my thing—singing, dancing, acting. Now that I’m older, I realize that speaking with parents and others in the deaf community provides them with a lot of hope when they hear my story of perseverance, and that makes me proud. When I speak to kids, my advice comes from my own personal experience—that as long as you don’t see yourself as ‘weird,’ ‘different,’ or think negatively of yourself in any way, neither will others. Additionally, I feel that having hearing loss has made me humble, relatable, empathetic, and patient towards others. I don’t know if these are qualities I would possess if I didn’t have this hardship at the beginning of my life. I've never let my hearing loss define me or prevent me from achieving my dreams. However, it has definitely enriched my life in many ways.
I think one of the biggest obstacles I’ll have to face is still ahead. I'm job searching to enter my career in broadcast communications (on the news) full time. While I have almost 10 years of experience on camera, there are many aspects to reporting the news that I haven’t had experience with yet, and I’m curious to see what obstacles I may face with my hearing. For example, news reporters and anchors wear an earpiece called an IFB in the ear (like an ear bud) and that’s how the news producer gives them instructions/cues. It’s a lot of multitasking because you’re trying to listen to your producer and co-workers, report your story or read the prompter, and make sure you’re staying within the timeframe. It may be tough for me in this situation—I hear through my cochlear implant micro-phone, so an in-the-ear bud wouldn’t work well for me, and I have no hearing in my other ear—but I won’t let that stop me. With new technology like Bluetooth in my cochlear implant, I know I can figure out a way to make it work!
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