Chantal Lacroix: a fighter with a tender heart

January 5, 2016

Chantal Lacroix

Her deafness

At age 8, you became totally deaf in your right ear. What happened?

I had several severe ear infections. Complications led to the perforation of my right eardrum, and my auditory nerve was also affected. I haven’t been able to hear at all with that ear since then.

You do not wear hearing aids. Why is that?

Because I can hear pretty well with my left ear, and because the last time I went for a consult five years ago (yes, I know I really need to book an appointment with an audiologist!), the technologies available did not suit my needs.

In your television shows, namely Partis pour l’été formerly on TQS and now On efface et on recommence on Canal Vie, you interact in unusual outdoor environments (e.g., a bungee tower or waterskiing) and on very noisy construction sites. What strategies have you developed not to miss any of what your guests are saying?

First of all, I am lucky enough to host and produce my own shows, and this gives me some flexibility with respect to shooting conditions.

Plus, my entourage and production team are well aware of my deafness, and they help me tremendously. They will gently touch my shoulder to get my attention, and they talk to me face to face. If they see that I did not hear somebody calling out to me, they will go to that person and tell them that I’m not ignoring them, I just didn’t hear them! Then they make sure that contact is made between me and the person.

I also stick close to my guests. There is a foreman for each construction site, and I make sure to quickly make him my ally! You may also have noticed that my guests always stand to my left, so they’re talking into my good ear. I would not hear a thing otherwise!

That being said, these strategies do have their limits, especially in very noisy environments and on construction sites. During the shooting of On efface et on recommence, I sometimes have to ask the construction workers to take a break so we can film!

Her TV life

After becoming deaf in your right ear, you started lisping and pronouncing “s” as “sh.” Because of that, your high school career adviser told you at age 14 that you should forget about your dream of a career in television, that it would be impossible. If you could go back in time, what would you tell him?

That an adult in a position of authority, especially one who works with youngsters, should weigh his words carefully. In my opinion, it is these people’s duty and responsibility to be positive and encourage teens to tear down barriers and overcome the obstacles that stand between them and their dreams. Their role is certainly not to point out limits that they can’t exceed. I’m so grateful that my parents strongly rejected his opinion.

Speaking of your parents, they pushed you to take diction lessons to fix your speech problems, didn’t they?

Yes, and pronunciation classes too, which has greatly helped me improve my speech, even if it’s not yet perfect. To this day, some words are still difficult for me to pronounce.

Did you take lip reading classes? Do you lip read on a daily basis?

No, I have never taken any lessons. I naturally developed this skill from a very young age. Lip reading is an integral part of my life, but now that I’m getting older, I need to put my glasses on to see people’s mouth (laughs)!

Everyone who’s hard of hearing should take classes—they’re absolutely amazing!

Knowing how to lip read, you become a “little bird.” You can understand what people are saying when they think they’re out of earshot—which can be quite revealing and instructive! That being said, I try to mind my own business and not misuse this “talent.”

On the other hand, lip reading has its limits: there is no use in trying to listen to movies dubbed in French. Trying to connect what I hear (words in French) with what I see (English pronunciation) drives me nuts, so I watch original versions only! Editor’s note: read article on speechreading on page 15.

The least we can say is that you have not let partial deafness stop you or even slow you down! Can we say that you instead transformed it into a driving force?

When I first came to the television community, a producer told me that I would never host a show because I didn’t have what it takes, that girls with perfect hearing would always be chosen over me. So, no doubt my deafness has forced me to knock down barriers! Luckily, I found out that I had this strength in me—even if it came a bit late in my life. Over the years, I realized that I thrive on challenges. I give the best of me when I deliberately put myself in danger and under pressure. It began with the Sport Soleil TV show, but it wasn’t until the years of Partis pour l’été that I became fully aware of this character trait.

I’m thinking of one broadcast in particular from Partis pour l’été. At the time, we did a show where I had to do trapeze with my guest, despite my major vertigo! I was scared out of my mind, and I had failed the first three times I tried. The director told me, “Chantal, this is the fourth and last cut. No matter what happens, we’ll have to go with it.” At that very moment, with the cameras in my face and the whole crew looking at me, I thought, “No way! I won’t fail with all of Quebec watching!” The pressure was on…but I finally got it right!

I constantly challenge myself. Would I have done most of the things I’ve forced myself to do if it weren’t for the pressure to shoot a good TV show? Of course not!

Her message

You have many projects going at the same time, and you meet new people every day. What would you like to say to people with hearing loss that tend to isolate themselves and avoid social interaction from fear of being tagged as “the person who doesn’t understand anything?”

You really need to talk about your hearing problem. It is our respon‑
sibility to take the first step. The fact that deafness in an “invisible” disability does makes things more difficult, but if we don’t inform people of our hearing loss, they have no way of knowing.

I know that our society is increasingly violent, but after years of hosting and producing shows like Donnez au suivant! and On efface et on recommence, I’ve learned that we must not underestimate people’s kindness and compassion. We can’t “think for others” and assume we know their motives. You’d be amazed to see how willing people are to make your life easier and use effective strategies to better communicate with you once they know about your condition. Of course, they will forget about it at times, but a friendly reminder will quickly get them back on track!

In fact, keeping your hearing loss secret will only make things worse. If you stay back or don’t participate in conversations, or even worse, if you avoid activities for fear of what people will say, you’ll get tagged as antisocial. People will see you as unsociable when all you really want to do is to join the group. It’s up to you to clear up any misunderstandings by being honest and talking about your hearing problem openly with the people you meet.

The last thing you should do is isolate yourself! You have one life to live, and there are too many things to do and people to meet! Reach out to people and get your message across. Unfortunately, you’ll always find narrow-minded people with deep-seated prejudice, but, honestly, they are not worth it! Don’t let people like that bring you down. Keep mingling, and I promise you will discover good and friendly people!