“We can do anything”: what it’s like to work on site with a disability
Eliana Leiva, who lost her hearing at birth, will this December be celebrating 25 years’ working at the company, specifically at El Tordillo in the Reservoirs area. In the International Week of the Deaf, celebrated together with the official International Day of Sign Languages, she tells us her story.
I have been hearing-impaired since I was very young, most likely from birth. I was born at risk, as I wasn’t breathing, my body was purple and there was no oxygen tube in the room. I was in apnea for several minutes, not breathing, until a doctor gave me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and that saved my life. This traumatic episode was the cause of my loss of hearing. It wasn’t until I was five years old when more complex studies confirmed that this condition was permanent. The news obviously shocked my family, but we always took a positive attitude to things. At the end of the day, we all have a cross to bear. It brings relief to be able to smile and give it the importance it deserves. Anyway, my impairment has made me strong and I’ve learned to sharpen my other senses.
I’m from Comodoro Rivadavia in Argentina, and I come from a family that has been working in the oil industry since my grandparents’ generation. My Dad worked at El Tordillo for 35 years as a mechanical engineer, and that’s the reason it’s such a source of pride for me to work at Tecpetrol. I joined the Reservoirs sector in 1997 as an intern. At the time, the company was collaborating with a civil association called Machín, which was working in the area of disability, and where I’d been training for three years to be able to work. That was when the possibility of working at the site arose. Everything I know today about the oil industry I’ve learned thanks to Tecpetrol.
I don't use hearing aids to hear what people say, I couldn't make this work for me, nor a cochlear implant. It’s of no use to have people speaking to me more loudly, as what I rely on is their body language and gestures, and it helps that they face me when talking so I can lip-read. I’m about to start on a new round of studies and controls to try out another device.
At work, communicating with me is quite a challenge. On the very first day, I understood that we were a team where each cog must work perfectly for everything to be effective. With those people closest to me, I have a good exchange, and although it’s a bit harder with those where there’s not a daily relationship, everyone always puts their best foot forward when it comes to communicating. For my part, as I said, I lip-read and I’m quite comfortable with repeating my questions if I don't understand what people are saying. The important thing is to confirm that the message has been received and understood, or if more explanation or other resources are required. In our daily interactions, we also use visual aids such as graphics, blackboards, and in this era of virtual communications, video subtitles help me get a better picture of people’s replies so I can understand what they’re saying on a video call. And I always ask until I’m sure I’ve understood correctly. Communication is an art, and I try to improve this every day in each relationship. I’m also quite shy by nature, but my colleagues are very supportive and respect my times and different moods.
Both in a human and a technical sense, I’ve learned a lot from people. My learning path has unfolded at a different rate, but always in the right direction. My colleagues, including my bosses, have always been very generous with their desire to understand and trust me. So I’ve worked very hard to transform myself into what I am today, enabling me to contribute to the business from where I am. We’ve grown together over the years, strengthening our bonds and building knowledge and communication. I only have words of thanks for each of my colleagues.
Although so far I haven’t used sign language, with my boyfriend we want to study this, because even though I may not have found it useful, I do believe that in the future this commitment towards others will emerge.
Looking to the future, I would like to see more adults with disabilities joining the world of work. We may have different abilities, but that doesn’t limit us to only doing certain tasks. With people around us to support and encourage us, we can do anything!
*Eliana Leiva is 47 years old, and is a Geotechnician in the Reservoir Development. She lives with her partner and enjoys walking, going to the seaside, and spending weekends with her family.