NASA Marshall Center's Victoria Garcia: 'Disability Does Not Determine How I Live'
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Victoria Garcia's parents knew something was wrong when she didn't respond to loud noises. Hearing tests confirmed their then-18-month-old was profoundly deaf.
Today, the 25-year-old aerospace engineer at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., says she never let her impairment stop her from achieving anything she wanted -- including working toward helping to put a new era of rockets into space.
Born and raised in Miami, Garcia began wearing hearing aids soon after those tests as a toddler. Her parents quickly enrolled her in speech therapy classes.
"After it was determined by my speech therapist that I had the necessary skills to progress along with my hearing peers in a classroom environment, my parents mainstreamed me into private school in order to make use of the smaller classes," she recalled. "I didn't have to have any special accommodations throughout my education, since I could read my teachers' lips. I did have to remind them sometimes to face the kids and not the blackboard when they spoke." To make up for anything she may have missed in the classroom, textbooks filled the gaps.
Garcia excelled in school, earning a University of Miami Book Award in 2000, awarded to U.S. high school juniors who exhibit outstanding leadership and academic excellence. She continued her education at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where she made the Dean's List and earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 2005. After graduating, she interned at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., where she was task lead on various projects, including the installation of filters for water and ammonia for the International Space Station – the orbiting laboratory NASA and space agencies from 15 other nations continue to build in space.
Garcia joined NASA in 2008 after earning a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Today, she develops analytical tools and methods for the Ares I upper stage, a component of the Ares I rocket and part of the Constellation Program to take human explorers to the moon, and then onward to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.
"Exploring possibilities in space is an exciting area to work in," Garcia said. "I am eager to be a part of something that expands our knowledge of the universe."
Her hearing impairment does pose a few challenges in the work place, she said, but quickly adding it doesn't keep her from getting the job done. "I don't feel being deaf impairs my core job duties at all. However, while I do fine in small groups, I have difficulty keeping track of who's speaking in a large group of people since I rely on reading lips. Also, I can't communicate on a regular phone."
To help accommodate her, the Marshall Center supplies Garcia with a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, a telephone equipped with a keyboard and display that allows individuals to send and receive typed messages using the keyboard.
"Of course I have limitations, but there are always ways around them," Garcia added. "Being hearing impaired is part of who I am, but it doesn't determine how I live." > Photo
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