• NOT TAKING NO FOR AN ANSWER

By Paul Alongi
Photography by Ashley Jones

Nearly deaf and blind, Miriam Lozneanu thrives through perseverance and a positive attitude.

MIRIAM LOZNEANU EXTENDED HER CANE, signed to her interpreter and headed out the door of the Hendrix Student Center. She went down the steps and crossed the street by herself without a stumble or hesitation.

Thousands of students cross that street every day. But Lozneanu is legally blind and partially deaf. With the help of technology, professionals and a positive attitude, the 23-year-old computer science major is not only surviving at Clemson — she’s thriving. In addition to her classes, she’s exploring the professional world, having interned at Michelin North America in the summer of 2017.

“I am thankful for being able to show my abilities and succeed despite not being able to see or hear much,” Lozneanu wrote in an email interview. “My goal is to use my exceptionality to encourage others to persevere despite hardship.”

Her exceptional abilities are many. Along with her artistic talents, like sketching and music, Lozneanu has excelled academically, racking up several academic awards, including membership in Delta Alpha Pi, an honor society for top-ranking students with disabilities. In 2016, she made the dean’s list in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

On the weekends, Lozneanu heads home to Mauldin to spend time with her family and her friends from church. She also does service work, telling her story to girls at a juvenile detention center. Her goal at the center, she writes, is “to assist the girls in seeing that even though life is hard and there are obstacles in the way, God can provide a way.”

Lozneanu’s mother, Ani Lozneanu, says it took years of hard work to prepare her daughter to live independently.

“She’s a miracle worker — let’s put it that way,” Ani says. “She’s not taking no for an answer. She’s not discouraged. She’s always told me, ‘I can do it, I can do it.’”

TECHNOLOGY AND DETERMINATION

ONE OF THE FIRST CLASSES Lozneanu took at Clemson was public speaking with senior lecturer Marianne Glaser. They met before classes started, and Lozneanu agreed to learn how to speak to a hearing and seeing audience.

“She would even look from the left side to the right side,” Glaser says. “She would gesture. She would be grand when she wanted to be expressive. The audience would watch her. You might think the translator would become the attention. But she wasn’t. They would truly be listening to Miriam, even though it was someone else’s voice that was presenting it.”

She walked away from the class with an A.

But success has not come easy. Lozneanu explains that dealing with two sense disabilities presents a unique and extremely challenging situation regarding aid and assistance.

“Interestingly, people assume that since I am deaf, the typical accommodations for deaf people should provide the right assistance for me,” she writes. “And it is thought that since I am blind, the typical accommodations for the blind should work out just fine.

“Think with me about not being able to see or hear — often having both disabilities cancels out the way various provisions that help the deaf or the blind work.”

Technology has played a role in helping her adapt visually. With her residual vision, she can read print, although she describes it as a huge challenge. She uses magnification software on her computer, iPad and iPhone to zoom in on the screen, allowing her to read and answer questions.

Improvements in her hearing have been made by cochlear implants that have enhanced her hearing and allow her to listen to music.

“I understand most speech when speaking one-on-one with a person, but I can’t understand group conversations or lectures,” she writes.

Miriam checks her phone while her interpreter looks on beside her.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

LOZNEANU’S PARENTS LIVE IN MAULDIN and work at Michelin North America. Her father, Liviu, is an engineer, and Ani works on contract as a supervisor coordinator. Lozneanu has two brothers.

While she is originally from Romania, the United States is the only home Lozneanu has ever known. Born prematurely, she became sick then suffered hearing and vision loss as a result of complications from the treatment for the illness, her mother explains.

Lozneanu was still a small child when the family moved to the Detroit area in search of better medical care for her. There she attended elementary school, and her mother remembers becoming dissatisfied with the education her daughter was receiving.

After doing some research, the family relocated again to Kennesaw, Georgia, where Lozneanu began sixth grade at Pine Mountain Middle School. Ani says she was afraid when her daugther told her she wanted to play violin in the orchestra, wondering if she would be able to do it and how it would affect her if she failed.

The family decided to give it a try and bought a violin. Ani remembers being shocked at how well her daughter played. “In the concert, I was like, ‘Wow! She can do it! She really can do it!’” Ani recalls. “Everybody was amazed. It was an example for everybody.”

Lozneanu also had setbacks that she worked hard to turn into triumphs. Disappointed when she didn’t make it into an advanced math class, she worked harder, going to school an hour early twice a week for help. She received her class’s highest math award for the 2009-10 school year.

“She was so good in math,” Ani says, her voice cracking with pride eight years later. “She was so determined. I never saw anybody in my career so determined. This child truly, truly deserved this.”

Lozneanu writes that while she won several awards at Pine Mountain Middle, her achievements in sixth-grade orchestra and eighth-grade math stand out and that she had help from excellent, caring teachers. “I was proud of these achievements because they seemed impossible, and I worked hard to overcome the obstacles.”

Miriam works on homework with a custom computer. The keyboard key markers and display are enlarged for better legibility and readability.

A LOT OF SUPPORT FROM A LOT OF PEOPLE

WHEN LOZNEANU WAS IN THE 11TH GRADE, her family moved to Mauldin to be closer to her mother’s sister, an engineer at General Electric. Lozneanu attended J.L. Mann High School and remembers studying four to six hours a night. Magnifying assignments makes them take “much, much longer.”

In 2013, Lozneanu was on the move once again. She went to the Helen Keller National Center on Long Island in New York to learn the skills she would need to live independently, such as safe mobility. While in the state, she visited the Rochester Institute of Technology, which has a large number of deaf students.

But Lozneanu decided she wanted to stay close to home and told her mother, “I have it in my heart to go to Clemson.”

Initially, Ani wondered how her daughter would navigate campus without getting lost. Lozneanu put her mother’s concerns to rest soon after moving to the University. Her mother recalls visiting her on campus: “I was lost and said, ‘Miriam, let’s ask somebody because I don’t know how to go back.’ She said, ‘No, don’t worry. I can guide.’”

Lozneanu’s education and professional development haven’t stopped at Clemson. During her internship at Michelin, she had three different projects centering on inclusion and information technology. She worked 40-hour weeks and even found time to teach some of her co-workers sign language.

One of these co-workers stepped in and organized a carpool for Lozneanu when transportation to work became an issue.

Ani says no one would accept gas money. “Miriam got a lot of support from people. I think it was absolutely amazing. All thumbs up to Michelin for the way she was treated and made to feel welcome and home.”

“We were fortunate to have Miriam work with us,” says Herb Johnson, head of diversity and inclusion for Michelin North America. “She helped us learn and grow as an organization around a different diversity dimension.

“We appreciated Miriam’s passion, drive and willingness to help us become a more inclusive organization in understanding her lenses.

“Miriam had a positive impact on everyone she came in contact with and inspired us to learn ASL sign language. We also provided her with three business projects to help her grow in her field and exposed her to some outside of her field to help prepare her for life after graduation.”

A transition period from college to work is critical for college students with disabilities, Lozneanu explains.

“I enjoyed my time with the employees as well,” she writes. “I am very grateful that Michelin gave me an opportunity to experience the working world and to learn so much.”

What interests her most is to be able to apply her computer training to the real world. “My goal is to learn as much as I can and use the experience and knowledge to enhance the lives of disabled people through technology,” Lozneanu writes.

“My goal is to learn as much as I can and use the experience and knowledge to enhance the lives of disabled people through technology.”

PERSEVERANCE AND A POSITIVE ATTIRBUTES

LOZNEANU, who is minoring in digital production arts, expects to graduate from Clemson in December. She plans to look for a job developing websites or applications. Lozneanu wants to use her skills to help others experiencing technical issues and is interested in assistive technology and programming.

“I am very blessed to live at a time when so many options are available for people with disabilities,” she writes. “The most frustrating situation is when people like me with disabilities are unable to succeed because they cannot see or hear or walk.

“With the amazing advanced technology available, it is possible for each to receive adequate accommodations to be able to succeed. I try to persevere with a positive attitude knowing obstacles can be overcome, allowing me to show my abilities.”