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Category Archives: Deaf Talent

The Rise #DeafTalent

deaftalent-hollywood-deaf-disabled-actors-actresses-talent-01Under mounting pressure from a wide variety of demographics who feel underrepresented in film and television, the entertainment industry is finally beginning to show signs of diversity. It is important to recognize that this gradual movement toward a multicultural media is only the result of long and tiresome grassroots efforts. The fight for representation touches people from all cultural minority groups, and intersects in a powerful way. Here, we do not see change coming from the top down, but rather from the bottom up — we, the people, are dictating what the future of film and television will look like.

Considering National Association for the Deaf (NAD) is the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, it’s easy to see that the American Deaf community has long been involved with the fight for social justice. In film and television, specifically, there have been a number of highly influential Deaf actors who have left lasting impacts on audiences of all ability. One of the most well-known examples is Linda Bove, who exposed many generations of children to deafness and ASL during her 30 year role as Linda the Librarian on public television’s Sesame Street.

deaftalent-deaf-actors-actresses-talent-diversity-hollywood-02Over the past two years, the Deaf community has been actively pushing for greater cultural awareness through the #DeafTalent movement. #DeafTalent was started as a way for actors, performers, and directors who are deaf to push back against an industry that continuously hires hearing individuals when a deaf individual would be a much more appropriate choice. Why cast a hearing actor to play a deaf role? Why hire a hearing director to offer a deaf perspective? There are plenty of exceptionally talented deaf individuals seeking exactly this type of work, who would truly enrich any creative project.

The existence of #DeafTalent effectively removes any excuse people might have for culturally negligent hiring. Popularized by director Jules Dameron, the hashtag and social media presence has become one way to connect casting directors, investors, and so on with the deaf community. It shines a very clear spotlight on the problems in the industry and Dameron, herself, even offers up solutions on how to create true diversity in film and TV.

deaftalent-deaf-actors-actresses-diversity-hollywood-03“Much of our inspiration today built on previous movements such as the historic 1988 Deaf President Now (DPN) movement at Gallaudet University which led to the passage of the ADA bill in 1990,” Charmaine Hlibok, Director of Fundraising at Mark Seven Deaf Foundation explains. “DPN will celebrate its 30th anniversary next March, and today’s deaf children have many more opportunities today than many of us had.”

Without constant labor from advocacy groups, mainstream film and TV would probably never deviate from reinforcing the white, cisgendered, able-bodied, heterosexual male perspective as status quo. Like other minority groups, people who are d/Deaf/HoH couldn’t just wait around expecting Hollywood to change. For generations, performers, writers, directors, and filmmakers have been creating their own inclusive artistic communities, laying the foundation for the success of the activist efforts of today.

deaftalent-deaf-diversity-hollywood-talent-04Set to make a bicostal debut on Saturday, March 25 with premier events in both Los Angeles and New York City, The Strength Within You short film series is the first, and certainly not the last, of its kind. Inspired greatly by the #DeafTalent movement, The Strength Within You series features an exciting roster of Deaf talent in each of five films (both in front of and behind the camera). The film project was coordinated by filmmaker and producer Katia Belas as a way to explore various social issues and taboos— from domestic violence to LGBTQ rights— through a slightly different lens than audiences are used to seeing.

After being away from the film industry for 13 years, Belas, who is a Brazilian immigrant, found it impossible to make a career. “People looked down at me and would see only an old stupid, no-talent, no-vision, no-good-for-anything person.” Belas found herself working internships so she could learn how to utilize the new methods of media distribution that had come about during her hiatus. Like so many others trying to break through in the film and TV industry, she quietly endured instances of discrimination while networking and developing her craft. Finally, one day, she saw a film that opened her eyes to an alternative. Instead of waiting for an opportunity to make an impact, she had to create that opportunity herself!

deaftalent-deaf-diversity-hollywood-talent-05“It was a very short 1:54 minute silent film (almost a PSA) done by 2 amazing Deaf talents called ‘CIG.’ I saw it and thought: that is what I will do for me, and for people who, like me, are also seen as the ‘stupid, no-talent, no-good for anything’ in this world,” Belas explains. “Being involved with Deaf people for 3 years, I had already decided that my main goal when working in the industry was to work with Deaf Talents. So I just put 2 and 2 together, and came up with the idea to make this series.”

“It is a series of empowering, uplifting, humanity messages created by a team of Deaf and hearing filmmakers,” continues Belas. “Short films done with Deaf talents, proving to the world that we (Deaf, immigrants, older people) have talents, we are not stupid, and we can do anything regardless of anything, age, disability, language.”

Filmmaker Jade Bryan has been working for more than a decade to, as she explains it, “increase positive representation of Deaf People of Color in television and film.” Bryan’s more recent projects, If You Could Hear My Own Tune and The Shattered Mind have made extensive rounds on the festival circuits, winning numerous awards. She is currently working on an exciting new documentary series, alongside deaf actress and producer Maleni Chaitoo, titled #RESIST Through Our Eyes.

deaftalent-deaf-diversity-hollywood-talent-06According to the project’s active Fundraising Page #RESIST Through Our Eyes will be an 8-part documentary series “which will follow and document Deaf and Hard of Hearing people’s personal experiences and concerns when their human and civil rights are violated, challenged and threatened in the current political climate of chaos, toxicity, propaganda, “alternative facts” and uncertainty that exist under a regime Administration. We will meet and interview Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals whose Constitutional Rights have being threatened or violated… this includes activists, advocators, educators, lawyers, interpreters, Human and Civil Rights agencies and organizations, and their allies.”

Bryan sees intersectionality as the future of media. “Diversity does not necessarily means inclusive because they do not always include ‘the others.’ What do I mean by other? Deaf talents of color, people with other disabilities,” she explains. “As of today, 2017, the entertainment and television industry do not see us as an equal part of society. We’re always kept on sidelines or ignored… We have so much story to tell. Why are we as intersectional, the disabled and black deaf talents, being overlooked? Although I promote inclusion and deaf talents of color, we must be careful of erasing anyone. There are so many of us who are ready to tell our stories.”

deaftalent-deaf-diversity-hollywood-talent-07With the rise of the internet, which offers opportunity for visibility and a public platform, people who are d/Deaf/HoH have been actively correcting wrong assumptions, smashing stereotypes, and working to dismantle the structural barriers that oppress entire groups of people due to the way they are born and/or they way they choose to communicate. Members of the majority culture are now getting exposed to all different aspects of deafness and Deaf culture through intersectional social justice dialogues and deaf-created content. People are seeing, perhaps for the first time, that people who are deaf are mostly just regular everyday human beings who want the same kind of happiness and success as everyone else, and that they can do pretty much all the same things hearing people can do— except for hear.
deaftalent-pharrell-happy-asl-deaf-film-camp-cm7-08At the very roots of all grassroots movements are the younger generations. Working to ensure a future where d/Deaf/HoH children grow up confident in their ability to pursue their creative dreams without limitations, CampMark7 Deaf Film Camp is now in its fifth year of working with aspiring filmmakers ages 13-16 in Old Forge, NY to learn the ins and outs of the process— from script writing to screening. Campers are given the equipment, software, and guidance they need to turn their ideas into reality in a fast-paced, yet supportive hands-on filmmaking program. Several of the deaf campers’ final films have even gone viral— the ASL music video they made for Pharrell’s “Happy” has more than 1.7 million views on YouTube at this time!
“The Deaf Film Camp is a huge success because they work directly with skilled deaf role models and campers have direct communication access to their teachers,” Hlibok explains of CampMark7. “The Lights Camera Access! 2.0, the National Disability Mentorship Coalition, PolicyWorks, and many others support our mission and collaborate with us on various outreach projects. We host summits in NYC, DC and Los Angeles during the year for students who wish to meet mentors and meet with role models in the media industry who can provide opportunities to find internships or careers in their respective fields.”

deaftalent-deaf-kids-hollywood-talent-09As an accessible, inclusive, and immersive program, CampMark7 fosters the innate potentials of young people who might otherwise encounter discouraging limitations. Deaf/HoH youth deserve more music and arts programs that enrich their lives and facilitate a deeper, reciprocal connection to the cultural arts. Supporting organizations that work with young people is easy, for example the Deaf Film Camp Showcase Event on March 25 at Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, NY will help raise funds for 2017 camper tuitions. For those who struggle with communication on a regular basis, creative outlets such as film, writing, art, or music, can provide a much needed avenue for healthy self-expression and building self-confidence.

“Human difference is a strength for all of us when we can teach and learn together,” Hlibok continues. “America has struggled with this in the past, and we are making progress towards correcting injustices every day. This is among the reasons why diversity is so important in film & TV.”

As the DeafTalent movement continues to spread, influencing the very fabric of American pop culture, creative people who are deaf will build further upon these grassroots efforts. The larger intersectional discourse with regards to how the media portrays people from minority communities is bringing many advocacy groups together, thus raising the visibility of marginalized people seeking work in the industry. Awareness about the importance and availability of deaf perspectives only increases as skilled actors, writers, directors, camera people, and consultants are gradually making their way onto major production teams and on-screen roles.

DeafTalent Everywhere Part V

Too often, young people who are deaf are discouraged from following their dreams. They are told “you can’t…” or “you won’t be able to…” and they are pushed to into careers that they are not passionate about. In reality, however, there are very few jobs Deaf people “can’t” do, especially once small adjustments are made to accommodate their specific skills and abilities. At the end of the day, our society limits people more than the actual experience of deafness ever could.

deaftalent-hashtag-twitter#DeafTalent is a cultural movement that is gaining traction in all areas of life. Talented Deaf individuals in fields across the board are working to defy social expectations, remove barriers, and prove that there are NO limits to what people who are deaf can do. My Deaf siblings and young nieces deserve every opportunity to manifest their own destiny and accomplish their own goals without suffering the prejudice of previous generations. It’s time for people to open their minds to the endless potential of our diverse population.

To explore the many facets of DeafTalent, I went right to the source: the Deaf community. Individuals working in a number of different fields were eager to communicate a message of Deaf empowerment. We are back at it with part V in an ongoing series about Deaf Talent in America! Be sure to check out Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV, and follow along for future installments!

Charmaine Hlibok

Director of Fundraising at Mark Seven Deaf Foundation

charmaine-hlibok-deaftalentWhen I joined the board in 2006 for CampMark7, I was a stay at home mom with 4 children and my 4th was just born. Gerry Buckley had asked me when I was very pregnant to consider serving on the board because of my involvement with the CODA community here in Maryland. I hosted their Winter Holiday party and was very involved with their year-round activities to make sure that my CODA kids had strong identity with other members the Deaf community, which is very important to me. Seeing that had a huge impact on my children’s attitude about having deaf parents because they would have other CODAs to look up to. They could feel proud and become very involved. Really it made a difference in how they were able to identify their own self esteem, perform better in school, understand their own abilities. It helped on all levels.

I was a camper in 1988. I joined CM7 for the first time when I left Chicago to go to camp for 3 weeks overnight. The camp itself pretty much changed me as a person, it’s where i found my identity as a deaf person and i knew where I stood in the deaf community because I grew up in a mainstream society in the Chicago area.

When I was offered the opportunity to serve on the board, immediately there there was no question I was going to join. I hit the ground running then. I decided to first become the secretary, then when the chair person decided to step down to pursue their PhD, she had asked me “would you be interested in taking this role?” My daughter was only 1 then, but something inside told me to just go for it. Why not? So i did, I took the plunge.

Before I knew it, I started to host more fundraisers and I noted that that brought people together. It wasn’t only about raising money for the camp, we also bonded as a community and the reason why is that there were a lot of volunteers who became involved in supporting the camp. CODAs, deaf people, all sorts of different people from a variety of programs and that was inspiring for me to see how many people were willing to volunteer and had the energy to support this. That really struck me as the importance of continuing this type of organization and involvement.

I’m not sure if this was a barrier or not, but the only barrier I had to overcome with this process was that there are some people who are afraid to make changes. They are so accustomed to the status quo and when people approach them with a new idea, they are like “wait no no hold on, I need to do my research, we need to check that we are following this or that rule.” But by the time that we figure it out, it’s too late! So it’s important for us to maintain the excitement of change and new ideas and really capitalize on the timing and the support from the people who are motivated to be involved. That is all about inspiring people and really wanting to keep the flame going. So thats basically an aspect of volunteerism— to inspire people to want to volunteer.

Deaf Advantages:
The feeling of unity and common interest and goals and support and language, THAT foundation is the feeling of CM7. When you go there, its different than other place because you feel you own the camp because you’re part of it. You’re part of this community. Anyone who goes and volunteers, they contribute to this growth and development and I feel that that’s their reward. And that’s what I see, the unity of the community, feeling a sense of pride. That’s a really big part of it.

I think that now CampMark7 gets so much attention because we are unique. Not because we have a disability but because we have a deaf ability. And that is what fascinates people, it’s our niche, if you will, and that’s the key. To have a cause that people are fascinated with, for example ASL is becoming a hot topic so people are becoming fascinated by the culture and the language and the community and the unity. That’s a huge advantage for the deaf in the nonprofit world.

I believe strongly that it is about your vision. You must have a unique purpose, something that sets you apart from other organizations. To be very creative and network, that is key. It really is. TO be able to network and network outside of your comfort zone. To latch on to other networks because you’d be amazed at what people can bring to your organization and how they can really support you and your mission. It’s a you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back situation— you support me and I’ll support you. And you have to be able to also inspire the people that you work with, as well. Make them feel good about the work they are doing and you can see results from that as well. Give credit where credit is due, that is key. Make people feel valued and appreciated because they are volunteering their time. In nonprofit, you know, you don’t make a lot of money so you really rely on volunteering to accomplish things.

David Kurs

Artistic Director Deaf West


david-kurs-deaftalentI am very passionate about the power of art to educate, inspire, and to spark curiosity. I feel that it is the best way to explain our language and culture to the world.

From the vantage point of my position as Artistic Director, it is the lack of funding for artistic opportunities for deaf individuals.

Deaf Advantage:
Deaf people are natural communicators. They have taught themselves how to communicate with the world around them since birth. Because of this, they are excellent actors. Sign language also compels the speaker to be honest, and I feel that signers are attuned to their consciousness.

Instead of working within a system that does not understand you (or patronizes you), create your own opportunities by staging your own shows, writing your own material, and developing your talents.

Ashley Letourneau

Owner Signs of Life, LLC

ashley-letourneau-deaftalentIn second grade, I wanted to be a writer. This was mostly because my family and the school system was pressured to raise me orally, with hearing aids and other devices. I was socially awkward and the best way I could communicate was on paper. I liked creating stories and novels I could escape into and avoid dealing with bullies and the feelings of loneliness that clung to me wherever I went.

In Spring 2014, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication with a triple emphasis in Public Relations, Organizational Communication, and Conflict management and Mediation. I also received three minors in the areas of Psychology, Sociology, and Human Development. In Fall of 2014, I dove right back in and began my second Bachelor’s degree for Social Work, ultimately planning to get my Master’s degree with emphases in Advocacy and Law.

I realized that people were asking for my services and support. I was already legally defending deaf individuals in informal situations. Everything I wanted my business to be was already sort of happening, just in a very scattered way. So I decided that I am going to prove to myself and this world that I can make a difference. As soon as I got the ball rolling, I felt unstoppable and I know that is where I am meant to be.

In my communication class at my college, we had groups of 7 people randomly assigned to do a semester-long project together… I kindly explained that an interpreter request to disability services office usually requires at least 48-72 hours in advance notice, not including weekend. The rest of my group scheduled meetings anyway. I had no clue what was going on. Later that week, I am informed that the group kicked me out. They went to the professor and said that they felt that I needed to be kicked out due to learning and communication style differences and because having an interpreter at all meetings is just too uncomfortable for them. The professor said that if it was majority vote, and I was out, then that is fair. I fought this and said it was discrimination.

The Chair of the Communication department told me, “Ashley, you need to accept now that you are a detriment to groups and the overall group processes. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you can adapt to the expectations. I worry about you and I don’t see how a deaf person can realistically succeed in a Communication field. Just don’t get your hopes up.” I walked out of the room completely shocked and I didn’t know what to do.

[Another] hurdle came from my recent involvement with the Social Work program. Like Communication students, Social work students don’t think I should always have an interpreter. They think I should voice for myself. We had to pick partners or groups to present a topic in front of class at the end of the semester…. The thing is, no one wanted me in their group. Made excuses. The professor was on my side but he didn’t think forcing me into a group would be helpful. And he said I might just have to do the project all by myself. I began being sidelined, purposely not included or informed of informal get-togethers over the weekend with Social Work members. I was out of the loop. I was told that not speaking and only signing is a poor way to go… Therefore, I withdrew from the semester.

I needed to do the best for me and I needed to get my act together. At this time, my business dream and vision just took off like a skyrocket! I decided that I would turn this anxiety, hurt, and depression, into something positive. Help other people. Change the world.

Deaf Advantage:
After my [first] diagnosis [at 3 years old] I was fitted for hearing aids and raised orally, without American Sign Language. Myself, and many others who are born with this rare type of hearing loss, sometimes called reverse-slope, develop normal speech and language skills with proper accommodations in certain situations. However, I was still a social outsider. Lonely. No friends.

In the beginning of my teen years, my hearing loss changed drastically, causes unknown. I was diagnosed with a bilateral moderate-severe high-frequency hearing loss. No longer was I mildly hard of hearing; I was considered legally deaf. Though I still utilized hearing aids and my speech was flawless, I truly was—am, deaf.

With that being said, I am Deaf. ASL is my language. However, I am in a unique situation, to say the least. I can serve Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people. I help with services, help answer questions, do community outreach, teach ASL lessons, etc. Because I have flawless speech, most people don’t think I am deaf. Even when they accept the fact, they still seem to not quite understand. It’s my job to explain.

So in my line of work, I can connect with all different people. I can use multiple modes of communication. I will say, though, it is sad when I help someone get the services they need and the person who previously stood in their way has no problem working with me: working under the assumption that I am hearing. As if that would give me more credibility. Sometimes, knowing my deafness, people can be put off by it and it’s harder to gain services for my clients. I am only able to do so and make them take me seriously because I know the law like the back of my hand. I am eloquent with words, for the most part, and I am eloquent with sign. I make what needs to happen, happen. Regardless of my deafness. However, I think my deafness also benefits me because I have a wider business network. And I have resources I need to run my business. And I can teach lessons because I am perceptive. Overall, my deafness has been nothing but a blessing

Well, the thing is, anyone can start a business. It’s not that hard. The hard part is analyzing your target market, looking at your demographics, and figuring out what they need. You could have the coolest business in the world but if it’s not something that makes a difference for people, you will not succeed.

My suggestion is to come up with an idea and run it by a business professional. Many states have local agencies that work with small businesses for free. They offer counseling about financial revenue budgeting, help you make a solid business plan, help you figure out where you might be able to qualify for grants or seed money, etc. Being your own boss is the best feeling in the world, but it is important that you have a solid foundation to start on.

I am entertaining the idea of started a group for Deaf people who are entrepreneurs or small business owners or whatever to get together online or something share tips for successful businesses and a place we can write positive and supportive comments to one another. Maybe that is a project I will start later down the road.

Peter Rozynski

Softball / Baseball Umpire

peter-rozynski-deaftalent“Do not hide your enthusiasm. Do not hide your talents. Use it and show it to others.” This quote has definitely influenced me to become inspired into a softball umpiring career for one simple reason. Willing to take risks and accepting challenges are essentially significant to show the umpiring community that I have my abilities. I find it a once in a lifetime opportunity to show I am an exceptional umpire with consistent calls with 20/20 vision, alertness and keen anticipation on every playing call.

Also, I have had admired William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy who was the first deaf baseball professional player. Pre-1900 Era, he was the first to create a visual signaling system to represent the vocal calls of the umpire. We, umpires are all in sync. Today, everyone benefits with the use visual signals and vocal calls simultaneously. Hoy has had an impact on both baseball and softball which continues to the present day. Briefly, Hoy was retired in the year of 1902 with a .288 batting average, 2,054 hits and 726 runs batted in. He had an impressive 413 putouts including becoming first player who threw runner who tried to score at the home plate out three times in a game. He has yet to be inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame. His deafness had without no question to be a very tremendous asset to the sport of baseball. He was my inspiration.

I have been fortunate and proud of my umpiring career. I have had been assigned to worked in many high-ranked high school rival games and worked Florida High School Athletics Association(FHSAA) State Series Finals twice in 2010 and 2011. Have been worked an Amateur Softball of America (ASA) umpire since 1988 and I received the National Indicator Fraternity award last October – one of the most prestigious honor bestowed upon an ASA umpire – I officiated in three National championship tournaments in order to receive the award. Roughly, five percent of 44,00 registered umpires get selected to work ASA/USA National Championship and this is an in-self honor. I have been a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) official entering 10th season this year.

My driven force that maintain me in the game, frequently many players and fans frequently were not even aware of my deafness. Only coaches during pre-game discussion were aware and I was just deserving and that they should not let the fact that I am deaf change the way they coached their teams. I was not to be treated any differently. They just needed to be aware that they would have to communicate a little differently with this umpire than hearing umpires.

Hearing is not a perquisite for being an umpire. Every Deaf official, like, myself has demonstrated exceptional athletic ability, drive and determination, as well as knowledge of the game. This background helps us become successful umpires and we expect be treated like any other umpires. I have my own knacks better than them physically and mentally. Communication with my partner is important to discuss during pre-game and post- game to know each other better. I have had worked with hundreds of hundred umpires over the country. Ironically, a few of them have told me they wish to be deaf like me. They are annoyed hearing the comments from players or fans.

Communication and signals can always be professional in any game, but sometimes situations arise. When having a discussion with a coach after making a call that is disputed, I am always willing to listen and try to lip read showing my demonstration my skills and answer the question directly, Coaches sometimes understand me or sometimes ask my partner for help. Most coaches don’t have materials other than their scorebook. Coaches sometimes walk away not understanding is that where the communication barrier encountered and it is their choice. Communication is a two way process so coaches should try to understand what I am saying when I use voice. It is definitely unprofessional for coaches to walk away, and that kind of action does not foster a win-win situation and causes everyone feels bad. We need to maintain an important virtue: Patience. I understand that communication can be time consuming, but we have to find an effective way to understand each other. Calls that don’t make sense put players on edge and are cause for question from coach. The most important thing in every assigned game is to keep consistency with calls and they will not come to you. My personal goal in every game is not to eject any coach out of the game and I am proud of my umpiring record.

Deaf Advantage:
Thanks to Hoy’s visual signaling system, the one facet I do extremely well is to give visual signals that are crystal clear, concise, big and powerful. The use of manual for calls is a normal component of baseball and softball. Deaf umpires have excellent signs that are clearly communicated. Coaches and players should not have missed a sign that was conveyed big as the Statue of Liberty. I am six feet tall with a corresponding arm span, so I look like a giant Redwood tree on the field when I make a sign I am hard to ignore. And it is awfully hard to find flaws in my hustle either. It is obvious to being an advantage in my work on the beautiful diamond field. Coaches have made no effort to confront me and this is another advantage for me. Sometimes Coaches knew I have excellent vision and asked for my help on tag-up play when my partner did not see. A win-win situation is not for only this deaf umpire but for a coach and their team, too. There are no frustrating, annoying, yelling encounters in the game like that are my advantages. Coaches, players and fans have gained more respect for me.

Having a good judgement can be best described in the saying “umpiring judgement” is mainly experience salted with cool headed common sense. I have worked hard to earn the respect of players by the way I render decisions. It would be great if all coaches could be open minded and try to work effectively with Deaf umpires, but sometimes coaches scream verbally at a Deaf umpire, often they often forget that the other umpire hears their tirade and will give the coach a warning. Any time a coach or player knows how to use sign language, it is always wonderful to have an inner feeling, but have to be professional-like in the game. Following the game, partners who worked with me, frequently complimented my work and it gave me a real confidence booster.

First and Foremost, Deaf people have a variety of skills and capabilities, work as well as hearing people can. Focusing on the Deaf umpire and hearing umpire partnership, we must work as a respectful team. I have to advocate for myself and educate people on how to communicate effectively with Deaf people. Every Coach and umpire have a common goal: to work together and eliminate pointless argument and maintain a professional relationship.

Deaf Umpires should never been treated as a third class citizen, nor should coaches assume that the Deaf is unskilled. Deaf officials bring a lot to the game. We have good judgment, good mechanics, hustle, in depth knowledge of the game rules, and always strive to maintain a professional appearance. We want to foster a good impression on and off the fields, just like umpires who hear. Reading is the bridge to knowledge. Good working relationships reply on good communication. Keeping avenues open through effective communication starts with kindness. Courtesy, gentleness, and above all, fairness are very important to me as a Deaf umpire. These qualities foster good working relationships. Deaf officials should be treated equally to their hearing partners and should not be boxed into a sub-grouped of umpires. It is important for all players, coaches and fellow umpires demonstrate acceptance when working with Deaf officials. Let’s work together to embrace good sportsmanship. Every game begins when home plate umpire calls “Play Ball”.

I have mentored some Deaf officials and I am glad that they are willing to take challenges in their umpiring field. Anytime when anyone who says you can’t do that or impossible just because you can’t hear, it is not about you. Follow your gut and prove them all wrong.

Anyone interested in seeing “My Deaf Umpire Story” presentation, please do not hesitate to contact me.

These interviews represent only a small number of the countless individuals who are out there proving on a daily basis that when you have passion and motivation, anything is possible! Talented people who are d/Deaf can be found in every field at every level, working harder than most to rise up through the ranks. Deafness is not a barrier to success, but prejudice ignorance can be. I am excited and honored to share perspectives from Deaf professionals pursuing careers they love, and I look forward to future installments in this series!


Deaf Talent Everywhere! Part IV

deaftalent-hashtag-twitterToo often, young people who are deaf are discouraged from following their dreams. They are told “you can’t…” or “you won’t be able to…” and they are pushed to into careers that they are not passionate about. In reality, however, there are very few jobs Deaf people “can’t” do, especially once small adjustments are made to accommodate their specific skills and abilities. At the end of the day, our society limits people more than the actual experience of deafness ever could.

#DeafTalent is a cultural movement that is gaining traction in all areas of life. Talented Deaf individuals in fields across the board are working to defy social expectations, remove barriers, and prove that there are NO limits to what people who are deaf can do. My Deaf siblings and young nieces deserve every opportunity to manifest their own destiny and accomplish their own goals without suffering the prejudice of previous generations. It’s time for people to open their minds to the endless potential of our diverse population.

To explore the many facets of DeafTalent, I went right to the source: the Deaf community. Individuals working in a number of different fields were eager to communicate a message of Deaf empowerment. This is part IV of an ongoing series about Deaf Talent in America; be sure to check out part I, part II, and part III, and follow along for future installments!

Sean Forbes

Music artist + Co-founder D-PAN


sean-forbes-deaftalentI grew up watching MTV with my brothers, listening to songs my parents and brothers played – which they included me by lip-synching songs so I could read their lips, witnessing the enjoyment of live music from watching my Dad and Uncle perform in their country-rock band The Forbes Brothers.

We had a music room in the basement where I spent the better part of my childhood banging on drums I’ve had since I was 5 years old, learning to play guitar, writing countless songs that I would be embarrassed to show today. Music is the one and only thing I ever wanted, but the only thing that “stood in the way” were those who thought otherwise…. but I never cared about them, they weren’t a part of my life.


My parents always told me I could do whatever I wanted. I don’t think in a million years they thought I would actually try and pursue music for a career. I knew first hand that it was a difficult path to chose and that many musicians don’t make a living playing music, but I was determined to make it more than just a hobby. The biggest barrier was proving those in the music industry I could do this. It was my determination, persistence, and I-don’t-give-a-f*ck attitude that paid off because everyone could see I was inclined to make this work, and would not take no for an answer.

I’m also fortunate that I had the ability to co-found D-PAN, the Deaf Professional Arts Network, a nonprofit that makes mainstream music accessible to the deaf community, and with my own music, that’s what I always wanted, to write and perform my own songs… I never cared much for marching to the same beat everyone else was doing and jumping on other wagons, I wanted to create a wagon other people could jump on, or that could inspire people to create their own wagons other people could jump on.

I work with closely with Mark Levin and Adrean Mangiardi, who are both deaf, and who are what I like to call “Jack-Of-All-Trades” when it comes to music, music videos, production, the three of us have been working closely for almost 8 years and have been through it all together from working at D-PAN, creating the Sean Forbes / Deaf And Loud world, touring across the country together creating memories, and of course going to a bar or two and causing a ruckus, just Google “deaf wolfpack.”

Deaf Advantages:

Most bands start out by playing in their local markets and build a fanbase locally then spreading out from there. Being deaf and a graduate of RIT/NTID certainly had its advantages, along with my frequent visits to Gallaudet where I made many friends, and immersed myself into Deaf culture. When I perform in cities across the country, I meet up with the friends I made throughout the years and once in awhile the whole band and I will crash on their couches and floors! When the band and I show up at bars to play people are always tell us “We’re so used to seeing the same old bass, guitar, drums, and a singer night after night but when you show up, you rap and sign your songs at the same time, it looks like your dancing with your hands and doing something meaningful, then you have visuals behind you with the lyrics being shown making it a one of a kind 100% accessible show” Music industry people are always like “You’re DEAF and you do MUSIC?! WOW!” and then when they see the whole presentation it never fails that their response is “I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THAT” that is exactly what I wanted to do. I hate it when deaf people try to be like the next Wiz Khalifa, or the next whatever already exists… BE YOURSELF, you’ll get more respect that way.

I’m proud to be deaf, I think that no matter what race, disability, or nationality, whatever you are… if you are comfortable in your own skin people will connect.

Also – It’s a great time to be a deaf person, we have so much more accessibility to entertainment than we ever have before, we have deaf people being showcased on a mainstreamed level – Nyle Dimarco is making his mark on America’s Next Top Model a hugely popular television show on CW, we have Switched At Birth on ABC Family that has been going on 4+ seasons with a huge fanbase that is in love with Sean Berdy, and we have Deaf West Theatre with their revival of Spring Awakening making huge waves on Broadway which will knock open huge doors for Daniel Durant, Sandra Mae Frank, Josh Castille, Treshelle Edmond, Amelia Hensley, Russell Harvard, Anthony Natele, Miles Barbee, and to have Marlee Matlin as the den mother of sorts is a great group, I’ve seen the show twice and hung out with the cast after and I’m truly proud of their hard work. It is truly important that as a community we support one another —- so huge shout outs to all of the #deaftalent showing the world what we as a community can do and I’m excited for many more doors to open for many of us. I want to see Tate Tullier taking pictures for GQ or even taking pictures of me for Rolling Stone, Jules Dameron and Adrean Mangiardi directing a network or cable show, Shoshannah Stern and Amber Zion playing a role on network television show, Wawa getting signed to a record label by a big record company… it’s time for all of this.


Do what you LOVE. When kids come up to me and my shows ask me “How can I be famous like you?” I always tell them “Why do you want to be famous?” and they can never answer that. I didn’t go into music because I wanted to be famous, I went into music because I LOVE MUSIC. You should do things because you love doing them. I couldn’t imagine a life without music, and if that’s what you want to do, or whatever you want to do my advice is to Immerse yourself, believe in yourself, work hard, be persistent because the only person who can make this happen is YOURSELF.


Kristen Marie “Rajarajeshwari” Weiner

Creator of Deafhood Yoga


kristen-marie-deaftalentBorn Kristen Marie Weiner, I am now known as Rajarajeshwari, my spiritually inspiring name. The vision of Deafhood Yoga® was channeled in 2008, after experiencing the depth of Dr. Paddy Ladd’s book “Understanding Deaf Culture, in Search of Deafhood”. In that class, the intense dialogue with other members of the Deaf community led to a powerful moment of understanding what the concept of colonization truly meant. I had the opportunity to learn and study Deafhood in the Deaf, collective community for two semesters.

We analyzed, dialogued, identified, learned, processed and understood that the systems in our environment either oppressed or supported us as individuals, and as a cultural linguistics community. That ranges from activism, businesses, communication, education, the medical system, social economics, social justice, spirituality and more. To me, the word, Deafhood, means the consciousness of sharing a similar experience growing up as a Deaf person like childhood, sisterhood, motherhood, etc. We know what works and what does not work. It, also, is a personal journey that each Deaf person undertakes to discover their true identity and purpose here on Earth as a Deaf person. I went through the stages of colonization, decolonization and liberation. This inspired me to want the same for every Deaf person!

I, like any other member of a cultural-linguistic community, will do anything to protect, preserve and pass on our culture and language. The vibrant, rich language of sign & our culture is clearly deep-rooted in the mind, the blood, & the spirit of our Deaf people. I know our Deaf culture and sign language is a divine gift to the world.

Yoga means to unite our mind, body and soul with the higher power, i.e. God, Creator, Brahman, etc. Many people live outside their mind, body and soul. It is time for people to connect within themselves to feel more compassion not only for themselves but others too. Around the world, every human being experiences a different kind of suffering and the ultimate goal of yoga is to reduce that suffering.

Marrying the concepts of Deafhood and Yoga offers divine space to decolonize the mind, body and soul of our Deaf people because we understand. Deafhood Yoga is the gift of taking care of ourselves, to heal from colonization. Then we can move forward and take better care of our Deaf communities without compromising our culture and language. We are masters of our own destiny. Both Deafhood and yoga within, shines the light on the truth and intensifies the quality of life possible.

Our Deaf people are world-wide and that inspired the vision of combining ancient cultures and language with social entrepreneurship and technological innovations creating a Deaf-centric, online yoga studio, Deafhood Yoga®.


The biggest barrier I have had to overcome is the historical societal system that continues to be controlled by the hearing white males who do not listen to the cultural-linguistic members of the Deaf community in terms of what works for Deaf children who grow up to be Deaf adults in our society. Before I go any further, it’s important that I stress the label “deaf” comes from hearing white males in the medical field. The term reflects the pathological perspective of deafness. The word comes with battered baggage dragging the heavy burden imposed by the historically wrong perception that deaf people are “deficient” and they need to be fixed. And still today, heart-breaking eugenics practices are being enforced by hearing people who have not grasped the concept between saviors and allies. This is a distribution of ignorance, privilege and wealth that’s bound by ego, greed and fear. A violation of the first three Yamas of the Eight Limbs of Yoga: Ahmisa (non-harming), Satya (non-lying), and Asteya (non-stealing).

This leads to another barrier, that I continue to face: our own Deaf people, why? It is not easy to grasp the concept of colonization, decolonization and liberation. This affects all aspects of the Deaf person; emotionally, energetically, linguistically, mentally, physically and spiritually. It is an intense process which requires time, patience and compassion for oneself and others.

To study Dr. Paddy Ladd’s Deafhood course through the Deafhood Foundation, contact Chriz Dally at

Deaf Advantages:

I know being Deaf has given me an advantage in my business. Deaf people are more attuned with what is going on, energy-wise. Sign language is spatial, tactile, visual, and kinetic which makes sign language multi-dimensional. Depending on the person who is signing, they express tones through their facial expressions, body language, energy and vibrations. It is like an “energy dance”.

In yoga, there is the concept of pratyahara which means abstraction or withdrawal of the senses. We live in a world that is heavily based and designed around hearing. Hearing people to withdraw from sounds is inconceivable. For Deaf people, living without the sense of hearing, our experience intensifies our connection, understanding and relationship with the energy field.


My advice for other Deaf people who want to pursue a career path in yoga and/or spirituality is to trust your intuition. You can embody your Deaf-centric principles and values without compromising the Deaf culture and language, in harmony, through your vision. Believe in yourself. You are visible. Only you are responsible for your own actions. Take care of yourself. Protect your energy. Be conscious. Balance all that you do. Create and work with other talented Deaf people to generate abundance of opportunities for each other because we understand. Just be.


Jonathan Lamberton

Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI)


jonathan-lamberton-deaftalentI was working at a deaf services agency and noticed that many difficulties my clients had were rooted in language and cultural barriers. I took a CDI training course thinking that it would benefit my work with diverse clients, but I came to realize that working as a CDI would mean that any influence I had in minimizing barriers would come during the actual situations rather than after the fact.


There are not that many training opportunities out there specifically for CDIs.  I also wish there was a robust local CDI community when I started out, it is better to observe and learn alongside other CDIs.  Also, coming into the interpreting world with greater knowledge of ASL and the deaf community but limited knowledge of interpreting theories and best practices, it took time to learn how to work best with hearing team interpreters in various situations with different demands.

Deaf Advantages:

I have lived the Deaf life 24/7 since birth, interacting with an enormous variety of deaf people.  These experiences have helped me understand how to vary my ASL production to suit different people and also to consider the range of knowledge and viewpoints of deaf community members in order to present information in a way that is clear . When communicating a message, it is very difficult to identify what gaps in understanding may occur.


Talk with other CDIs to get an understanding of the profession.  Freelance work isn’t for everyone, there are few traditional full time positions for CDIs.  Observe CDIs at work, attend CDI training and any advanced training related to the CDI work you might find in your area, e.g. mental health.


Michael Schwartz

Attorney, Associate Professor of Law


michael-schwartz-deaftalentI grew up during the anti-war and civil rights movements of the sixties and cut my political teeth on resistance to racism and imperialism. I went to many demonstrations protesting Jim Crow at home and the war in Vietnam, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s that I realized discrimination based on disability was also a pernicious and pervasive problem. As I was becoming aware of civil rights for people with disabilities, I had an close-up encounter with discrimination against deaf children at a state school for the deaf in the South, and based on my reports, the American Civil Liberties Union was able to obtain legal relief for these children. This experience combined with my progressive background propelled me toward a career in the law.


A huge barrier has always been attitudinal. People assume that if you are deaf, you are also dumb. This ignorance leads to mistakes that violate the ADA. Hearing people either pity you or hold you up as a “supercrip” because you can drive despite being deaf. Another huge barrier is the lack of effective communication access: lack of interpreters and captioning are prevalent all over America.

Deaf Advantages:

To be honest, I don’t know. In terms of public service employment (e.g., Federal and State government employment), these entities have been very accommodating of deaf workers, but the private sector much less so.


I have two responses. The first is to highlight the need for two assets: native fluency in English and a passion for the law. Both are essential to success in law school and beyond.

My second response is to ask the deaf person why he/she wants to become a lawyer. Law in capitalist America is designed and structured to protect the interests of power. Put differently, law protects the interests of white, able-bodied, heterosexual males, and while there are laws against discrimination, the courts operate to ensure that the interests of those in power aren’t unduly threatened or usurped. Take the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example. It is extremely frustrating to see how the courts have interpreted the ADA to frustrate the legitimate aspirations of people with disabilities. Examples are too numerous to list here, but the overwhelming sense I have is that while the ADA has been helpful here and there, as a whole, anti-discrimination law has not been able to reorder power relations because the courts – made up mainly of wealthy white males far removed from the daily struggles of ordinary people – have made sure that ingrained patterns of marginalization and oppression remain securely in place. For instance, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities in 1990 (when the ADA was enacted) was around 70%, a figure that remains unchanged to this day.

These interviews represent only a small number of the countless individuals who are out there proving on a daily basis that when you have passion and motivation, anything is possible! Talented people who are d/Deaf can be found in every field at every level, working harder than most to rise up through the ranks. Deafness is not a barrier to success, but prejudice ignorance can be. I am excited and honored to share perspectives from Deaf professionals pursuing careers they love, and I look forward to future installments in this series!

Deaf Talent Everywhere! Part III

Too often, young people who are deaf are discouraged from following their dreams. They are told “you can’t…” or “you won’t be able to…” and they are pushed to into careers that they are not passionate about. In reality, however, there are very few jobs Deaf people “can’t” do, especially once small adjustments are made to accommodate their specific skills and abilities. At the end of the day, our society limits people more than the actual experience of deafness ever could.

#DeafTalent is a cultural movement that is gaining traction in all areas of life. Talented Deaf individuals in fields across the board are working to defy social expectations, remove barriers, and prove that there are NO limits to what people who are deaf can do. My Deaf siblings and young nieces deserve every opportunity to manifest their own destiny and accomplish their own goals without suffering the prejudice of previous generations. It’s time for people to open their minds to the endless potential of our diverse population.

To explore the many facets of DeafTalent, I went right to the source: the Deaf community. Individuals working in a number of different fields were eager to communicate a message of Deaf empowerment. This is part III of an ongoing series about Deaf Talent in America; be sure to check out part I and part II , and follow along for future installments!

Melody Stein

co-owner of Mozzeria

I was born into a family of restaurateurs and am a 3rd generation restaurateur. When my parents learned that my younger brother and I were both Deaf, they wanted to provide us better education and made the move from Hong Kong to San Francisco to enroll us at California School for the Deaf (CSD) in Fremont. While we were at CSD, my parents decided to open a restaurant in San Francisco. On the weekends when we came home, we would watch them in action – having meetings with their team, renovating the restaurant space, and testing food. I was inspired and came up with a vision of what my restaurant would look like while talking to my brother.

Fast forward to year 2009. Russ, my husband and co-owner, knew I had the dream to open a restaurant and knowing the fact that “90% of new restaurants fail within 1 year” didn’t help us feel confident. We kept saying to ourselves that we would wait for the right time. We realized there is no such thing as “right time” and that we need to take charge and make it our destiny. We finally launched Mozzeria in December, 2011.

When I was growing up, I didn’t feel different while attending CSD because I was always in an American Sign Language (ASL) environment. When we moved back to San Francisco many years later and finally decided to pursue our dream of ‘opening the restaurant,’ then I felt I was “different” because now I had to work with hearing people. For example, I had to go to City Hall to get the resources I needed to apply for permits. Some city employees would be great and provide an interpreter right away, but the majority of the city’s employees didn’t know how to approach me and found the situation awkward. I asked for paper and pen, or even if I brought my own paper and pen, they were a little resistant about writing back and forth and tried to keep talking to me. Or they would refer me to the manager instead. If a hearing person is asking for same resources or applying for the same permits, that person would be a step ahead of me whereas I would probably need to reschedule an appointment to come back and get the information or service that I needed. I realized at that moment that I had 2 jobs now – trying to open the restaurant, and educating hearing people on how to work with Deaf people.

Deaf Advantages:
Some customers told us that our food is amazing because we are Deaf and our sense of taste is greatly enhanced. I thought that was funny. Actually I never thought that way, but recently I began to see this as an opportunity to promote our culture, and hire an all-Deaf team.

Nearly all of our employees have no culinary background, but that didn’t stop us from hiring them. It is our way of giving back to the Deaf community to train them. Now many of our staff are approaching their 2-year anniversary. They discovered new talents that they never knew they had. Working at Mozzeria, some discovered their true calling in the food industry. Some got a clearer definition of their dreams after watching us in action and went on to obtain higher education, and even pursue masters or PhD degrees. Some use their experience at Mozzeria to get their foot in their next job. This is the type of impact we want to see, especially within the Deaf community.

Nothing comes easy, and you have to work hard. Never give up, and find ways to overcome. Russ would say ‘effort’ is the key because putting the effort in pursuing your dream is what it takes.

Joel Barish

Co-founder and CEO of DeafNation

deaftalent-joel-barishI graduated Gallaudet with TV, Film and Photography. Hollywood and TV Network had difficulty hiring Deaf people even though I had great internship with them. I decided to start a coffee shop with travel agency for 4 years before Jed (younger brother) pulled me into the internet age. That time internet was so new. We started many Deaf people with their website, business, organization, media. Started Deaflympics online in 1999 Davos, Switzerland and World Federation of the Deaf online media in 1999 Brisbane, Australia.

I met one Deaf woman at a deaf event. She told me that Deaf people only live in USA. I told her NO, there are millions and millions of Deaf people in different countries. I realized that I should do something about it. Why not start “No Barriers with Joel Barish,” doing positive stories about Deaf people in different countries? I added foodie, culture experience, etc into my show showing that Deaf people can do anything; even TRAVEL remote jungle or remote locations that you never find anything about in the travel books.

Be Brave! No fear to communicate with anyone, even Deaf or hearing people because I have to learn their sign language and culture at the same time. I told some government officers that I don’t carry interpreter in my school backpack!

Deaf Advantages:
Really no different. Just that hearing media staff would say WOW! Deaf can capture their attention. Deaf people are much friendly in different countries, easy to connect with them anywhere if we need their help or support instantly.

No Barriers is the key– just DO IT! Do something different that other business or ideas are not same as yours. Don’t do “copy-cat.”

Sheena McFeely

Children’s Book Author and Creator of ASLNook

My life story— being the only Deaf kid in my family and raising two girls using ASL. So I channeled my frustrations into what’s now called ASL Nook. Would I be where I am today without my experiences – both good and bad? No way.

Doing everything on my own – writing my own script, directing my own family, editing, running my own website, and posting everything on social media. But I am fortunate to have those skills to run something like ASL Nook.

Deaf Advantages:
Being Deaf and a momma to two girls – one Deaf and one a CODA – does give me the edge. But that’s not it. It’s working hard – I mean really hard – to get where I am today. As I get older, I’m finding out that more people like to talk than do the work. If you can do the latter, then you’re ahead of the game.

Think like a chef. When you decide to show the world your work, go out with a bang each time! And if its not good quality, fine-tune it. Work hard and walk the talk.

It is funny how everything worked out. I used to act and wanted to be a film maker. Then all changed when I realized I wanted more time with my friends, family, and life. As soon I became a mother, my children completed that circle for me. Good thing I had some experience under my belt to eventually put my acting and film making skills from many years ago to good use now. It might not be in Hollywood, but this is for something even grander. Spreading the sign to all kinds of people. That’s something irreplaceable.

Do it only if you are passionate and in love with your vision. And if you do rise, be humble. It’ll only take you even farther.

Braam Jordaan

Filmmaker and Advocate

(As a filmmaker) I grew up in a colorful environment. Film and animation are very visual-driven and colors are my music, my father is a wonderful storyteller and my mom a perfectionist. I naturally gravitated towards the world of visual arts and entertainment.

(As an advocate) I draw inspiration from the very community I am a part of. Uplifting the communities through my visual work, portraying strong messages of hope and happiness is a true reflection of the cultural pride I inherited as a Deaf person.

Effectively addressing the needs of different abilities called for listening to the “voices” of people with different abilities and proactively engaging them in policy decision-making. They were often overlooked in the policy planning and as result, their programmes were seldom inclusive.

The attitudinal barriers or bigotry are the biggest barriers I had to overcome. People are shocked to learn that Deaf people are lawyers and doctors, CEOs and managers, hold PhDs, have meaningful work, own homes and have families. We are people first, not Deaf first, and our abilities — not our disability — need to be the focus. We can do anything except… nothing!

Deaf Advantages:
Of course! Deaf culture, by its very nature is very visual. From our attuned senses, to our communication methods, we offer a very unique perspective.

Using creative methods engages people emotionally, stimulates thinking and creates a climate for greater understanding. Make sure you do your homework and use the power of social media wisely! Advocacy work can be very tough and cumbersome but it can also be a very rewarding experience, especially when you see the difference you are making in people’s lives.

These interviews represent only a small number of the countless individuals who are out there proving on a daily basis that when you have passion and motivation, anything is possible! Talented people who are d/Deaf can be found in every field at every level, working harder than most to rise up through the ranks. Deafness is not a barrier to success, but prejudice ignorance can be. I am excited and honored to share perspectives from Deaf professionals pursuing careers they love, and I look forward to future installments in this series!