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Category Archives: Deafness in mainstream culture

Deaf and Hearing World: Bridging the Cultural Gap

Most people know, of course, that a language difference exists between people who are deaf and those who can hear. People who are deaf communicate using a variety of strategies, ranging from lip reading and speaking, to writing notes, using gestures, or communicating via American Sign Language. Deafness can be a different experience for every person, and people come from all backgrounds and walks of life. So when we bridge only the communication gap between a deaf and a hearing person, there is still a lot of room for cultural misunderstanding!In America, many people who are deaf prefer using the visual language of ASL to communicate. These individuals consider themselves members of Deaf Culture, a linguistic minority group that has its own unique traditions, jokes, stories, and cultural norms. Deaf culture has no age, gender, race, or religious barriers, and members of Deaf culture frequently exist within several other intersecting cultural identities. To create truly effective communication with the Deaf community, hearing individuals must come to a greater understanding of what it means to be both medically deaf, and culturally Deaf.


It’s become trendy for businesses and organizations to use words like “Diversity” and “Inclusive” without actually taking any steps toward creating diversity or inclusion. Hiring an individual with a disability, but then making no effort to support their success, does not empower anyone, and can create resentments between people in the workplace. When a deaf individual shows up for a medical appointment (or any appointment at any business) and nobody in the organization knows how to accommodate their needs, that business has failed at providing equal access to their goods/services.

If an organization chooses to embrace diversity and multiculturalism, and truly wants to empower people of all abilities, Cultural Competency Training is a great next step. Educating staff from the top level down, and from the bottom levels up, offers a chance for organization-wide professional development and a much greater understanding of what diversity really means.

deaf-advocacy-education-mainstream-culture-03The first step toward welcoming d/Deaf individuals to connect with an organization is to get a contract on file with a local interpreting agency that offers high quality sign language interpreting services. Look for deaf-owned or ASL interpreter-owned agencies, or ask a deaf individual if they have a preferred agency to contact.

Cultural competency is not a feat, it is an opportunity! This is a chance to strengthen relationships within the organization, as well as relationships with customers, clients, and the community at large. Cultural Competency Training helps to identify the many different perspectives— employer, employee, deaf, hearing, interpreter, customer, consumer — and assists in creating mutual understanding from all sides. By working with deaf trainers to explore the various scenarios where d/Deaf and hearing people interact, everyone gets an opportunity to ask those awkward cross-cultural questions, or clear up any misconceptions in a safe environment. With proper training, buzzwords like “diversity” become very real and applicable concepts and everyone reaps the benefits.

SignNexus Interpreting Services is thrilled to offer Cultural Competency Training seminars for businesses and organizations. Working with a set of Deaf consultants, employees at all levels can deepen their understanding of deafness, Deaf culture, and Deaf communication to effectively bridge the persistent gaps that exist. Cultural Competency Training is an excellent solution for progressive companies ready to take it beyond basic communication.

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!


Top Model Winner Proves Deaf is Beautiful

The Final Season of America’s Next Top Model concluded in a monumental way with Nyle DiMarco, the show’s first ever Deaf contestant, overcoming all obstacles to win the competition. Smashing through stereotypes and assumptions, DiMarco proved to mainstream audiences that people who are Deaf can do anything they set their minds to. More than that, however, fans of ANTM were exposed to a side of deafness they may have never experienced. Throughout the season, viewers came to see DiMarco as a complex human with his own ambitions, passions, and vulnerabilities– qualities not commonly associated with deafness in the media.

americas-top-model-deaf-02Popular media outlets struggle with diversity, and this is especially true when it comes to depicting Deaf individuals. Can you think of any prime time programming that casually features characters who are deaf? When deafness does appear in film or TV, it’s generally only used as a plot point for an episode or two. Because so few Hollywood writers are deaf, it is very rare that Deaf individuals have the opportunity to portray a well-developed character.

americas-top-model-deaf-03The reality TV format of ANTM was the perfect platform for DiMarco to just be himself. He was able to communicate with viewers through candid confessional interviews. Viewers at home were able to access DiMarco’s thoughts through captioning, so they could follow along with his experience. However, because his primary language is American Sign Language DiMarco was not able to communicate effectively with the other cast members in the house, most of whom made little effort to bridge the communication gap. DiMarco was left out of social situations, had to combat ignorance (such as when Devin stole his phone), and did his best to adapt during difficult photo shoots (like when they shot in the dark). Most people who are hearing never get to witness firsthand the subtle ways d/Deaf people are excluded and oppressed, but fans of ANTM had their minds opened to the daily experience of deafness in America.

americas-top-model-deaf-04Audiences witnessed the emotional impact of excluding people who are deaf. Even though he felt alone and sometimes discriminated against, DiMarco never gave up or was discouraged from following his dreams. In fact, he claims the lack of communication just drove him to focus more on his modeling so he could prove himself. But, at the end of the day, DiMarco’s experience showed that it still hurts to work and live with people who never make an effort to get to know you!

In interviews, DiMarco shared his feelings of isolation with the world. This is a sadly familiar situation that many people who are deaf face at work, in school, and sometimes even in their own families. When hearing people learn even a little sign language, it makes such a difference in the quality of life of the Deaf people around them.

americas-top-model-deaf-05After feeling lonely for more than 2 months in the Top Model house, DiMarco was inspired to take communication barriers right out of the equation. He went on to help create The ASL App, an educational tool for those who wish to learn conversational sign language. Through the ASL App, DiMarco aims to facilitate greater cultural understanding by encouraging people from all walks of life to discover ASL in a fun and easy way.

americas-top-model-deaf-06On ANTM, mainstream audiences got to see firsthand how Deaf people crave social interaction just like anyone else, and how cruel it can seem when hearing people reject the opportunity to create simple two-way communication. Throughout the series, audiences were challenged to confront their own audism (the belief that the ability to hear makes one superior) and maybe even question their own past behavior toward Deaf people. Viewers also got to see a handsome, thoughtful, and motivated young man pursing his passion and developing his skills. DiMarco wasn’t just “the Deaf contestant,” he showed himself to be both a fierce competitor and a genuine soul.

The final season of ANTM was groundbreaking in the way that it positively depicted the Deaf community. DiMarco exposed a wide audience to the social, linguistic, and cultural experiences of deafness. He opened people’s minds to American Sign Language and the beauty of Deaf culture. He reminded everyone that Deaf people are unique and complicated, and that they absolutely can be winners.

The film and TV industry is starting to embrace the multicultural world around us. Through pop culture, we are slowly creating a world where Deaf people can be seen as strong, perseverant, compassionate, gentle, kind, funny, creative, charismatic, or dedicated– sometimes all at once! Deaf people are finally being given the opportunity to show the world who they really are, and change is happening one small step at a time.

How the Media Mutes Deaf Voices

deaf-censorship-in-media-01An unusual tale about a young Indian woman named Geeta has been making its way around the internet after a Bollywood film helped spark interest in her story. As a child, Geeta accidentally crossed the border into Pakistan all alone. She lived there in the care of a social welfare group for more than ten years years until last month, when she finally returned to India. Geeta is deaf and uses sign language to communicate, and the way the mainstream media has chosen to portray her is quite revealing. Major news outlets from CNN to CBS to Al Jazeera all decided to utilize the outdated term “deaf-mute” in their stories about the woman.

For centuries, people with different abilities, intellectual skills or physical features were forced to live on the fringes of society. They were labeled “defective” or “freaks” by the mainstream, and their families were shamed by their existence. These labels kept people isolated, and they opened the door for abuse and neglect. People who were deaf were never even given the opportunity to learn or socialize. They were denied humanity just because they were a little bit different.

Thankfully we have come a long way over the past hundred years and our culture is learning to appreciate the beauty of diversity. When our perspectives on disability began to evolve, so too did the language we use to discuss people who are disabled. While reading news stories about the “deaf-mute girl” in mainstream American outlets, however, I can’t help but feel like we’ve transported a half century backwards in our acceptance of deafness.

deaf-censorship-in-media-02The term deaf-mute is problematic, and it is not an appropriate way to discuss a person. Calling someone “mute” silences them and strips them of their agency— it sticks a label on them that devalues their autonomy. Mute is a loaded term which carries the distinct connotation that people who are deaf don’t have anything to say.

According to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), a civil rights organization created by and for deaf people, “mute… means silent and without voice. This label is technically inaccurate, since deaf and hard of hearing people generally have functioning vocal chords. The challenge lies with the fact that to successfully modulate your voice, you generally need to be able to hear your own voice. Again, because deaf and hard of hearing people use various methods of communication other than or in addition to using their voices, they are not truly mute. True communication occurs when one’s message is understood by others, and they can respond in kind.”

When photos of Geeta’s family were shown to her, she recognized them, and was able to communicate that she knew who they were. Her message was successfully sent and received without words. Although major media outlets decided to call her mute, Geeta was in fact communicating and cooperating with a number of different agencies to find her way home. The ethical and appropriate terminology in this instance would be “non-verbal.” If she were unable to use sign language, she would be called “non-verbal, non-signing.”

deaf-censorship-in-media-05Mute is just one offensive term that regularly pops up in news stories about deafness from supposedly reputable news agencies. The archaic phrase “deaf and dumb” also occasionally makes its way into headline news. It seems obvious why deaf people do not want to be called dumb, yet clueless hearing reporters continue using the term.

NAD explains: “A relic from the medieval English era, this is the granddaddy of all negative labels pinned on deaf and hard of hearing people. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, pronounced us ‘deaf and dumb’, because he felt that deaf people were incapable of being taught, of learning, and of reasoned thinking. To his way of thinking, if a person could not use his/her voice in the same way as hearing people, then there was no way that this person could develop cognitive abilities.”

Hearing-impaired is another commonly seen phrase. When you hear the word “impaired”, what do you think? Broken? Incomplete? According to NAD “The term ‘hearing-impaired’ is viewed as negative. The term focuses on what people can’t do. It establishes the standard as ‘hearing’ and anything different as ‘impaired,’ or substandard, hindered, or damaged. It implies that something is not as it should be and ought to be fixed if possible.”

Hearing-impaired is a label created by the hearing community to be more “politically correct” about deafness. Although some deaf/ HoH individuals may choose to call themselves hearing-impaired, particularly those who lose their hearing later in life, it has gone out of favor within the larger deaf community, who (depending on their level of hearing and use of sign language) generally prefer to be called either deaf, Deaf, or hard of hearing.

deaf-censorship-in-media-07Had the reporters at the major publications glanced in the AP Stylebook, they would have seen, under the entry for Deaf: “avoid using deaf-mute.” If the journalists and editors working for mainstream outlets had any deaf consultants proof reading their articles about deafness, they almost certainly would not be running stories calling deaf people “mute” “dumb” or “impaired”. Use of these damaging terms actually says far more about the perspective of the author and the lack of diversity within the news organization than anything else.

The story of Geeta is framed as a heroic rescue where the “deaf-mute girl” was saved by hearing parties. Geeta is portrayed as an object to be traded across borders, instead of a grown woman capable of feelings and thought. She is dehumanized in these stories to enhance the reputation of her “saviors.” She has lived her whole life without hearing or speech, and then the media choose to tell her story in a way that further denies her voice.

Deaf is not a bad word and being deaf isn’t a bad thing! All around the world, I see deaf pride bursting out of people who are finally gaining the opportunities they deserve. People who are deaf continue to fight for their rights, struggle for access, and work toward acceptance in mainstream society. Just because hearing people decide to put them on “mute” doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.

The Internet Provides a Window to the Deaf World

new-internet-online-deaf-entertainment-links-01While mainstream media still struggles to integrate diversity into programming, the internet offers a vastly different experience. People around the globe, of all backgrounds and abilities, are uploading original new content every day, smashing boring stereotypes and changing the way we view different cultures. With a larger number of deaf and hard of hearing people sharing their opinions, ideas, and even their jokes, wider audiences are opening up to the real experience of deafness and deaf communication.

Thanks to the web, the lines between deaf and hearing entertainment are beginning to blur. Because it is so easy to add captioning now, deaf video creators are sharing their blogs, their art, and their lives with audiences who they may not have been able to reach in the past. By making their videos accessible, deaf people have the opportunity to frame their own experiences and creatively express themselves without being filtered by hearing editors and producers.

new-internet-online-deaf-entertainment-deaf-nation-03DeafNation, founded in 2003, is home to some of the most diverse deaf video content on the web. The site hosts and creates videos in sign language, and their recent decision to add closed captioning makes DeafNation inclusive for those who use other communication methods, too. A unique travel show that will surely appeal to deaf and hearing audiences alike is “No Barriers with Joel Barish.” In this fascinating series, Joel takes audiences along to explore new cultures, uncover history; and specifically to see how people who are deaf live, work and play in different parts of the world.

Since popular media only seems interested in covering Deaf culture when a sign language interpreter is going viral, or if a deaf person’s rights have been abused, the ability to access news and views from the deaf perspective is rather refreshing. DeafNation’s DN360 is an ongoing news-style program which discusses health, current events, and conducts interviews with Deaf community members. Their recent “Deaf Culture” short video series offers hilarious and honest takes on some common situations deaf people find themselves in. iDeafNews is another reputable source of news and information on a wide variety of topics. Their news content is captioned so it can be understood by all, but it is designed, first and foremost, for deaf viewers.

new-internet-online-deaf-entertainment-you-tube-02bYouTube is a platform that many people who are deaf utilize to connect with others from all walks of life. The format of the site is open, allowing users to upload content about pretty much anything— from health tips to homemade music videos— and closed captioning is simple to add. Deaf and Hearing Network, DHN is a news agency that makes excellent use of YouTube to share information in a fully accessible way. Their videos are high quality and use ASL, voice, and captions in each broadcast to ensure all viewers feel included.

ASL Nook” is an educational YouTube series which teaches ASL and showcases a Deaf family. Both parents and one daughter are deaf, while their other daughter is a CODA, and ASL is their primary language. For those who have never interacted with a deaf family, “ASL Nook” is a nice way to expose oneself to the communication between family members and to see how empowered deaf people are when they can comfortably express themselves.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger” is an upcoming YouTube comedy series which centers around the awkward moments and daily misunderstandings of an ASL interpreter living and working in New York City. The creators of the series are deaf and, because the main character in the series is an interpreter who interacts with both deaf and hearing people, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” will definitely appeal to wider audiences.

new-internet-online-deaf-entertainment-links-06For those who want a more straight forward perspective on the world through the deaf/HoH lens, there is Rikki Poynter’s  YouTube channel. As a hard of hearing beauty blogger, Poynter discovered there were many barriers to web access, as many people choose not to caption their video content, so she began advocating for better online accessibility. She now uses her popular channel as a platform to discuss the experience of being HoH, social issues, and to promote equal access. She still also discusses everyday things, such as Pokemon and makeup.

new-internet-online-deaf-entertainment-links-07Facebook, of course, has been another medium for deaf people to connect and interact with others around the world.  ASL Slam uses the Facebook video feature to post a wide variety of deaf-created video content, and their Instagram account is also full of great clips. ASL Slam was founded in 2005 to provide a platform for literary and performing artists in the Deaf community; they hold poetry slam events in major cities across the country. The ASL Slam Facebook page is full of ASL poetry, stories, and deaf jokes. This kind of exposure to ASL art and literature gives hearing people a glimpse of how witty, intellectual, and well-rounded Deaf culture can be.

new-internet-online-deaf-entertainment-links-03bAs the hearing world becomes increasingly fascinated by Deaf culture and ASL, it is important for us to recognize the many deaf people who are already out there sharing their authentic experiences. Mainstream media hesitates to hire deaf consultants, directors, or talent, so networks continue to struggle with portraying diversity in film and TV. But Americans are growing tired of the same stale majority culture formula. More and more people are turning to the internet for new perspectives, and with such a wealth of deaf-created video, they are sure to find the type of genuine content that they’re looking for.

Discover the Silent World of Deaf America

Lately it seems like American Sign Language is everywhere! It’s been making appearances at musical performances and sporting events. It can be seen in news stories, comic books, movies, and TV shows. Pop stars are using it, sports mascots are using it, even President Obama knows a little ASL. With so many people finally embracing… Continue Reading

The SNL Sign Language Mime and More ASL in Music

Last weekend, singer/songwriter Sia was accompanied by a noteworthy performer as she sang her hit “Chandelier” on Saturday Night Live. With his face painted white like a mime, the visual performer used a mix of expressive American Sign Language and interpretive gestures to bring Sia’s words to life. On one hand, it is refreshing to… Continue Reading

2014: Deaf Culture Totally Had a Moment

This past year was a very visible one for Deaf Culture and American Sign Language. From viral videos to late night TV appearances, mainstream audiences just couldn’t get enough of Deaf superstars or their fascinating visual language. As we leave 2014, let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable Deaf pop culture… Continue Reading

Deaf Interpreter Goes Viral

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the citizens of New York to discuss the city’s first confirmed case of Ebola. During the press conference the mayor’s ASL interpreter, Jonathan Lamberton, gained a bit of attention on the Internet. Most of the commentary centered around Lamberton’s expressiveness, which is actually just part of sign language,… Continue Reading

Hearing the Voice of the Deaf Community

Often, people ask me “what is going on?” with Deaf culture. More than ever, we are seeing deaf individuals on TV, in the news, and other mainstream sources. For thousands of years, deaf people were silent members of society, sometimes denied basic rights simply because they could not hear. But with new communication technologies emerging… Continue Reading

Deaf Superheroes and the Power of Diversity

There are many types of superpower– ranging from super strength to mind control. With such a wealth of fictional capabilities available, why should Superheroes be limited by their ability to hear? Deaf people can do everything hearing people can do, they just might do it in a different way… This includes fighting super-villains! Recently, Marvel… Continue Reading

Deafness is Not One Size Fits All

The pediatrician just informed you that your child is profoundly deaf. What is deafness like? How does deafness impact a person’s life? What will you do now? Your answers to these questions will depend on personal experience. If you have connections to Deaf culture, you may feel very differently than someone who has never had… Continue Reading

Can Digital Devices Replace Interpreters?

While walking the streets of New York, nearly every person I see is staring down at a screen, fully engaged with digital devices. Through technology, our world has become incredibly connected; yet disconnected at the same time. There is comfort in being able to communicate without regard to time or distance but, somehow all this… Continue Reading

Inclusion For All

New York City has so many incredible Summer street festivals, art exhibits, and cultural events to enjoy. Now, imagine how many shows you would go to if you had to contact the event organizers weeks in advance, explain that you need special accommodations, and possibly even explain how to secure those resources. This is the… Continue Reading

ASL Goes Viral

Last week, Jimmy Kimmel hosted a “sign language rap battle” where two interpreters and deaf entertainer named Jo Rose Benfield each delivered their live interpretation of a Wiz Khalifa song. The video has nearly a million views on YouTube and was featured on many prominent sites across the web– further proving that pop culture is ready to embrace deaf… Continue Reading

Deaf Culture in Hollywood

Think about the last five movies you saw. Were there any deaf individuals in them? When was the last time you saw a deaf weather person delivering the forecast? It is estimated that nearly 20% of Americans live with some form of hearing loss, yet deaf and hard of hearing society members remain oppressed by… Continue Reading

Music Without Sound

On December 28, Madison Square Garden was a sea of colorful tie-dye, flashing LED lights, and smiling faces. The crowd energy in the sold out venue reached a frenzy when the house lights went down, and rock band Phish took the stage. As Phish pulsated the building with their signature jams, their renowned lighting director… Continue Reading

Breaking Barriers

When black seamstress Rosa Parks controversially refused to give up her bus seat, she provided a new face to the burgeoning civil rights movement. When 24 year old Helen Keller became the first deaf-blind individual to earn a college degree, she rewrote the narrative about disability in America. Sometimes, on this big planet of 7… Continue Reading

What is Foreign About ASL?

In schools across the country, American Sign Language is offered as a foreign language. Why is a language which is used by around 500,000 native U.S. citizens taught as foreign? Great question. When we take a look at the prejudices facing Deaf culture, I think this is a good place to start. When ASL gets… Continue Reading

Deaf During Disaster

In 2003, a Russian boarding school for deaf students caught fire in the middle of the night. In the old building, there were no flashing alarm lights or vibrating beds to awaken the students. There were no emergency precautions in place at all. Instead, 28 young boys lost their lives to the blaze, while teachers… Continue Reading

Cultural Divide

“After all the years of silence and rejection; I felt like I had lost my identity,” these powerful words stared at me from my computer screen, bringing tears to my eyes. The author, an individual with degenerative hearing loss, had recently attended an open-to-the-public cultural event I interpreted for. This person was incredibly grateful to… Continue Reading

Athletes Ready to Shine in Summer Deaflympics

In sports, missing the start of the race, a whistle blowing, or team mate’s directions can mean the difference between winning and losing. This puts deaf athletes at a major disadvantage when trying to compete with their hearing peers. Because deaf individuals still enjoy sports and competition, the Deaflympics were formed as an accessible venue… Continue Reading


I recently had the privilege of interpreting for Chef Kurt Ramborger  on the Food Network show Chopped. Every time I interpret for someone so talented and dedicated to pursuing their dreams, my own passion is reignited. My clients inspire me to do the best job I can do, and remind me why I became an… Continue Reading

Deafness in the Media

Picture yourself as a child, watching television and absorbing how the world works through modern media. Imagine that none of the people you see reporting news, advertising products, or acting in sitcoms are like you. They don’t speak your language or have the same mannerisms; they don’t even have any friends who are like you!… Continue Reading