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Spotlight

I Can’t Hear You!

November 30, 2018
Lilly Sitver

Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Imagine sitting around the lunch table in your school cafeteria. The boy to your left is arguing with his friend across the table about whether the Cavaliers or the Golden State Warriors are the best NBA team. Meanwhile, the girl to your right is involved in an in-depth conversation with three other people about the details for the homecoming dance. You are observing the interactions surrounding you, but you have no idea what your classmates are saying. All you see are lips moving, hands flailing, and an array of emotions appearing on everyone's faces. You want to interject and share your opinion, but you are lost in the conversation. You are deaf. This example is a typical incident one encounters as a deaf person. This human struggle, with the obstacles of growing up deaf in a predominantly hearing world, is epitomized in Marlee Matlin’s I’ll Scream Later.  

Marlee Matlin is an Academy award-winning actress, national bestselling author, and a major advocate for the deaf community. Since becoming deaf at 18 months old, Matlin has experienced several hardships throughout her lifetime; however, she serves as an inspiration to millions for her perseverance and fortitude. Within her novel, Matlin relates how her deafness is not a disability nor a stigma, revealing a paradigm shift from popular preconceptions.    

When it was first discovered that Matlin was deaf, her parents resented the diagnosis and were in a state of denial. With the sudden change, her family dynamic was greatly affected. In order for Matlin’s parents to assuage their guilt, Matlin was showered with new toys and sweet treats, unlike her siblings. As Matlin grew, her inability to communicate lead to several outbursts and frequent tantrums. Matlin’s parents recognized their daughter’s frustrations and responded by taking advantage of the abundant resources on a local level. They extensively researched parenting advice for how to raise a deaf child in a hearing world. Eventually, her parents came to the decision to enroll Matlin in a public school, in Morton Grove, Illinois, that offered a Deaf-education program. Matlin frequently switched schools as the Deaf-education services changed location. Matlin’s favorite mentor overall was Sister Mary Elizabeth, a marriage and family therapist. Sister Mary taught Matlin that she could achieve anything with hard work and being adaptable in various situations. By constantly being immersed in the hearing society, Matlin was able to learn how to cope with the hearing world.

Theatre is a way for the actor or actress to express themself with a new persona. In the summer of 1972, Matlin attended a day camp where she performed along with hearing children in choir productions. As Matlin signed the lyrics to the music’s vibrations, a new passion for performing was born. This fascination became Matlin’s lifelong profession. Even though being deaf may be portrayed as a deficit in this occupation, Matlin utilized this characteristic to distinguish herself as a more expressive actress. Matlin’s insurmountable talent took herself from being an undiscovered actress in Dr. Pat’s production of The Wizard of Oz at age seven to being the lead role of the Academy Award winning film, Children of a Lesser God. Matlin went on to be the first deaf actress to receive an Oscar for Best Actress in 1986. Her trailblazing Oscar win cleared a path for other deaf persons while influencing them to strive for greatness.

While being deaf plays a vital role in Matlin’s life, Matlin should not be defined by this singular characteristic. In fact, deafness is a driving force to Matlin’s ambition which propelled her to become a novelist and an activist. Currently, Matlin works to promote the use of closed captioning among all forms of mass media. Matlin’s success negates that deafness corresponds to being looked down upon, pitied, or considered useless in the world. Even though being deaf has its hardships, Deaf culture will continue to evolve as society becomes more accepting and inclusive.

Lilly Sitver is a BBG from Cotton States Region who loves adventuring in the Smoky Mountains, eating chicken biscuits, and spending time with her friends.

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