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5 successful people who prove that deafness is not a disability

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

The first thought that immediately comes to a person’s mind when they hear about someone being deaf is a thought of pity. This thought is not only unwelcome by the deaf community but is also one which is disrespectful and offensive, as it undermines the abilities of the deaf.

Deaf people are capable of, and at times better at, almost everything hearing people can do. And this blog is proof of that.

So, scroll down to find the list we made just for you and learn about some famous deaf movie stars, award winners, and personalities who have gone on to prove that for them, the sky’s not the limit.

1. Marlee Matlin

In 1986, Marlee Matlin won the Academy award for Best Actress for her role in the romantic drama film “Children of a Lesser God”. This was her debut on the big screen and she went on to be the holder of many more awards, including three Golden Globe nominations, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and four Emmy Award nominations for her television appearances in popular shows, such as Glee and Law & Order: SVU.

Marlee was only 18 months old when an illness permanently took away all hearing in her right ear, and 80% of the hearing in her left ear, making her profoundly deaf. Around the age of 5, Marlee learned American Sign Language (ASL) and used it as a means of communication.

Following her success as a movie star, Marlee was able to fulfil another lifelong dream of hers. She wrote a children’s book to tell the world about the experiences of Deaf people. In 2002, her dream became a reality and her first book, Deaf Child Crossing, was published. She went on to publish various other books, including her autobiography in 2009, titled “I’ll Scream Later”.

Marlee Matlin is an inspirational and empowered woman, and she serves as a role model not just for the Deaf community, but even for those who can hear properly.

When asked about how she helps her children understand her personal limitations, she had the perfect answer:

Who said I have limitations? I can do anything, except hear. Yes, I can’t be a singer, or a telephone operator, or piano tuner but there’s a whole heck [of a lot] in life I can do. Why dwell on my perceived “disability” or “limitations” when I can show them that life is full of possibilities for everyone.

2. Nyle DiMarco

Nyle DiMarco is an American model, actor and activist who won both “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing with the Stars” competitions in back to back years and was the first Deaf contestant to win both contests.

Nyle was born Deaf in a family that was entirely Deaf as well. 25 members of DiMarco’s family are Deaf, which is an extremely rare circumstance, as Deaf children are usually born to hearing parents. Because of this, Nyle learned the art of communicating in American Sign Language from a very young age.

He started his modelling career through freelance work, mostly on Instagram, and was noticed by the producers of “America’s Next Top Model”. The producers were unaware of his deafness until they saw his audition tape.

Despite the massive success that followed, Nyle has not let it distract him from his real purpose. He uses his platform to spread awareness about the importance of learning sign language and teaching it to Deaf children at a young age, since only 2% (of 7 million) Deaf people worldwide have access to language education.

He describes his experience with sign language and deafness:

With sign language, I was able to embrace my own identity as Deaf. I did not let being Deaf define me. Instead, I defined it.

3. Millicent Simmonds

Millicent Simmonds is a 17 year old Hollywood actress, best known for her role in the 2018 thriller “A Quiet Place” as the deaf child of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt’s characters.

Millie lost her hearing due to a medication overdose before she was even a year old. Her family continued to support her throughout her struggles. They learned sign language so that they could communicate with her and encouraged her to read extensively.

Millie uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with people on movie sets and for “A Quiet Place”, the entire cast learned sign language, seeing as the movie was about having to survive without making a sound. Hence, Millie fit right in and was able to engage with her co-stars.

For starring in a major Hollywood movie, she has stated:

I hope seeing people like me on screen inspires more people to chase their own dreams, and shows deaf kids that anything is a possibility for them because I really don’t feel like my deafness was an obstacle or should be a big deal. I’m an actress. I’m also Deaf. I like to read. There’s a lot more to me than just being deaf.

4. Philip Zazove

Dr. Philip Zazove is an author, physician and chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan. He is also one of the first Deaf physicians in the United States, dedicated to improving health care for the D/deaf and hard of hearing community.

When Philip was 4 years old, it was revealed in a test that he had profound hearing loss. Experts said that his hearing loss was so severe that he would be lucky to even make it as a janitor, and recommended his parents to put him in a deaf school.

His parents refused and fought against the odds to enrol him in the public school system. Despite facing hardships, such as bullying and a lack of faith from his teachers regarding his abilities, Philip excelled in school year after year.

His clinical years at Washington University in St. Louis were hard. Philip had to rely majorly on lipreading to understand his hearing colleagues. And it was difficult. People didn’t face him while talking or had to wear masks in operating rooms. To combat this, Philip would learn the material by preparing ahead of time and ask questions later.

Philip credits his parents for believing in him and in a CNN article, stated:

My life has been a wonderful journey. My parents made all the difference by refusing to believe my hearing loss was an insurmountable barrier.

His positive attitude of doing everything to achieve his goals, despite communication struggles, is a success story that will inspire millions to never give up on their dreams.

5. Linda Bove

Most of us, at some point in our childhood, have watched Sesame Street. Although we are often not aware of the actors behind the popular puppets, there is one actress who stands out: Linda Bove.

Linda, who was a born Deaf child, made her first appearance on Sesame Street in 1971 as the Deaf character of her namesake, Linda the Librarian. She was also the first Deaf performer on the show.

Through Sesame Street, Linda has introduced millions of children to sign language and issues surrounding the deaf community.

Linda became a regular cast member by the mid-late 1970s and continued to play her character for over thirty years. This was the longest-running role for a Deaf person in television history. It was an impressive milestone for the community because in the 1970s, it was super difficult for Deaf people to find work in Hollywood. Even Deaf characters were played by hearing people.

Linda Bove works to ensure that the Deaf community has opportunities available to them and don’t have to struggle the way she did in television and theatre. She co-founded the Deaf West Theatre (DWT) with her husband, who is also a Deaf actor, in 1991.

Deaf West Theatre (DWT) is a Los Angeles based sign-language theater that features both deaf and hearing actors telling each other stories together through the use of sign language and spoken English. Since then, the married couple have produced more than 40 plays and four musicals and have won more than 80 awards for their work.

Linda has laid the groundwork for deaf actors to succeed and because of her efforts, generations of Deaf people will hopefully appear on our Television screens for years to come.

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Catherine Syring
Catherine Syring
Feb 27, 2023

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