Categories
Deaf & Sign

Deaf Perspective: A Quiet Place

This post may contain spoilers.

‘A Quiet Place’ from writer and director John Krasinski, was released in 2018 with its much-anticipated sequel ‘A Quiet Place Part II” released in May 2021. Both films follow Deaf protagonist Regan Abbott and her family’s attempt to survive alien creatures that hunt by sound. Many in the Deaf Community praised the movie for its portrayal of deafness and the casting of Millicent Simmonds, a Deaf teen actress.

In the Write interviewed three Deaf people to learn more about their perspectives on ‘A Quiet Place’ film, and the importance of Deaf representation in the media.

We interviewed Kellina, Elisa Prell (38), and Kelly Acevedo (23). Here are their perspectives:

Kellina
Kelly Acevedo

What did the movie A Quiet Place mean to you as a Deaf person? Why do you think it was so important to the Deaf community? 

Kelly: “It was significant to me as a deaf person since it was representation and more importantly, acknowledgment. I believe the Deaf Community can agree for the most part that it is nice to accurately see a deaf person depicted in a movie. Lately, there has been a rise in representation of ethnicities, genders, and religions, but disabilities have still yet to be more represented. ‘A Quiet Place’ was a step in the positive direction.”

Elisa: “As a deaf person this movie meant to me that we were finally being seen and acknowledged. I think it was so important for my Deaf Community because we felt supported and portrayed in a good light where we could feel more comfortable to show our deafness.”

Regan, the movie’s protagonist, is played by Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds. Do you find it important for Deaf characters to be portrayed by Deaf actors and if so, why is it so important for Deaf actors to play these roles?

Elisa: “I find it very important that she was Deaf in real life because it gave us credibility that we could be taken seriously, and that we too can act with a lead role just like anyone else. Also as a Deaf person, I could relate to her on a deeper, more genuine level.”

Kelly: “I love the fact that the deaf protagonist was actually played by Millicent Simmonds, a young deaf actress. She was able to embody her character perfectly. While a hearing person can learn sign language for a role, it does not compare to the authenticity of a deaf person’s use of sign language or speech. This is why it is very important for deaf actors to play these roles, since they understand and are actually part of the Deaf culture.”

There are very few major films with Deaf actors, but A Quiet Place made a Deaf person the main character. What was this like for you as a Deaf person? Did you feel represented or proud that the Deaf community was being showcased in the film?

Image courtesy of imbd.com

Kelly: “As a deaf person seeing a deaf protagonist, it was surreal for me since I grew up very mainstream with no Deaf culture. I did not have access to sign language as a child. There were many scenes within the movie where I greatly empathized with Regan and felt her struggles. I used to feel alone in this ‘hearing world’.”

Elisa: “I felt emotional about it in a good way. At times I feel the need to hide my deafness, but when I see a major film lead with a Deaf actor, it gives me hope and bravery to showcase my deafness without feeling ashamed.”

Regan’s cochlear implant in the movie plays a large role in the film and is actually used to deter the ‘creatures’. Some have interpreted this as Regan’s deafness and cochlear implant being her superpower. What are your thoughts on this? Did you appreciate that Regan’s cochlear implant was so integral to the plot and symbolic for those in the Deaf community who have cochlear implants?

Image courtesy of reddit.com

Elisa: “I could see the cochlear implant being her superpower. I know not the entire Deaf community uses a cochlear implant and some may look down on it, but in the movie when they showed her using it and not using it, I think it portrayed it as a powerful tool you could use if you wanted to but didn’t have to. I love how it showed her using sign language as well with her family when she couldn’t use the cochlear implant. I think so many people misinterpret the cochlear implant as a hearing aid but when you get to see it closely you see it’s more than that, which it is.”

Kelly: “While I am a cochlear implant user, I cannot speak for the validity of Regan’s cochlear implants deterring the creatures (they are fake creatures after all), I do appreciate the directors making her cochlear implant an integral part of their survival in the end. It was symbolic to me because you can visually see Regan’s moods throughout the movie change for the better. You see how her self esteem and confidence grows. In the early scenes, she dislikes putting her implant on and blames herself for her little brother’s death. It was beautiful to watch how Regan discovers her implants actually save not only her life but the ones of her mother and brothers, and proudly use them to save her family after the death of her father.”

What was your favorite part of the film’s portrayal of Deafness? Do you think they presented Deafness and the Deaf community in an authentic way?

Kelly: “My favorite part of how they portrayed deafness was by actually muting the movie during certain scenes in order for viewers to see Regan’s side. In all honesty, I at first thought there was something wrong with my implants because I couldn’t hear a thing! It was also an eye opener for my family who watched the movie with me.”

Some people in the Deaf community mentioned that they enjoyed that the American Sign Language parts of the film provided captions, because everyone in the theatre had to rely on reading the captions, not just Deaf individuals. This is also why certain films like Parasite were received well by the Deaf community. Do you wish more content creators and films provided adequate closed captions?

Image courtesy of deseret.com

Elisa: “Yes I definitely feel all content creators should provide closed captions everywhere. We still have trouble seeing closed captions on social media like Instagram. On Youtube, you have to choose closed captions to create your videos and at times many creators don’t because they don’t realize how much it is needed for Deaf viewers. During the pandemic, closed captions were a great need in conference calls like Zoom. Even calls from your cell phone I believe should have automatic closed captions.”

Kelly: “I really appreciated the use of captions in the movie since I rely on them heavily. I believe captions should be included in all movies and videos in order for all audiences, both deaf and hearing, to enjoy them to the fullest. Captions are necessary for deaf people as well as people learning a language. I never watch YouTube videos and do not follow content creators since they fail to provide adequate captions for the most part. In my household, nothing gets viewed without captions, and it’s not just because of me. My parents are Mexican immigrants who learned English after coming to the United States 25 years ago. Up to this day, they like learning new words and understanding the script. Due to all of this, I never go to movie theaters and I wish they could provide captions on the screen instead of handheld devices that never work.

To further discuss the importance of Deaf representation in TV and film, we talked with Kellina, a young Deaf woman, to learn about her perspective on Deaf U and Switched at Birth.

When thinking of TV shows or movies that include or aim to represent the Deaf community, what shows or films come to mind?

Kellina: I think of Switched at Birth and Deaf U.

Out of these shows and films, did you feel that they accurately portrayed the Deaf community or provided an authentic portrayal?

Kellina: On Deaf U, one intersection that felt abandoned by this series was race. There wasn’t diversity [in the students’ backgrounds].

A common issue is TV shows and movies casting hearing actors as Deaf characters. What is your opinion on this?

Kellina: This is something that needs to change in the film industry. I notice that a lot of actors can’t act well for deaf characters.

What would you like to see filmmakers do better in films/TV shows that include Deaf characters?

Kellina: I want them to do more reality TV shows and become more involved in the Deaf community instead of making it up. I want filmmakers to go out there and find someone new in the film instead of finding the same actor. I get tired of seeing the same actor in multiple movies.

What are some ways that hearing people could make films and shows more accessible for the Deaf community and better represent the Deaf community in media?

Kellina: I am not an actor but I know eye contact and touching are important for accurate Deaf representation and making sure that the filmmakers are educated enough to create a show about the Deaf community. I highly suggested the filmmaker be part of the Deaf community and ask a lot of questions.

You can learn more about Kellina and her mental health business she is launching in the fall of 2021, at her website kellinaempowerment.com.

This article and interview was written and conducted by Tiffany Leveille.

Graphics by Rakshitha Raghunandan.

Share your thoughts on ‘A Quiet Place’ and ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ with us on Instagram @inthewriteblog.

Categories
Deaf & Sign

A Bridge Between the Hearing & Silent World

For many students, high school is filled with new and exciting things: from prom, to first dances, to Friday night football games. But for Areej, high school was a challenging experience. She recalls being singled out due to her disability and bullied on numerous occasions. Diagnosed with moderate-severe hearing loss at the age of four, Areej would frequently face unique struggles. During high school, one of her teachers even told her that she would never make it to university. From then on, Areej refused to wear her hearing-aids, which left her dependent on lip-reading and made it increasingly difficult for her in the classroom. She recounts spending countless nights trying to catch up on her education.

But Areej did not let this stop her. “I was driven by a desire to prove my teachers wrong, that I could and would make something of my life.” She went on to study Information Systems with Computer Science at Brunel University and before graduating, she had already secured a position with a multinational company. But during this time, Areej began to really struggle with her hearing. Being Hard of Hearing (HoH) proved to be more difficult as an adult than a child. “There are so many more expectations of you and you’re constantly being compared,” she said. “It seemed the only solution was to get a cochlear implant, despite my parents being highly against it due to all the risks. I was convinced it was the only way I would be able to overcome all the difficulties I was facing.” Areej eventually went through with the procedure and got the cochlear implant.

Navigating the adult world and university was unfortunately not the only place Areej’s hearing loss impacted her. As the only person in her family with hearing loss, she often felt that the only person who understood her was her audiologist. Even her family had a difficult time accepting the fact that she was HoH, a common struggle for Deaf and HoH individuals. She remembers being scared to answer the phone when her parents were not home. If her aunt or uncle called, she would often be shouted at, mishear, and pass on the wrong message to her parents. It is a difficult thing for any parent to come to terms with their child being disadvantaged in a way,” she says.

But when Areej was eighteen years old, she finally began to meet other HoH people and with the help of her mother, she began to finally accept herself. With this newfound dignity, she started wearing her hearing-aids again, this time without any shame or embarrassment. While studying she also found time to take part in creative projects with her friends: photoshoots, fashion shows, and music videos. She even took part in an ASIANA Magazine
beauty pageant.

Today, Areej is a Computer Science teacher and is working to rebuke misconceptions surrounding hearing loss, which is why she started her social media platform @hear_areej. Many people think that hearing loss is an ‘old people problem,’ but Areej’s diagnosis at age four proves that this is not true. “There are also a few illnesses which can cause being HoH such as: ear infections, measles, meningitis, rubella, and mumps. To date, there is limited research on hearing loss and unfortunately it is an area which is not receiving the awareness it deserves. As a result, the real cause of many individuals’ hearing loss remains unknown.” Although an ear infection was suspected to contribute to her hearing loss, Areej herself still does not know what caused her to be HoH.

Her social media account aims to debunk misconceptions. One that Areej has heard often is that HoH people need to go to a special school or learn sign language, but for Areej and many others, this is not the case. “People often think that if you have a disability you should go to a special school, so you get the support you need. For some people this can be a preferred option, but I personally am grateful that my parents sent me to a mainstream school. It would’ve been great if I learnt sign language, but I’d have no one to sign to. It was lip-reading that helped me get through life without hearing aids.”
Areej also shared her own advice on the best ways to help a HoH person understand you. She says, “It never makes it easier for anyone to hear you if you’re shouting,” she says. “People who are HoH struggle to make out words and sounds within the noise. What does help is if you speak slower, clearer, and make sure you face them so they can lip-read you. Facetime is something I highly rely on.”

Another common misconception that Areej has found is that many people believe hearing aids make you hear perfectly, while in reality, this is false. “Hearing-aids are a treatment, not a cure. They help you hear better, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can hear everything.” When reflecting on her choice to get a cochlear implant, she said: “It would have been great if I could’ve educated the world on how to be more patient and supportive of HoH people, but I couldn’t see a way to do that so quickly. Till today, I’m really glad I went for the cochlear implant because it’s truly changed my life, the sound quality is so much better. I can hear the birds singing, which I haven’t heard since I was a kid.”


Written by Tiffany Leveille in collaboration with Areej Khan

*This story was originally published in May 2020

Categories
Deaf & Sign

Interview with an ASL Interpreter

Interviewer: On your website, you say that you have been involved in the ASL community for nearly 10 years, what sparked your interest in learning ASL? What were the first steps you took to learning?

Chris Gorges: My first exposure to sign language was actually in Paraguay in the year 2007. I traveled there to visit some missionary friends that lived in Concepcion, and at that time they were hosting a sign language class sponsored by a local congregation. Since I was already there, I decided I would attend the classes even though they were being conducted in Spanish. With that said however, I never really pursued it any further until 2009. At that time my wife’s father was losing his hearing and we all decided that we were going to learn sign language as a family. Naturally, we started by taking classes, but we also combined that with immersing ourselves into the community as much as possible. We attended sign language meetings, went to deaf events, invited deaf friends to our home, and also received a ton of help from hearing ones that were already fluent in the language.


Interviewer: How long did it take you to become proficient in ASL? Did you have any setbacks or certain challenges that made you question continuing on your ASL journey?

Chris Gorges: Attaining proficiency in any language is a very different experience for everyone, however for myself it took a solid year before I felt proficient in the language. The language learning process is a difficult one and I think everyone at some point reaches a point where they face discouragement or setbacks of one kind or another. For me, in the beginning especially, it was very frustrating not being able to convey what it was that I wanted to say. In many respects, my language ability was no greater than a child. However, I was always reminded by my friends that I had to look at how far I had come and only compare my skill level to my previous self. Easier said than done! I think the hardest part of learning any language is the fact that you always want to be proficient as quickly as possible and it can be hard at times to be patient enough with yourself along the way.


Interviewer: Did you always know you wanted to be an interpreter? What interested you in interpreting?

Chris Gorges: The funny thing about interpreting is that it wasn’t even on my radar until years after I had learned the language. I had previously worked as a Civil Engineer since the age of 14 (in 1999) and continued to do so until the recession hit in 2008. At that time, construction came to a complete halt and nearly everyone at the company I worked for had been laid off. It wasn’t until years afterwards that I started to work as an interpreter. My brother who worked at a local college told me that they were needing interpreters there, so both my wife and I decided to go apply for the job. Little did we know we would be hired on the spot. From there on out we both fell in love with interpreting and have been doing it ever since.


Interviewer: What does the process of becoming an interpreter look like?

Chris Gorges: The process can be different for everyone. For instance, some know from an early age that they want to go into the field of interpreting which affords them the opportunity to take classes in high school or college and even attend an Interpreting Training and Preparation Program (ITP). For others, such as children of deaf adults (CODA), typically already know the language from a young age and may have had to interpret for their parents or other deaf family members growing up. Interpreting professionally can be a natural fit for them and can make the road to attaining certifications easier. For myself, I didn’t even start learning the language until I was 23. Years after learning the language, I suddenly had to learn how to interpret. Learning both the language and how to interpret on professional level was only made possible because I had a great deal of support from friends and colleagues and a good dose of grit and determination.


Interviewer: Do you have to hold a certain college degree or take certain classes?

Chris Gorges: Yes and no. You can technically become an interpreter as long has you have the skills to do so. You can even attain certifications such as the ESSE or EIPA as long as you are skilled enough to pass their evaluations. However, taking classes can be a huge catalyst for learning the language and learning the complexities and intricacies of the interpreting process. Classes will also help accelerate your skill in the language as well as your understanding of deaf culture. Likewise, a college degree is also not necessary to become an interpreter, however having a degree can not only help you become a more successful person overall, but obtaining your bachelor’s degree is a requirement for attaining the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) through the Register of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) … so long as you can pass their various exams.


Interviewer: You say that your goal is to “Provide free educational content to those that would like to learn sign language.” Why is teaching ASL so important to you? What do you believe to be the best part of teaching ASL?

Chris Gorges: There are many reasons why I think it is important for others to learn sign language, however one of the more pertinent reasons I feel strongly about is for deaf children. After working for various school districts for several years and doing extensive research on the topic, one of the more shocking things I have learned is that approximately 90% of all deaf children are born to hearing parents, and even to this day, most of those hearing parents decide to not learn or teach sign language to their children. Seeing the repercussions of that decision really becomes apparent when these children enter public schools for the first time and are suddenly bombarded by words and signs they don’t understand. To put it in perspective, according to a 2013 study done by Scholastic, a hearing child on average will be exposed to on average between 15-45 million words by the time they start school and will have an expressive vocabulary of approximately 14,000 words and a receptive vocabulary of 28,000 words (A Concise Introduction to Linguistics by Bruce Rowe). Now imagine a deaf student that is starting Kindergarten with nearly no exposure to either English or ASL and has little to no vocabulary outside of invented signs used in the home, and this child is suddenly thrown into a new learning environment expected to know words and signs he or she doesn’t understand. That not only affects them their first year in school but it affects them through the entirety of their educational career. Being a parent myself, I understand that learning another language while at the same time raising a child and working full-time is a tall order. That is why I want to make it as easy and as accessible as possible for anyone, no matter their schedule or circumstances, to have the opportunity and available resources to enable them to learn sign language. To answer your second question about what I find to be the best part of teaching ASL, I would have to say being a part of creating an environment in which these kids can thrive. In one school in particular, myself and others have been able to inspire teachers, aides, and in many cases entire classrooms to learn and use ASL. This creates a very inclusive environment in which deaf kids don’t have to worry about a communication barrier getting in the way of being themselves and affording them the opportunity to just be a kid. In fact, just a few weeks ago at the school I previously mentioned, a play based on The Jungle Book was done entirely in ASL and was performed by 4th and 5th grade students composed of hearing, hard of hearing, and deaf students. So at every school site or administration I work with, I make it my personal goal to help create this kind of inclusive environment so deaf students don’t end up being excluded or bullied. Alongside helping these students individually, creating this kind of atmosphere and environment is, to me, one of the best parts of helping others learn ASL.


Interviewer: You post many of your videos on your Instagram, where you have amassed thousands of followers. How did you grow your account and get your message out to others who wanted to learn ASL?

Chris Gorges: Like many things, it’s a learning process. Before I even got started I did a lot of research into how social media could be best utilized to reach as many people as possible. This is one of the main reasons why I decided to do what I do. Over the years, I’ve been able to help many people get past the struggles and frustrations of learning a new language and achieve the fluency they were working so hard to attain. However, as great as it felt to help the few dozen people that I knew in person, I knew that I could help even more people via social media. To date, via platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, I have been able to reach over 50,000 people with my videos, which when I pause to reflect on that is pretty daunting … but more importantly than that though is the impact my videos are having on others. The responses from many of these ones have been incredibly positive and has encouraged me to continue on with my work. If I can help even one person learn sign language and empower that person to have the ability to communicate with their child, family, friends, or others in the community, than I feel like the hundreds of hours I have invested in teaching others have been worthwhile.


Interviewer: What advice would you give to students or others who aspire to become interpreters one day?

Chris Gorges: First of all, if you are currently looking into becoming an interpreter, you are fulfilling a great need. Currently in the United States there is a huge deficit of skilled interpreters and thousands of deaf ones across the country who don’t have reliable access to interpreters that can understand them and facilitate clear and accurate communication for them. Think for a moment of not being able to clearly communicate with your doctor, a teacher, a police officer, a lawyer, a therapist, etc and what that must feel like. However this is a challenge many deaf individuals are currently dealing with on a regular basis. Know that if you become an interpreter, you will be providing a much needed service for many individuals. With that said, if you are thinking about becoming an interpreter, start learning the language, become involved in the deaf community as much as possible, learn about deaf culture, and do research into what classes and programs are available to you locally. There is no better time to start working towards a goal than right now.


Interviewer: Lastly, why is it important that more people learn sign language?

Chris Gorges: I believe learning sign language is important because it is a bridge of communication that brings people together. If there is no means of communication between you and another person, then there really isn’t a way to build a relationship with that person. That is why it is especially important for families with deaf relatives to learn sign language as well. If you want to have any relationship with that relative, then it is essential to share a common language. Beyond that though, learning sign language enables you to become a part of a huge community that is full of amazing people, and without even realizing it, it can open up a myriad of opportunities for enjoyable and fulfilling employment where you have the privilege of helping others. Emily Dickinson once said, “I dwell in possibility”, so I ask anyone reading this, dwell on the countless possibilities of what learning sign language can do for you and for others. Dwell on the end result of what fluency can enable you to accomplish, the relationships you can build, and the endless possibilities that can become a reality when you choose to make it so. The choice is ultimately yours to make. So keep in mind that the person you are today is the result of the choices you’ve made in the past, therefore the decisions you make now will reflect who you will become in the future. So, if you want to be someone that can connect and help others through the power of sign language, then the decisions you make today need to reflect that goal. For me personally, the decision to learn sign language years ago is one that I will never regret.

* This interview was originally published in January 2020.

Categories
Deaf & Sign

Hearing Loss & Hearing Aids

By Naomi Smart

Hearing loss can be difficult to wrap your head around if it’s something you haven’t experienced. It cannot really be simulated by sticking your fingers in your ears, for example, or just by wearing headphones. Whenever somebody asks me about my own experiences, I tell them to turn around, and then I mumble something fairly quietly – I feel that this is the closest a fully hearing person can get to the muddled sounds I often hear in daily life. The truth is that deafness can be wildly different for each individual who experiencesit, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ definition for deafness.

According to statistics from Action on Hearing Loss, there are 11 million people with hearing loss in the UK alone, which works out to about 1 in 6 individuals. These numbers surprised me when I first heard them, because that meant that far more people near me shared my experiencesthan I realised, but all too often our society views deafness with an ‘all or nothing’ model. People who are Hard of Hearing don’t always feel they fit into the d/Deaf community, and often have their struggles invalidated by those around them who consider them ‘annoying’ – in reality, though, having partial hearing comes with its own, unique set of challenges.

I personally have worn hearing aids from a very young age due to an anatomical issue in the structure of my ear, and whilst hearing aids have changed my life in many ways, there are still struggles I face daily, even when wearing them.

For myself and a lot of my d/Deaf friends, our hearing aids are barely noticeable. The visible parts are generally clear or flesh toned, and if, like me, you have long hair these are concealed even further. In many ways, of course, this is brilliant. With the development of smaller, less noticeable devices, people are growing less and less ashamed of taking steps to aid their hearing loss, and I really do believe that we are moving towards a society which views hearing aids similarly to glasses – as an aid rather than a limitation.

For me, however, these discrete devices often cause one key dilemma; should I enter into an exchange or conversation telling people that I am hard of hearing, or should I simply wait, and only explain my hearing loss after spending 10 minutes asking them to repeat themselves?

Often, if I’m ordering food or coffee, in any shop, or engaged in another short interaction, I tend to tuck my hair behind my ears, and often find myself leaning forwards to make my hearing aid visible. These shorter, temporary conversations can cause a LOT of stress and anxiety for members of the d/Deaf community, and by clearly marking myself as a part of that group I feel that I reduce potential awkwardness. In my own experience, I’ve found that retail and service staff seem to speak particularly clearly once they have noticed my hearing aid, which I’m incredibly grateful for!

This dilemma, faced by many Hard of Hearing individuals on a daily basis, raises greater questions for the d/Deaf community and its placein society; how do we want our experiences to be presented in this world? Do we want to blend in, and be treated no differently to any other individual, or is it important that we are recognised as a community – a group of people with shared challenges and experiences?

When it comes down to it, these choices may well be simply two sides of the same coin – central to both outcomesis the need for understanding and awareness. Through educating others about a life with limited sound, we can not only allow the Hard of Hearing community to be treated equally, but also develop an awareness of our struggles, and what we may find challenging in life.

However you personally may feel about this dilemma, the key impression is that being ‘different’ is not a weakness. Nobody should feel as though they would rather struggle in life than have their experiences heard and understood. In an opinion shared by many of my d/Deaf friends, hearing aids should be viewed as enablers – devices which allow us to exist and interact in this world with the least difficulty possible, and not as a sign of inability or restriction.