20 Questions About the Deaf Experience from a Blind Friend is available in distraction-free PDF at the end of this post, and in my new podcast, also at the end of the post.

I absolutely love talking with people who have disabilities other than mine, and seeing things through their perspective, and learning more about the way that they navigate and experience the world. I love the “oh wow!” moments I have in conversations, in just looking at things from a completely different way. Those little “a-ha” brain explosions make my day, every single time they happen!

I wandered into a conversation with a new friend who is blind. She was talking about how she hadn’t known that the color changes for a burner on the stove, and I responded with how interesting that she found that out – and I had just found out some things of my own, like that you can hear the river from my front porch! And the coffee machine beeps when it’s done!

She went on to ask what I call “20 questions” – a lot of questions that flow through and from conversation.

I really liked her questions! I thought they were fun and illuminating on how different our perspectives are, and I loved her interesting way of thinking about the d/Deaf experience.

I received her permission to post the questions (and my answers) here on this blog. Bearing in mind that these are obviously just my answers from my perspective as just one singular deaf person, here they are. 

1. Why do deaf people need the fire alarms with the flashing lights? The regular fire alarms are so loud that you can feel the entire room vibrating when they go off.

Alarms and rooms are different.

There are some fire alarms that are totally fine sans lights because they do make the room vibrate, but sometimes the walls are so thick that the vibration won’t be enough to wake me up (especially adolescent me: I was a very deep sleeper growing up, well into my mid-twenties).

Flashing lights will always wake me up.

So I guess in the case of fire alarms, you’d want to err on the safe side and have both, just in case the walls didn’t vibrate enough to wake up a heavy sleeper.

2. How do you do things without having to have an interpreter everywhere? I would assume that you can’t have an interpreter go with you everywhere because the government probably won’t pay for it and it is expensive and you can’t afford it and it isn’t very realistic.

I don’t usually use an interpreter because ASL isn’t the primary way that I communicate. I wouldn’t be bringing an interpreter around with me if I could. But your question remains about communication: yes, it can be so tough.

It reminds me of this time I went to get my oil changed in one of those drive-through oil change places. I couldn’t hear the guy and I just nodded my way through it because I was tired of trying to figure out what he was saying and I thought, what’s the difference? It’s just an oil change, it’ll be fine.

But then the bill came and it was $600!! It turns out that all of those things he had asked me (that I had nodded to) were questions about upgrades!

So after that, I’ve always carried pen and paper with me and I have people write it out when I can’t figure it out or when I’m tired. My kids also help by telling me what people are saying.

For most d/Deaf people, regardless of ASL proficiency, I think that’s pretty common – we use a combination of pen/paper and the help of allies and families around us. A lot of children of deaf adults (who are called CODA) grow up translating for their parents, either with ASL or with articulation (like mine do; they hear something mumbled and turn to me and articulate it clearly so I can understand).

3. Like if you want to order something at a restaurant, how do you do that? Do you just point on the menu, but then what do you do if you want to ask a question? I suppose if I were in that position, I would write it down. You could do that, but if I became deaf, I wouldn’t be deaf blind, and I can’t write print.

Because I can speak, I have no problem ordering – my problem is when they repeat it back to me.

I rarely rarely feel like going to the trouble of making sure they got my order down right, so I usually just nod (I’m sure you see a habit here!). My oldest kid likes his food the way he ordered it, so he tends to pay attention when they repeat it back and correct them if they are wrong.

I don’t often ask questions when ordering – I hate dealing with having to figure out their responses! But if I do ask questions, I make sure someone hearing is around me (usually my oldest kid or a friend) and they translate if I don’t understand what the server said. I don’t usually (if ever?) ask questions if no-one is with me for back up because it’s just too much trouble.

4. But you don’t have something to write with all the time.

I have run into this more times that I can count!

YES, thank you for noticing this! I do almost always have my phone on me though and now I use that to write on – I open up the ‘notes’ section and write.

5. What if you have to get someone’s attention to ask directions?

I don’t usually ask for directions.

I use map and direction apps that are connected with my apple watch. My apple watch taps me when it’s time to turn. If I am completely and utterly lost, I will ask and have my phone ready to write on.

I know a lot of d/Deaf people who have pre-printed cards that say something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m deaf and I need some directions.” They also have cards with a variety of requests already printed and they just point to the one they want at that moment. It’s pretty useful.

The only pre-printed cards that I have are the ones I keep in my wallet, and in my car for police. It states that I am deaf and I can’t hear if they are asking me to do something (- I’m always scared they will shoot me for non-compliance when I just don’t hear them).

6. What if you are at a hotel, and you need to call the front desk because you ran out of shampoo? I know that some deaf people can speak without sign language, but some can’t. Even if you could speak without sign language, that would really help much because you can’t hear it.

This is such an insightful question.

So, if I run out of shampoo (which I have), I wait until I see housekeeping and then ask them. I might stop off at the front desk and ask for more (or more bedding or whatever). For a more pressing question, I might ask my oldest kid to call the front desk.

But I also usually bring shampoo to hotels!

7. How do you have a job interview? Do you have to disclose deafness ahead of time?

This is such a great question.

Because I speak clearly, I can “pass” as hearing. But I’m not really hearing, and that can easily come around to bite me later when I’m asked something (because I’ll be unaware that I was asked something and then be judged by my lack of response).

When that happens, I appear dismissive, spaced-out, unfriendly, unintelligent or something else equally undesirable.

If I tell employers I’m deaf ahead of time though, they usually jump to their own conclusions about what that means and what I’ll need. Those conclusions are usually wrong.

Because I don’t require an interpreter, I tend to only disclose when I get to an interview or in an application in which being deaf is to my advantage. But it’s also true that when I was a job seeker, trying to figure out the best way to disclose gave me intense anxiety.

Other d/Deaf folk that require an ASL interpreter need to disclose ahead in order to have an interpreter present at the interview.

8. I know that some deaf people can read lips, but I was reading that you can only pick up like 20% of the words by reading lips, and that doesn’t seem like it would work out very well. From my research, it hasn’t worked out very well for most deaf people.

That’s probably true!

I do lip read but lip reading is a skill and I have been practicing it for 40 years. I am very good at it.

I have heard that those of us who lip read actually pick up something like every 5th word, then we make sense of it using a combination of body language, facial expressions, and context. I feel like I understand a lot more than every 5th word – I feel like it’s more like 60% on average but it can be higher, depending articulation, context, etc.

While I lip read very well, putting together all the pieces – combining facial expression, body language, lip shape, sound that I pick up with context takes a great deal of focus and is exhausting.

9. If you were born deaf and you don’t even know what words sound like, and because the structure of ASL is completely different from English, I don’t know how you could even learn how to read lips and even if you could, would it really be worth it to go through all that trouble?

YES!!! This is such an insightful question and observations! YES!

I undoubtably lipread as well as I do because I was not born deaf. I was born hearing and the range of my hearing has progressively decreased. My mind is linguistically wired for English.

The experience of those were born d/Deaf is completely different from me. Lipreading makes no sense for them at all.

Since lip reading requires so much focus and is utterly draining and exhausting, it’s not something I would ever recommend as a solution for the d/Deaf to communicate with the hearing. In lip reading, the bulk of the work communicating falls squarely on the shoulders of the d/Deaf and the amount of work it takes is rarely understood by the hearing.

10. How do you even talk to someone at the theater to let them know that you need the closed captioning? One time, I was trying to get the audio description, and they gave me this mirror on a pole, which I assume is for deaf people. This happened when I was visiting my family. They acted like it wasn’t that big of a deal, but I felt pretty mad about it. I wonder if they give deaf people the audio description?

Since I speak, I just ask them for the closed captioning glasses.

This is a new thing for me and I love it!

My town here in Hawaii is great about keeping the gear for captioning easily accessible and they are also great about providing daily open-captioned options (that’s where the captions are directly on the screen). What I wonder about are audio descriptions actually, because I wonder if that’s an option here? I don’t know.

11. Or how about if you have to call 911? I don’t understand exactly how TTY works, but I know that you are supposed to be able to use that to call emergency services. However, since most people don’t use that, does it really work in practice? Can you use TTY to call everywhere? What do you do if you have to call a place that doesn’t have it if you can’t use it to call everywhere? I suppose if I were in that position what I would do is just get a screen reader on the computer and then type and then put the phone really close to it and have it talk really loud, but I don’t know if that would work.

Such a good question. You have so many great questions!

TTY has been a real issue for me. Everyone says, “call for information” and then since I couldn’t hear on the phone, my only option was to use TTY. But TTY only works with a landline, and I haven’t had a landline in, what, 15 years?!

I think of TTY now as the great pass-off – companies say to call TTY but with no-one using it, it’s a dead end.

I mean, really: who uses it anymore? I don’t know anyone who uses it! People who are Deaf – who use ASL as their primary means of communication – they use VRS – Voice Relay Service. It’s an online ASL interpreter. There are also great programs like Hamilton CapTel which functions like TTY (only better). They operate on cell phones or landlines and caption the telephone conversations.

That’s really similar to what you are saying you’d do with the screen reader!

About 911, I’ve always banked on being able to just dial 911 and leave it open. I heard that if you do that, they will come around and check if you don’t respond in a certain amount of time. I should be sure about that though, before I make that my emergency plan!

12. I know that autistic people and people with cerebral palsy speak using an iPad app, and then when they talk, it sounds kind of like a screen reader. Maybe if you are deaf, you could do that. I suppose you couldn’t hear it, but you could just type and then press the button, and then you could feel it vibrating so you could know it is talking.

That’s a really good idea.

13. How can a deaf child have friends in school if other people don’t know sign language? I know that it must be possible and that some people could learn sign language.

I went to my island’s Deaf Club meeting yesterday and there were a lot of signing hearing people there. They all said they learned ASL through school – having deaf friends at school.

So yeah, Deaf kids who use ASL as their primary means of communication can make friends with hearing people. Hearing people can learn ASL.

It’s also true that a lot of d/Deaf kids have varying degrees of ability to talk or lip read.

As I grew up oral, I didn’t know any sign language at all when I went to school. It’s just a fact that all of my close friends articulate well or are very patient and repeat a lot of stuff for me.

Being d/Deaf at school though is, I think, a potentially isolating experience. I am social, outgoing, friendly, I speak clearly and lip read like a ninja and I was still terribly isolated in school.

14. I also know that some deaf people believe that you should be in a school for the deaf. I hated the experience I had with schools for the blind, and it seems sad to me to think of deaf people being stuck in their own segregated school because nobody wants to be friends with them.

I don’t think it’s friendship that is the impetus for Deaf schools. I think it’s language.

I think people who use ASL as their primary means of communication prefer Deaf schools because the quality of instruction is potentially higher. With instructors qualified in both ASL and the subject, and with the ability to freely converse with classmates, Deaf schools seem pretty ideal.

Deaf schools also build Deaf community, and Deaf communities are vital as we live in a hearing world.

15. When I had a braille teacher, I felt like she overstepped her bounds a lot and she was watching every move I made. Is it the same if you have an interpreter?

I think it can.

I haven’t had that many interpreters and I didn’t use them in school, but I have definitely noticed that there is a range of expertise, personality and professionalism with interpreters!

One thing that happens a lot is when people don’t talk to the d/Deaf person; they just talk to the interpreter, it’s like we are not there or something.

16. When someone is absent, no one cares that I took the special ed bus to school, and when the bus driver was absent, they were supposed to assign a substitute bus driver, but they would always forget to pick me up or they would pick me up really late. Would that happen if you had an interpreter where the interpreter just calls in sick one day, no one cares, and there is no other interpreter and you are just stuck? Are they a bit more organized than that when it comes to deaf people?

Not necessarily; I have heard of plenty of occasions when d/Deaf people are stuck without an interpreter, but it’s more usually because the event, school or whatever forgot to request one. I don’t know how it works when a d/Deaf person has a one-on-one interpreter and that interpreter calls in sick.

17. How about if you have to have a roommate in college or something like that? How can you communicate with them?

I had a roommate  for a while in college, and a roommate in graduate school. I became very close friends with them. They spoke clearly for me, articulated more than they usually did with other people. They were very patient in repeating stuff.

Back then, I didn’t have things like my phone or my flashing alarm clock or my vibrating watch, so they stepped in to help me with many things.

I just got lucky with my roommates though – they were fabulous people.

18. If you have a baby, how can you know if the baby is crying or do you just always keep the baby close to you within your line of sight?

I have 3 kids and yes, I slept with each child until they were at least a year old because I couldn’t hear them cry at night. I would wake up with the vibration of them crying.

I know other d/Deaf moms use video monitors, but I was too scared to, because I wouldn’t know if they were crying.

Also, yes, I still keep them in my line of sight! That’s one of the best things about having Deaf community around me – when I am with other d/Deaf people, I know others are also keeping an eye on my kids, because for us, it’s a matter of either watching our kids or communicating. We can’t do both at the same time. I can’t watch my kids and also lip read or communicate in ASL.

It’s always a huge relief to me to be with other d/Deaf people.

19. How do you know if someone is talking to you, and then, how can you even tell them that you can’t hear what they are saying? I never know when people are talking to me a lot. I just assumed that if someone says something and no one else answers, they probably are talking to me. Or someone might say something like, the lady in the blue shirt. And I might be like, wow. Some people are really oblivious. Whoever that person is talking to really needs to get with the program and answer the question. And then I’ll be like, oh, that’s me. When I put clothes on, I make sure they match, but after that, I don’t really keep track of the colors anymore because that would be too complicated. I might remember their colors when I put them on, but then later, I might forget. It seems like it would especially be hard to do a conversation with a larger group though.

Wow, I can’t believe people will say that to you!

As long as I can see someone, I’m likely to be 100% aware they are talking to me. I tend to notice the smallest detail – the way a head is tilted, the direction of the face, the way that eyes flicker. If a person is talking to me and wants me to know they are talking to me, I notice.

However, if I can’t see someone, they will need to tap me or it will turn into one of those things where they keep saying the same thing over and over again and I don’t respond and then they wave or tap me or something and I turn and only then will it connect with me that they are trying to say something.

20. I have been trying to think about if I were deaf, what would I do if I wanted to go to a restaurant with 10 other people and be able to talk to them, but I can’t think of anything. It would be pretty unrealistic for all of them to have to write down everything they say. Maybe there is an app like the auto captions on YouTube that could listen and then show you on the screen what people were saying and then you would have to visually look around to see who is talking. I tried the auto captions on YouTube and I thought they were pretty good, but I’m not deaf. They seemed to be pretty close though.

This is hell.

I try not to go to restaurants with that many hearing people: it’s waaaaay too frustrating and hard because of the din.

You see, hearing aids pick up ALL sound, not just voices. Digital hearing aids do a better job of weeding out the background noise, but it still amplifies it to a degree. I usually need to decide if I should take the hearing aids out have have complete silence and just lip read, or if I should leave them in and battle through the background noise to pick up some sound that I can couple with lipreading.

Leaving the hearing aids out is usually the calmer option – the silence is absolutely glorious! But I do have to focus harder to figure out what’s going on, which makes me really tired. Leaving the hearing aids in means I’m way more tense with all the background noise being amplified and trying to wade through it.

Either way is exhausting.

Now, if I was at a restaurant with my d/Deaf friends who can lipread, it’s easy! I just take the hearing aids out and enjoy the silence, and we can happily talk, sans sound, just lipreading and articulating our words. With d/Deaf friends who can’t lipread, I might struggle a bit with understanding their ASL, but it’s still easier than wading through horrible background noise.

About what you were talking about with the auto-captions, I think there are apps that do this but they are far from perfect. At this point in time, it’s more difficult to decipher the gibberish the spout than it is to wade through the din of background noise or mumbled words.

Summary of the Deaf Experience:

Anything can be normal to anyone.

With enough time and repetition, anything can be normal. Aspects of life as a deaf mom are all normal to me and I don’t think much about any of it at all.

In writing this, what did strike me  was not the nitty-gritty of daily accommodation or the nature of my own deaf experience; it was simply self sufficiency, an awareness of what I need.

I think this is a very normal experience for anyone who has a disability – we live in a world that is currently built for people other than us. To function and live our lives in this world. we must develop rather astonishing degrees of awareness about our selves and our spaces.

We don’t take things for granted.

While I would love to help build a world in which all of us across the disability community can take things for granted, I grow increasingly full of admiration for the awareness that most of us have of our selves and our environment, and our deep understanding of how to navigate the spaces in our world.

This post is available in distraction-free PDF. Click here, or the button below.


Listen to the podcast of Questions About the Deaf Experience

why nyle dimarco needs a wheelchair
Photo Courtesy of the Daily Mail

Nyle DiMarco, man of ultra-hotness, recently used Delta for his transportation needs (lucky them).

Now, Nyle went and told Delta that he is Deaf. In response, Delta  met him as he disembarked from his airplane, and had a wheelchair ready for him to use!

Plenty of us have been pretty surprised as to why Nyle – a Deaf man – would be offered a wheelchair to ride… to us in the d/Deaf community, it’s kind of like offering the bicycle to the fish. Undeterred though,  I came up with a few ideas as to why Nyle DiMarco might really need a wheelchair!

1. Missed Announcements

Delta knows how often we tell them that we’re deaf and can’t hear announcements.

They are well aware of how often they forget all about letting us know of flight changes, and how we usually have to desperately run to catch our flights once we realize that (yet again!) we were not notified about a flight or gate change.

Delta cut to the chase by thoughtfully providing a wheelchair so that they could run Nyle over to the changed gate, in all haste!

2. Lipreading and Figuring Out Information is Exhausting!

Tired Nyle

Delta knows how their flight information is largely sans captioning, and how all in-flight announcements are without ASL interpretation or captioning.

As a Deaf person, figuring it all out is exhausting!

They knew how tired Nyle would be with the non-stop lipreading and sleuthing to connect the (silent) dots and access information. They, decided to give him a break with the wheelchair so they could roll him to his next stop without further undue stress.

3. Hearing Aids Are Heavy!

Sad Nyle

Delta knows how much hearing aids weigh, and thought they’d give Nyle a break by rolling in some wheels for him to rest his weary ears upon.

Oh wait. He doesn’t wear hearing aids. Scratch that.

why nyle dimarco needs a wheelchair4. Wheelchairs are Sexy

Nyle is probably the sexiest man alive.

Delta thought they’d put him on wheels to complement his stunning good looks!

Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize, am I right?!

Be Like Nyle:

Spreadin’ Love

This post is about dumb things the hearing say to the deaf

I am deaf, and have been since I was a child – and after asking hundreds of other deaf people about dumb things that have been said to them, I compiled a list based on the results, and (since I’m a Trekkie), I added Captain Picard in for some fun.

Please enjoy, realize this isn’t (too) serious, and if you are deaf, let us all know your favorite/not favorites in the comments!

10 Dumb Things the Hearing Say to the Deaf:

1. “You don’t look deaf!”


10 dumb things the hearing say to the deafThere is no way to look deaf.

You don’t need to ever tell a deaf person, “you don’t look deaf!” because really, how could you look deaf? Carry a grammaphone around? Have ears of some type of better yet, something in American Sign Language (ASL) tattooed on your forehead?



picard ears

A lot of people shout at us.

But think about that for a second. Shouting at a deaf person. Shouting at someone who can’t hear?
Okay, it’s true that many deaf people can hear in various degrees, but shouting is almost always simply an exercise in rudeness and condescension, not to mention futility.



picard facepalm

Add talking uber-slowly to shouting.

4. “Oh hey! I sign too!”


picard signing

I can’t count the number of times someone has whipped out their hands and their own creative interpretations of signing a cat, rain or sun… “creative” being the operative word.

But on the heels of this, you probably want to remember that:

5. Not All Deaf People Use Sign Language Either!

Although I have been deaf for most of my life, I only started to learn some sign language when I was 30.

Deaf people are not born knowing how to sign and if you become deaf, you don’t automatically receive an infusion of sign language along with your first hearing aid or gulp of silence.


6. “You can talk?!”

picard talk


Not everyone can talk, and not everyone enunciates like a hearing person does, yeah!

Many of us deaf folk do indeed talk!

7. “So…you lipread”

picard frowning


Personally, I am a ninja at lipreading.

I am a fierce lipreader, so good that most audiologists are shocked when they they discover how little I really hear. But I’m not the norm – many of my deaf tribe don’t lip read at all and many more still do lip read a bit but don’t want to use it as a means to communicate with a hearing person.

It’s a lot of effort on our part and it’s exhausting – so it’s not something to be taken for granted, if someone does it at all. Just sayin’

8. “Do you drive?”

double facepalm



9. “Why don’t you get a cochlear implant?”

picard borg


A cochlear implant is the answer for some people but it’s not for everyone.

You need to be profoundly deaf with no hearing to lose to get one at all, and for many deaf folk, being deaf is not only the absence of hearing but it is the presence of a culture, the Deaf culture.

Not everyone wants to hear – and not everyone would want to give up being Deaf, or would want their children to hear.

10. “I’m sorry”



Oh, if I had a dime for every time someone told me “I’m sorry” in response to my telling them I’m deaf….. yeah….

11. “Oh, that’s okay”

– blank look –

[yay! she’s telling me it’s okay that I’m deaf!]



And so…

There are a whole lot of dum things the hearing say to the deaf, aren’t there?!

The truth of the matter is that being deaf has had its difficulties but most of those difficulties are related to access. That is, it’s hard to find and keep jobs, navigate the system and receive a solid education when society revolves around hearing in the way that it does

But hey! Being deaf isn’t a bad thing and it is certainly not something to mourn – it’s wonderful being able to reach up and turn my hearing aids off and enter a realm of total silence when my kids are screaming, better believe me on that.

– the end.


Remember how I asked literally hundreds of d/Deaf people what dumb stuff was commonly said to them by hearing people? Yeah, well, the best response that I got was this:

– My husband and I (- both Deaf) – were in a restaurant and a waitress came over and saw us signing and said, “Oh you are deaf! Great! We just got some new braille menus!”

picard giggling



This post is about the new reality series, Deaf Out Loud. Watch out for spoilers and opinions!

I have only recently “discovered” Switched at Birth and had no idea how much it would mean to me to see deaf people like me in a show (my post about Switched at Birth is linked here). I was stoked to find that that A&E was coming out with a reality show featuring deaf families (and produced by Marlee Matlin!).

Here’s the preview:

Deaf Out Loud - Preview

The first show aired on September 12 (which, depending on when you are reading this, may or may not mean “yesterday”).

Deaf Out Loud

3 families are featured, all with varying degrees of deafness, and with kids with varying degrees of hearing. One thing goes across the board: they all use ASL. There are no deaf people in here who don’t sign.

I love all the signing. I love the deaf accents when they do speak, and I love that they represent a fair smattering across the board within the deaf community. They got that part right.

What they could have gotten was someone like me – a deaf adult, raised oral and trying to learn ASL at age 45. They could also get a hard core Deaf person – someone coming from generations of Deaf family, someone for whom having a CI or a hearing aid would be totally unthinkable.

Aside from what I think would be a more complete representation of our community, I dig the directions it has already taken us in only one show.

It has covered the diversity in the deaf community, controversy over CI, what wearing hearing aids sound like to a profoundly deaf person, cost of hearing aids, deaf schools/hearing schools, family life and the normalcy of our lives.

Deaf, Not Disabled

I’ve got a beef with this. I mean, this makes no sense to me. They keep on saying, “the only thing I can’t do is hear.” Well, the only thing a wheelchair user can’t do is walk! The only thing a blind person can’t do is see!

This is why I think it’s so important to get it clear that the term, “disability” does not mean “inability.”

We’re not talking about a lack of when we say we’re disabled; we’re not saying we can’t work or have sex or live our life. What we say when we say we’re disabled is we are merely stating that we do something in a different way that regularly receives enough discrimination and causes us to face significant barriers to employment and education.

By my definition, the way we hear, see, talk, walk, roll, learn, think, communicate, look; the way our body functions, causes us to be discriminated against and also causes us to face significant barriers to employment and education.

This means disability.

I used to be like them – I used to get all strong-armed over the whole, “I don’t have a disability; I just can’t hear” thing.

How did that help me? Hmm. Well, when I got fired from jobs because I couldn’t hear, I had no recourse because I didn’t think I was disabled. I didn’t get financial assistance through scholarships for students with disabilities, I didn’t apply for awesome internships for students with disabilities, etc. I cornered myself by saying that I wasn’t disabled. I gave myself all of the disadvantages of disability and none of the perks.

Moving On

Deaf Out Loud is right after Born This Way, which is the reality series about a group of young adults with Down syndrome. It’s kind of awesome to me that there is a reality series for my daughter’s tribe right before the series for my own tribe, and I love that our perspectives, challenges, frustrations and daily lives are being shared with the world.

I love that there is obviously a desire for content like this on mainstream TV.

I love that we keep pushing for understanding, acceptance and cultural shifts and we can see this happening.

Affiliate links are in this post! That means that if you buy something using a link in my post, I’ll get a percentage of the profit from Amazon (thanks Jeff!), but you pay no more. It’s a great way to support the work I do, so thanks!

This post is a collection (list post) of the best deaf movies – including deaf narrative movies and ASL movies – as well as the best deaf documentaries. I am deaf myself, but this post was compiled by the input from the deaf community on Facebook.

For the purpose of this post, “deaf movies” can be movies that have actual deaf characters in roles meant for the deaf, they can be movies by or specifically for deaf consumption (usually but not always in signed language), they can be movies about the deaf or Deaf culture.  I will not be talking about movies that deaf people watch, as that’s just anything that has captions.

Movie links below are with Amazon. They are available for purchase, but many of them are also available through Amazon Prime Video. If you don’t have Prime membership, get a month trial here: Amazon Prime Free One-Month Trail. There is a student special membership – get the 6 month trial membership (and only $6.49/month after the trial expires, and also an EBT and Medicaid Card Holder’s in which you can get Prime for $5.99/month- find out more by clicking here.

Best Deaf Documentaries – Documentaries About the Deaf or By the Deaf

 See What I’m Saying (English Subtitled) – This award-winning documentary follows four extraordinary Deaf entertainers – an actor, comic, drummer and a singer – over the course of one year, giving viewers a rare and powerful glimpse into the lives of Deaf artists. New York Times Critics’ Pick.

 Sound and Fury – Two families, one deaf and one hearing, make decisions about cochlear implants for their children

 Through Deaf Eyes – “Interwoven throughout the film are six short documentaries produced by Deaf media artists and filmmakers. Poignant, sometimes humorous, these commissioned stories bring a personalized sense of Deaf life in America to the film. Through first person accounts and the film as a whole, Through Deaf Eyes tells the story of conflicts, prejudice and affirmation that ultimately reaches the heart of what it means to be human.

Nowness – free movie based online (the link will lead you there) – Christine Sun Kim is a Deaf performance artist working to reclaim the world of sound for herself. Todd Selby is a blind filmmaker.

 Touch the Sound – A Sound Journey With Evelyn Glennie – A sound journey with internationally known Scottish deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.

– In the Land of the Deaf – documentary features hearing-impaired people of all ages and from all walks of life, focusing on the students and teachers in a French school for deaf children and exploring the personal lives of some of the pupils and various adults, including an actor, a sign-language teacher, and an engaged couple.

– Hear and Now – the story about  deaf parents’ decision to undergo risky cochlear implant surgery at aged 65.

Best Deaf Narrative Movies

– Beyond Silence – French CODA story of a young woman’s battle for independence and her deaf parents’ struggle to understand her gift for music.

Children of a Lesser God – the story of a relationship between a hearing special education teacher and a  deaf woman.

– No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie – SuperDeafy must reveal the man behind the cape to find true love and inspire a young deaf boy to believe in himself

– Sweet Nothing In My Ear – Family drama about a deaf and hearing couple who struggle to decide whether or not to give their deaf son a cochlear implant

– A Quiet Place – terrifyingly suspenseful thriller in which  a family must navigate their lives in silence to avoid mysterious creatures that hunt by sound.

– The Legend of the Mountain Man DVD movie in ASL – The Legend of the Mountain Man, set in picturesque Montana, features a typical, dysfunctional family of five. The father, who has been at odds with his parents for many years, decides to send his three children to his parents’ ranch for the summer. The children unexpectedly encounter a creature, one that has never been seen nor recorded in history books.  American Sign Language, No audio.

– Claustrophobia – a young deaf man lives in the country with his girlfriend and everything in his life seems absolutely perfect until something knocks on his door. Horror movie.

– And Your Name Is Jonah – Jonah is a lonely deaf child who has been misdiagnosed as mentally challenged. Jonah’s mother and father struggle to establish communication from their withdrawn son

– Oscar Nominated Short Films 2018. Select Animation and Live Action. – The Silent Child – Oscar winner short film

– See No Evil, Hear No Evil – Dave is deaf, and Wally is blind. They witness a murder, but it was Dave who was looking at her, and Wally who was listening..

– Mr. Holland’s Opus – “Heartwarming tale about the importance of following your passion”.

Zoom Focus, The End: British Sign Language free film (click the link) Drama: What happens to the Deaf world when deafness is ‘cured’?

Zoom Focus, Reverberation : British Sign Language free film (click the link) In 2167, the Government wipes out deafness. A young Deaf time traveller travels to 2018 to try to change the future.

The Tribe: Russian Signed Movie, available on Youtube (click the link)

– Listen to Your Heart – A struggling NYC songwriter becomes enamored with a wealthy hearing-impaired girl from Connecticut who tragically cannot hear the music she inspires him to write. After falling in love against the wishes of her controlling mother, Ariana becomes torn between hanging onto the shelter her controlling mother provides and fighting for a love that, if given the chance, might just change her life.

– The Family Stone – an uptight, annoying girlfriend is introduced to her boyfriend’s family. Her boyfriend has a deaf brother and the family knows ASL. The deaf/hearing piece is the most interesting part of this holiday movie!

– A Silent Voice: The Movie (Region A Blu-ray) (Japanese Language 日本語. Cantonese 粵語配音 Dubbed / English & Chinese Subtitled) Japanese Animation aka Koe no Katachi / 聲の形 / 聲之形 – Shoya Ishida, who is afraid of being bored, is curious about Shoko Nishimiya, a hard of hearing transfer student in his class. Later Shoya leads the class in bullying Shoko as she brings troubles to the class. Eventually, when the class is forced to take responsibility for bullying Shoko, the class turns to bullying Shoya to shift the blame. Until years later, when Shoya, tormented over his past, decides he must see Shoko once more?

ASL Films: a wide variety of films in ASL, free and not. Check it out by clicking the link.

– What the Deaf Man Heard – In response to childhood trauma, a man pretends not to hear or speak for twenty years while living in a small town.  He eventually needs to tell the truth in order to save people he loves.

– Love Is Never Silent – a classic CODA (child of a deaf adult), about deaf parents and their hearing daughter and her life with them.

– Mourning (Soog) (English Subtitled) – A deaf couple keeps a tragic secret from their nephew, debating the child’s future in a language not as private as they believe, whilst on a road trip home to Tehran.

– Bridge To Silence – After her husband is killed in a car accident, Peg, who is deaf, has a nervous breakdown. Her mother assumes custody of Peg’s daughter Lisa but after Peg recovers, Peg’s mother refuses to let her daughter take back custody,

– The Hammer – A coming of age drama following the life of Matt Hamill, the first deaf wrestler to win a National Collegiate.

TV Shows with a Deaf Character or Deaf Person

– Switched at Birth – 5 seasons of tv shows about a deaf girl and hearing girl who were switched at birth (also available on Netflix)

In Summary

There are a hell of a lot of good movies that relate to us deaf in some way. There is also a hell of a lot of appropriation out there, with hearing people acting in ASL-driven roles. This frankly really gets my goat; I can’t stand it.

Some of those types of movies are included in this post. I thought they might  provide fodder for discussion.

My best loves here are the ASL ones and the ones that I had an impossible time finding links for – ones made by the super talented people over at the Rochester Institute of the Deaf. Art films or independent movies are my favorites. They can be hard to find. When I do though, better believe I’ll come on back and update this post so that it will REALLY include all the best deaf movies!

In the meantime, I hope you find new content here that will stimulate discussion, provoke thought, make you feel something and do all the great things that great movies do.  I know I have.

Reminder About Amazon Prime & there Ways to Watch the Best Deaf Movies for Free or Cheap:

I just have to write this reminder, because I don’t want money or not being able to afford to buy a movie to come in the way of enjoying great deaf movies.

Library: Check out your local library and if they don’t have the movies, request them. Most libraries will order content that you want, sometimes for $1 and sometimes for free.

Netflix: If you have a Netflix subscription, some of these titles are available via DVD or streaming. I’m currently catching up on the super awesome Switched at Birth that way.

Amazon Prime Video: Get a month trial here: Amazon Prime Free One-Month Trail. There is a student special membership – get the 6 month trial membership or  an EBT and Medicaid Card Holder’s special,  Prime for $5.99/month- find out more by clicking here.

This post is about the best sites to learn ASL online. It is meant to serve as a resource to others who would like to learn ASL but may not have access to physical classes.

My interest in learning American  Sign Language (ASL) was a long time coming. Although I am myself deaf, I tried to “pass” as hearing and focused on lip reading to get by. This is exhausting, and with my profound hearing loss, I would like to be able to relax and communicate with others.

As we live in a very isolated area when we are in the United States, and on the road in Mexico when we are not, I need to learn ASL online. Here are some sites that I have found useful to learn ASL:

(note: the links are in the headings)


Super awesome site. Free lessons, fingerspelling, dictionary, the whole shebang. Oh, and my favorite, Deaf Jokes page!!

Two Deaf men are signing to each other.
The first man asks, “What did your wife say when you got home late last night?
The second man replies, “She swore a blue streak”
And the first man asks, “What did you do then?”
And the second man replies, “I turned out the light.”


This site kind of overwhelmed me with all the ads and stuff for sale. So far it seems like a lot of dictionaries, including “religious” ones (- if you are wanting to teach your child Bible signs, this is probably your stop).


There are a lot of fantastic apps for learning ASL online – here are some of the best:

  1. ASL Dictionary: comprehensive ASL dictionary with videos of more than 5,000 signs
  2. The ASL App: a hip app designed by Deaf ASL users to teach ASL (the one that Nyle is in!)
  3. Signing Savvy: learn ASL and join in conversations and more with the membership site
  4. SignSchool: vocabulary builder, dictionary
  5. YouTube: subscribe to Deaf YouTubers, search for classes. Download them through YouTube Red.
  6. Marlee Signs: learn ASL with Marlee Matlin
  7. ASL Translator: type in the English and get the ASL translation
  8. ASL Dictionary: over 5,000 signs, multiple ways to sign the same word and does not require internet

Described and Captioned Media Program

You are able to “check out” videos, DVD’s and books, a’la netflix.

They even give you a postage paid mailer to send them back. In addition to the DVD’s, they have streaming online videos and offer all kinds of things for ASL instruction, deaf culture and children – really, really cool site.

Check out the lessons available for ASL instruction hereSweeeeeet!

 Start ASL

This has a ton of online ASL classes here – both free and paid courses with homework and everything. I love that they have a section for homeschoolers, they have tutors and an online practice community too!

Babies and Sign Language

This is primarily a site for baby sign – which I am not looking for. But they are some cool links to places to learn other languages – Latvian sign, anyone?

Signing Savvy

It’s an app (see above) and also a site. It’s a brilliant video-based signing dictionary. Very easy to use and free.

Deaf Read

This is the Deaf blogging community. It’s awesome because there are a lot of vlogs – video blogs – a great way to interact with real people, virtually.

Signing Time

If you haven’t already tapped into this truly astonishing system of catchy music + signs, well, here’s your introduction now – it is the easiest possible way to teach babies and kids basic ASL, both online and with DVD’s.

They have a slightly more advanced system with sentences and grammar, etc, but it does not go much beyond basic functioning ASL (“what’s your name?” and so forth.


YouTube has a lot of kick-ass d/Deaf vloggers now. Here’s a post on some of the best vloggers to check out.

This is a post about the best deaf apps in 2018. That is, the most useful, popular and widely-used apps by d/Deaf people. This post is US-focused, and covers only iPhone apps.

Best Communication Apps

  1. Glide:  for texting and talking.
  2. P3 Mobile: for texting, talking and relay services. Includes ASL and clear-speech relays.
  3. Google Voice: for transcribing messages (speech to text).
  4. Hamilton CapTel: for captions during the phone conversation
  5. Sorenson Buzzcards: d/Deaf create flashcards for communication with the hearing. Flashcards can be saved.
  6. FaceTime: visual calling

Best In-Person Communication Apps

  1. Speak4Me: text-to-speech
  2. Sorenson Buzzcards: create flashcards to communicate with non-ASL users
  3. Text to Speech!: text-to-speech
  4. iSpeech: text-to-speech
  5. Subtitles Viewer LIVE!: live speech-to-captions (caption real-time, live conversations)
  6. Earfy: live speech-to-captions (caption real-time, live conversations)
  7. Dragon Anywhere: dictation application that can be used by us deaf with hearing – have the hearing person speak and it will automatically caption what they are saying (if it is said clearly enough)

Best Apps for Learning ASL

  1. ASL Dictionary: comprehensive ASL dictionary with videos of more than 5,000 signs
  2. The ASL App: a hip app designed by Deaf ASL users to teach ASL (the one that Nyle is in!)
  3. Signing Savvy: learn ASL and join in conversations and more with the membership site
  4. SignSchool: vocabulary builder, dictionary
  5. YouTube: subscribe to Deaf YouTubers, search for classes. Download them through YouTube Red.
  6. Marlee Signs: learn ASL with Marlee Matlin
  7. ASL Translator: type in the English and get the ASL translation
  8. ASL Dictionary: over 5,000 signs, multiple ways to sign the same word and does not require internet

(note: don’t miss my post on 8 Sites to Learn ASL Online)

Best Alarm or Notification Apps

  1. Alarm Clock with FlashLights: alarm clock with flashing lights (and music)
  2. Alarmed Reminders + Timers: integrates with iPhone native Reminder app
  3. Loud Alarm Clock Best and Loudest Alarms 2: for people who need something REALLY loud (with no hearing neighbors, haha)

AND:  here’s how to set your flash alerts on your phone, which works for phone calls, messages AND your morning alarm clock instead of sound

The Best Deaf Apps

There are many apps for the deaf available, and many more that may not have been created specifically for us but are useful (like Dragon Anywhere).

While that is great, I look forward to more apps being developed, covering a greater range of what would be useful to us (I’m thinking kitchen integrations and home appliance alerts in particular).

Captions are sometimes called “closed captions” and sometimes “open captions”; in movies, they tend to be called “subtitles.” For this piece, I’m calling them captions, and I want to talk about reasons to add captions to your videos – and then send you over to a fabulous tutorial for adding them to your YouTube videos. Ready? Okay, here we go:

Reasons to Add Captions to Your Videos:

1. The d/Deaf/ Hard of Hearing

I’m deaf. This means that when I take out my hearing aids, I hear precious nothing, but there is evidently some hearing there for the hearing aids to pick up and amplify at all.

And I’m not alone! According to Gallaudet, 13% of the total US population is deaf or hard of hearing. This is something like 38 million people.

Now, if you want to ignore 38 million people, go right ahead, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to do so.

2. Reaching Your Audience on Social Media

a. In the United States:

There are around  240 million people using Facebook in the United States alone, and 180 million on YouTube. People want to enjoy content on social media, but for various reasons, don’t always want the volume on.

The only way that people can enjoy video content without the volume on is through captions. If you add captions, you going to reach a significant portion of those 240 million on Facebook or 180 million people on YouTube.

b. Abroad

240 million on Facebook and 180 million on YouTube are the numbers for the United States alone. But the US is obviously not the only consumer of social media; in fact, the US is responsible for only some 20% of the traffic on YouTube.

This means that of the 1 billion people that use YouTube, only 180 million are in the US. Many, if not most of these people speak languages other than English, and many of them are swept away with American English.

If captions are added, the video content producer has a greater chance of reaching the 80%. And isn’t that why videos are made? So that people will watch and understand them?

3. SEO and Indexes

a. YouTube and Google Indexes

YouTube captions are read and indexed by both YouTube and Google. Adding captions and descriptions ads value to your video and weighs the search algorithm.

YouTube’s automatic captions, or “craptions” as they are known in the deaf community, are not indexed by YouTube or Google, as the captions are often wrong. High quality, manually-added captions bump up the SEO.

b. SEO

Search engine bots look for signs of relevancy left by humans. When a video has captions, it tends to increase video engagement – people watch for longer. This increases the likelihood of comments, subscriptions, “likes” and viewing, which raises the value of the video, thus increasing the SEO value.

In simple terms: if you add captions, people will like it. People will interact with your content. The bots of the internet will notice that and raise your video up, so when someone does a search for “funny cat videos,” yours will come up higher on the page.

4. Literacy

There is this funny little side benefit of having captions, and that is: literacy.

When I lived in Taiwan, embedded captions (in Chinese) were added to everything that was on TV. When I lived in Japan, captions (in Japanese) were added as a special effect, to emphasize content.

Because I was always looking at them, and my hearing aids picked up the sounds, I gradually became even more literate in both Chinese and Japanese. Now, I was young when I was living in both places (I first moved to Japan when I was 15 years old, and first lived in Taiwan when I was 16). Language was a lot easier for me to pick up then.

Fast forward to my kids.

My first born taught himself to read when he was 4. How much of that was actually “taught” and how much of it was learning to connect the captions with the sound, we’ll never know. But research says that captions help strengthen:

  • Reading speed and fluency
  • Word knowledge
  • Decoding
  • Vocabulary acquisition
  • Word recognition
  • Reading comprehension
  • Oral reading rates

This being the case, there is a good chance that the fact that our DVD player and TV were always set to play captions, coupled with the fact that we enjoy TV and movies,  helped him to connect the dots and learn to read on his own.

Are you sold? Yeah?! Well, you should be!

Not adding captions in this day and age makes absolutely no sense at all. Besides missing out on an opportunity to help your kids (or yourself) develop stronger literacy skills (and finally understand what Mumbles from Dick Tracy is saying), you’ll miss out on reaching millions of people and your content will rank lower if you don’t. You can’t even say that it’s too hard, because seriously. If my 8 year old can set up captions (and he does), then you can.

Here’s the link to the best tutorial that I’ve found out there, by the National Center on Disability and Access to Education :

How to Caption Your YouTube Videos


4 reasons to add captions to your youtube videos and how to do it!

There is is this piece on The Establishment now called, “Nyle DiMarco’s Activism is Dangerous for the Deaf Community.” 

I feel compelled to write a post to respond to it, simply because I have so much to say. 

The author, Lisa A. Goldstein, is deaf and is slamming on Nyle’s efforts to promote deaf education and teach deaf kids ASL. She’s using the argument that because she is deaf and she doesn’t know ASL and was mainstreamed – but felt no isolation, despite being in a hearing family to boot! – that really, deaf kids don’t need to be taught ASL.

She goes on to say, “we’re deaf in different ways, and that should be ok.” That statement is kind of ironic, given that her entire post is pushing for mainstreaming and teaching deaf kids English as opposed to ASL and English. She herself isn’t going the route of ASL being in the mix being okay. She goes on to say that Nyle DiMarco’s activism in promoting ASL education for deaf kids is dangerous.

ASL and Bilingual Education for the Deaf: Dangerous?!

You want to know what I think is dangerous? A lot of kids growing up without language.

In her post, Goldstein says,

As part of his foundation’s efforts, Nyle is trying to get states to pass a law that requires bilingualism for deaf people—ASL and English. In other words, he wants to make ASL a requirement for deaf children, which infringes on parental choice. As long as parents are informed of all communication options, it should be up to them to choose what’s best for their children.

That sounds great! Awesome!

But this is the thing: IT IS NOT HAPPENING. Hearing parents have had the choice forever to do what they think is best for their deaf child, and simply too many deaf kids are deprived of early language acquisition, point blank. Deaf kids are falling through the cracks, wandering through early childhood and into school without access to a full-fledged first language.

This is exactly the case for more than half of all deaf kids – and if you think I’m joking, go and visit a deaf section of a public, mainstream school. You’ll find, as I did, that there are highschoolers with enormous language deficits because they never learned a language when they were babies, because they had no access to language. The couldn’t hear. Their parents didn’t teach them ASL. They were unable to grasp English. They were left out, lost, and deprived of language, full stop.

This fact is inconceivable to most hearing people, especially in this day and age where ASL is trendy. Hearing kids tend to know more ASL and have access to more ASL than deaf kids do. And if the deaf kids have no access to language in infancy and early childhood, guess what happens? That part of their brain atrophies and makes it incredibly difficult to learn later.

Ms. Goldstein talks about her parent’s choice of focusing on lipreading and mainstreaming for her own childhood, saying that they thought she could learn ASL later. Bravo for them, all right? But in my own – also deaf, mainstreamed and from a hearing family – case, guess what? I hear nothing without my devices. I’m 43 years old and struggling to learn ASL now. That whole “learn ASL later” thing doesn’t always work so well, because “later” can happen your brain is past the stage in which it can pick up languages easily. I’m just lucky that my hearing parents constantly checked my comprehension of English – I didn’t fall through the cracks like a lot of deaf kids do.

So listen. I don’t want to hear posts like Lisa A. Goldstein’s, that are defending a push to keep deaf kids without ASL. I don’t want to read things about bi-lingual deaf people being a “dangerous establishment.” I don’t want to read things that are asking us to fix ourselves up through drilling holes in our skulls and wiring us with cochlear implants, or having us wear hearing aids 24/7 so that we can try and communicate orally.

I don’t want to read things that are essentially promoting more language deprivation for deaf children. We need to move past that, focus on ASL education for all deaf kids, move into English and on to other languages if the child has a bend for that.

Let’s start with what we know a deaf person will need in their life. Because even if they do have cochlear implants or wear hearing aids, at the end of the day, they take them out and are deaf.

:// end rant

I had a lot of people send me the link to the news release about two young inventors who have supposedly discovered a way to translate ASL into spoken English. The HuffPo article about it is linked here.

Confession: I rolled my eyes when I saw it. 

I just couldn’t believe that something like that could actually do what it claims it will. I mean, how on earth could it ever capture the facial expressions that are so necessary to signed language? How? At best, it seemed to me to be a sort of tangible YouTube captions, taking overly exaggerated gestures and maybe sometimes getting it right.

But did I say that to anyone who sent me the link?

Why no. No, I didn’t.

I am pushing myself to stay as positive as possible about things, and trying to be all, “yay!” instead of “nay.”

So I didn’t say anything besides the fact that the invention looks cool and I hope it will work. Both are true: I do think the invention looks cool and I hope it will work. I just don’t personally think it will.

Some new articles by people far more expert than I have emerged and are worth reading. This is one: Ten reasons why sign-to-speech is not going to be practical any time soon. It’s really fantastic, and kind of gives me the balls to talk a bit about something that bothers me.

I don’t actually think that implementing some type of rudimentary, less-than-perfect technology as a part of disability access is all that helpful. I think you should get it right, or test it more.

This is the problem, as I see it: when something is invented or created as a temporary access solution even though it is far from perfect, too often the real solution is placed on the back burner. It becomes like, “yeah, well, it’s better than nothing,” so the permanent ramp isn’t placed, correct captions are not developed, appropriate class supports are not implemented. Nothing to me illustrates this better than YouTube captions.

YouTube captions take speech and auto-caption it. Have you ever gone there, turned the sound off completely (if you are hearing) and relied solely on the auto-captions to guide you through what is happening?

If you have, then you know it’s a headache. It’s confusing. It’s often gibberish. It’s real work on my part to fully discern content.

But let me tell you! When I ask for captions for videos, I am told more often than not that the “YouTube captions are there!” People don’t bother to caption their videos because they are relying on those crappy YouTube auto-generated ones, which is supposed to be better than nothing. I personally think they are worse than nothing, because they make people try less and put the full burden of figuring content out squarely on the person who needs the captions.

Most of the time, when I see that my only course of action is to use the auto captions, I quit. I won’t even go there anymore, I’m just too sick and tired of trying to figure out a bunch of content that makes no sense.

Given that, it’s not better than nothing for me; it is nothing. And it’s a  nothing without recourse – I can’t knock politely on the video creator’s door and ask for captions because they simply say, “but YouTube captions are there!”

This idea of creating gloves to translate ASL might be a great one. But I sincerely hope they don’t come remotely close to marketing it unless and until they actually have it down. Sending yet-another thing out into the disability community that doesn’t actually do the job doesn’t make our lives easier; it makes it harder. Because not only are we going to have to still try and figure out how to access content, but we’re going to have to battle the notion that it’s done already by the imperfectly designed “better than nothing.”

:// end rant.

Katherine and I are presenting at SDS this year on Deaf Identity.

We really wanted to talk about it because we have so many questions ourselves, about what is means to be deaf – or Deaf. She wears cochlear implants, I wear hearing aids. She is fluent with ASL, I am not. Neither of us hears much – if at all – when we take our respective devices out.

After working on our presentation for a while, we realized that we don’t have answers at this point. We have a multitude of questions.

And so… this is about just that. The questions that we – deaf women, deaf mothers – have about deaf identity.

Deaf identity What is it?
What is identity? Is it “an instance or point of sameness or likeness”?
I don’t know… is it? Or is it “exact likeness in nature or qualities”?
I don’t know… is it? Or is it ““the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions”?”
I don’t know… is it? Or is it “the state or fact of being the same one asdescribed”?
I don’t know… is it? Or is it “condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is”?
I don’t know… is it? Or is it “the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another”?
I don’t know… is it? Or is it, “the sense of self”?
If it’s the “sense of self”, then how does being deaf fit in? Or how does being deaf relate to a sense of self?
What is being deaf anyway? Yeah, what is it?
Is it the absence of hearing? Complete and total?
Is it a type of hearing? Partial?
A perception? A synthesis of sound?
A presence of silence? A type of processing?
Can you hear and be deaf? Do you need to be Deaf to be deaf?
What is Deaf, compared to deaf? Isn’t Deaf related to culture?
What is culture? Isn’t it defined as “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generationto another”?
Is it? Or is it, “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group”?
You really are a dictionary, aren’t you? I don’t know; am I?
Maybe you are, maybe you’re not, but the question remains, right? What question?
If culture is the behavior and beliefs characteristic to a particular social, ethnic, or age group, or if it’s sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another, how does this apply to being Deaf? Isn’t it because the Deaf use sign language as their primary form of communication?
But can they hear at all? I don’t know; can they?
Is hearing or the lack of hearing critical to forming a part of Deaf or deaf culture? I don’t know; is it?
I mean, do you need to have an absolute absence of sound to be deaf? I don’t know; do you?
If sign language is an integral part of Deaf culture, then what about people who don’t sign? People who are deaf?
Yes, what about people who have an absence of hearing but don’t know sign language? Are they considered deaf?
Or do they consider themselves deaf? What would make someone consider themselves deaf?
Is it an absence of hearing? Or a presence of silence?
Is it a way of processing sound? Can you hear and still be deaf?
Can you use hearing aids and still be deaf? Or cochlear implants?
Are you still deaf if you use technology that enables your ear and/or brain to hear sound? Or do cease to be deaf once you can hear?
What’s the criteria? IS there criteria?
Or are there only questions? Without answers at this point?
The end Any questions?!

This ad by Samsung is going viral – I know this because I was sent it by no less than 5 people and whenever I’m sent something by no less than 5 people, something is seriously going VIRAL!

Here it is:

The product itself looks cool and I want to know more about it.

But I was left feeling so sad.

The video is touted as “heartwarming”, mostly I think because so many people gathered to learn sign language for the purpose of creating the ad.

But to me it emphasized how lonely it really is to be deaf in a hearing world, to be deaf in an aural/oral community. For every one of the interactions that the guy in the video had with the people who learned sign for Samsung, he has 10 interactions in real life, where he is left out. Where he has to bend over backwards to figure things out. Where he is struggling. Where he is isolated.

And the thing is, being deaf is largely a non-visible disability.

If you are hearing and actually do know sign language and wanted to talk with a deaf person, how would you know we are deaf? How would you know to sign?

You just don’t know, do you.

I feel like that’s one thing that I wish people would understand about being deaf. How isolating it can be. How videos like this aren’t really touching in the aspect of people coming together to learn some sign for an ad, but how touching it is that this man doesn’t have access to communication and inclusion in the same way that most hearing people take for granted.

Hopefully that product will actually help. Anyone know more about it?

Addendum –

This post just came out and I think it says it all better than mine does – please go over to Ocean’s blog and read her post, “Sorry Samsung, But You Missed the Mark“. It’s brilliant.

Andrew Solomon wrote a book called “Far From the Tree” that was all the rage a couple of years ago. In it, he explores identity through analyzing multiple disabilities, along with homosexuality, children of rape, prodigies and transgendered people.

It has taken me literally all this time to work my way through the deaf chapter. Whenever I’ve started to read that chapter, it’s as if the waterworks are turned on behind my eyes and Just. Don’t. Stop.

Without getting overly dramatic about it, I think my emotions regarding the chapter are more to do with triggers in the chapter on my own experiences growing up deaf in oral communities, schools and family, and less to do with Solomon’s writing.

But there was one thing that stood out for me enough to want to write this post.

The future of ASL

Solomon concluded his chapter by saying that since parents are choosing cochlear implants more and more, the number of the deaf is decreasing, and it seems likely that ASL is a dying language.

But he doesn’t seem to understand – as many parents of deaf children apparently also don’t understand – that being deaf isn’t something that you turn on or off with your technology. My hearing aids help me to hear, just as cochlear implants help people who have them. But at the end of the day, we take these devices off and we are deaf.

So if parents or people choose to utilize technology like hearing aids or implants, I would love for them to think about what happens when the devices come off?

What happens when you take the hearing aids or implants off?

You don’t wear the external device that is attached to the cochlear implant 24/7, nor does one wear hearing aids 24/7. What happens then? If you don’t teach your kid sign language and give them a way to become fluent in it, you are making your child completely reliant on machines to hear and communicate, and without language when not wearing them.

Even if I could, I don’t want to wear my hearing aids all the time. My dear friend Katherine originally had two cochlear implants. One implant had to be removed due to infections and she is having issues with her remaining CI. She was raised completely oral – so if she had not made the independent decision to learn ASL as an adult, where would she be now?

I am not sure I can emphasize how horrible it is to be without a means to communicate.

Want to tell your lover you want some coffee? No hearing aids or implant in; oh, write it on paper or struggle to lipread or have her shout at you. The effort of it is more than exhausting; it is spiritually numbing and disempowering.

I think it is absolutely critical that parents be educated in the importance of ASL and to make sure their deaf kids can become fluent in it so that they won’t be lost without their devices. I think parents need to realize that their child can be fluent in ASL and still wear their device – and that helping their child to learn and utilize sign language will actually empower their child, give them greater options and opportunities, and leave them feeling safer for when they are not wearing their device.

I don’t agree with Solomon’s take on the ‘one or the other’ – I don’t think that ASL is or needs to be a dying language because of the emerging popularity of cochlear implants or more sophisticated technology in hearing aids.


2015: The Year of the Deaf Child, guest post by Julie Rems Smario


It hit me hard again… The Deaf child rarely tells the stories.

If you search for stories about raising Deaf children, you will find stories of hearing
mothers and fathers and grandparents of Deaf children. Their stories are focused on impairments, and how the surrounding family is affected. Their stories often show that the Deaf Child is the center of their pain.

The Deaf Child is not born to inflict pain on those who love them.

During past few years, with the exponential growth of hearing dominated early intervention and deaf education resources, more and more hearing people along with hearing parents and family members are using social media to write about raising deaf children, or children with “hearing loss” (now a common description –thanks *sarcastically* to the influence by the medical professionals).

Once again, the Deaf Child rarely tells the stories.

Even the “hearing loss” awareness campaigns feel like allies and medical professionals reaching out to more allies and medical professionals. The Deaf child is disempowered and forgotten in the name of “overcoming deafness” to accomplish the society’s hearing standards. Deaf children are often treated like the objects of inspiration and burden.

The Deaf Child has been hijacked.

2015 is the year to push for the inspiring stories from Deaf children and Deaf adults who had wonderful experience growing up Deaf. With the resources we have now, it is so easy to create the Deaf Child platform with inspiring stories. Deaf children and adults can dominate social medial about the following: It is okay to be Deaf; it is healthy to be raised bilingually (ASL and English), Deaf schools are the Least Restrictive Environments, and Deaf children can “be” as healthy bilingual Deaf human beings accomplishing anything they dare to dream for.

2015 is the year of the Deaf Child.

Let’s make Veditz proud by ending the war on Deaf babies.


julie rems smarioJulie Rems-Smario is an Education Consultant at California School for the Deaf, in Fremont where she can further her goal to preserve, protect and promote ASL for all children. Founding CEO for DeafHope, Julie was nationally recognized with several awards such as CNN Heroes and E-Women Network International Humanitarian Award for her work working with Deaf survivors of domestic and sexual violence.



Who Will Answer #WhoWillAnswer

Deaf Hope


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I was interviewed recently for a hearing magazine and one of the questions that they asked me was, “what would you say the greatest challenge of being a deaf mother is?”.

The first thing that came to mind was last week.

I was sitting on the bench outside of Moxie’s class with Micah and Moxie’s new speech therapist. Moxie came out and climbed into my lap and the speech therapist said, “awwwww…!!!!!” I hadn’t heard anything to say “awwwww…!!!!!” about, so I asked, “what?”. He said that Moxie said, “Mommy!” – I asked Micah if he heard it and he said yes. “Yes, Moxie said, “Mommy!” She said it just now”.

And maybe my eyes filled with tears because I didn’t hear my little girl say “Mommy” for the first time.

deaf mother (2 of 7)

It’s not easy talking about the challenges of being a deaf mother, living in a hearing and oral community.

Not easy, you see because I get so sick and tired of the ‘woe is life’ posts written by parents of kids with disabilities, I feel wretched when they are crying over the hearing aids, implants or ear tubes that their child needs. I know that I swing hard on the other side, like a pendulum that is whacked and connects with the ball and then swings harder from the force of impact. I don’t want to talk about the hard stuff because I don’t want parents to read what I say and only hear the challenging parts of what I am saying. I don’t want them talking about how difficult life is going to be for their deaf kid because – OH MY GOD! Hearing aids!

I simply don’t believe that anything is ever as cut and dry as we like or want it to be. The complexities of the deaf experience are not easily articulated, not least because like all experiences, it’s not one-dimensional. Being deaf is not this awful, horrible, bone-shuddering experience – but it’s not a total ride in the park either, especially if you live with hearing people, in a community that relies on telephones and oral speech.


It’s hard, not least because you are isolated. Maybe I should use “I” statements here, since I’m really just talking about my own experience.

I am isolated. Being deaf is isolating. Think about it, and maybe even plug your ears at some point when you are in a conversation with friends. Look at their lips and try and follow what is being said. It’s just not easy, is it? It’s not their fault, it’s not my fault, it’s simply the way it is.

But it’s isolating. I can’t jump into conversations, I often lose the thread of what is being talked about. I get overwhelmed with trying to focus on what people are saying and end up spacing out which does nothing for my credibility as an interesting person who might make an interesting friend.

I have to ask people to repeat things 50 million times and that gets old, fast. I often don’t even know that I need to ask them to repeat something and that makes me look stupid, fast.

There is nothing quite like that particular brand of awkwardness that comes from responding to something incorrectly, and I’m talking about like, “hey, how are things on the farm, Meriah?” – “purple!“. Their faces have *wince* written all over it and that helps – I  can at least laugh and point out the obvious, “oh, did I just say “purple” when you asked me how things are on the farm or something?”

And if they laugh too, it makes it all a little better, but there is no denying that fundamental fact: being deaf in a hearing community can be an experience in isolation.

deaf mother (1 of 7)

Isolation: I try to cut through it. I am not consistent about my effort though… it goes in waves. I will attend something or other, try and participate, get completely fazed out and feel craptasticly DEAF by the end, like I just want to run home and cry and play on Facebook. Sometimes things end well, like I heard enough to connect and that makes everything enjoyable enough to want to repeat the experience.

Or not. Sometimes even if it’s enjoyable, I don’t want to repeat it – I get nervous about jinxing it, interaction being hard again, or I get nervous about the effort it takes to connect.

I feel tired before anything has even happened, and even while I want friends and I want to hang out with other women so bad that it sometimes literally drives me crazy, I just can’t face it all.

Being deaf is isolating


I’ve often worried about not being able to hear the kids in a variety of contexts. I worry also about not being able to hear what is said TO my kids. I worry about someone saying something mean to one of my children and my standing Right.There. with some vacant smile on my face, looking at the trees, unaware and clueless. And then if my kid cries (with tears or with a hurting heart), it will be up to my child to tell me what happened, and I absolutely hate that.

Oh my God, do I hate that.

So I try and focus on not worrying – I mean that hasn’t even happened (to my knowledge) and I have enough that has happened to keep me busy.

deaf mother (3 of 7)

The Challenges of Being a Deaf Mother

Maybe that should be, “The Challenges of Being a Deaf Mother Who Chooses to Live Off the Grid.”

Because, let’s see. We can’t get a landline for a telephone (- they literally won’t come out here to put in the poles), video phones fall under that umbrella. I can use Facetime, yes, but only at certain times of the day (when others in our valley are not downloading or streaming videos!). But how many dental offices do business with you using Facetime?! Right. I need to use the cellphone and that’s almost exactly like those old Saturday Night Live videos of Al Franken searching for access with the antennae on his head. It’s so ridiculously and comically absurdly awful that IN REAL LIFE I feel like a skit from Candid Camera.

In a nutshell: the nitty-gritty knuckle-crackin’ stuff of being a parent who gets things done is head-bashingly hard for me.

In fact, it is to “hard” what crawling up Kilamanjaro on your knees is – which is to say: it can be done and it’s no fun. Only if you do the Kilamanjaro one, you’ll get a lot of recognition – for me and for others like me, you get a dental appointment. If you are lucky.

deaf mother (4 of 7)Sometimes I wonder how much of all this is just me.

If I was a more “together” kind of person, would it be easier? I slept with all of my kids because I couldn’t hear them cry – I would wake up from the vibration of their crying. Deaf people asked me why I didn’t get a video monitor with a bed shaking alarm – and honestly, I never even thought such a thing existed. So there you go; it doesn’t have to be the (perhaps more difficult) way that I’ve made it.

I could have had a video monitor and I could have rigged it to a bed shaking alarm. I could rig a phone up some how (how???) and get access without it being what it is. I could get an interpreter for everything, walk around like a boss with a posse. Make my family sign in order to communicate with me. Forget about being so oral – it feels stupid anyway after you know someone has repeated something to you enough times to make their eyes twitch.


I’m at the point in the story in which I want to start stacking the positive.

I mean, my fingers are reaching for the keys in a fierce way – but for once, I just don’t want this post to be about finding the positive, about the glories of being deaf, about how great it is to live in a world of silence.

And by not writing about that right now, I’m not saying it’s not true; it is. I do love my silent world, I  love how it feels soft and muted, like a hazy dream with beautiful colours. I like being able to choose to hear and I like being able to switch from one blended-watercolour-world to a sharp, crisp, focused one just by putting in and turning on my hearing aids. And I want parents of kids with disabilities to remember that – I went them to balance that with what I’m saying about the isolation.

It’s not as cut and dried as we might want it to be: as I’ve said, being deaf is not a one-dimensional experience.

deaf mother (7 of 7)



I’ve been in service dog training for this past week and I have one week to go. I’m talking 9-5 training and it’s hard catching up to a dog that is smarter than I am.

I’ve developed a little Q & A in anticipation of some of the questions you might have about service dogs and this whole process:

Aren’t service dogs just for the blind?

Nope. There are service dogs for just about every disability, including autism and Down syndrome! The dog that I will be partnering with is a trained Hearing Dog – a dog that has been specifically, professionally and intensively trained to work with the d/Deaf.

How long does it take to get a dog?

The whole process took me over 2 years! The application process is LONG: there is a lot of paperwork, many, many questions, an interview, then you basically have to wait for your dog to be born and raised through puppyhood

Puppies! I want one!

Oh man, the puppies we see around here are adorable! My dog is not a puppy (- she’s 2 years old) but she was raised by a puppy handler until she came to train.

So she’ll be able to tell you when someone is talking?

Yes, no, maybe so – she’ll be able to alert me to sounds that we train her on and work specifically with. It wouldn’t make sense to train her to alert me whenever someone is talking and it’d be kind of impossible to alert me to one person alone talking.

I think it makes more sense to work with her on just alerting me to voices saying “Meriah!” or “Mooooommmmmmmmy!”

What else can she alert you to?

She can tell me when the phone rings, a doorbell sounds (- not that we have a doorbell on our yurt), she can tell me pretty much anything that I train her specifically to alert me to. YES! Amazing, huh!

Do you love your dog?? Have you met your dog??

Yes, I met my dog and I cried when I did. We all did, all of us Trainees, when we all met our dogs. It was so emotional, meeting this creature that we’ve waited so long for and need so much.

“Do I love my dog?” – well – I was fighting attachment to my dog from the first time we worked together – I truly have been matched with an exceptional animal.

I want to see a picture! When are you going to post pictures?!!

My dog was raised by a puppy handler and then came to the training center for intensive training when she was old enough. Since the puppy handler put a lot of love and time into the care of my dog, the handler needs to be notified that my dog has been first pre-matched, then final-matched. Just basic consideration at work.

As soon as that happens, I WILL POST PHOTOS!!!!!!

In the meantime, check out my photos on Instagram (- I’m @meriahnichols there, if you care to follow my feed), or on the blog Facebook page (- linked here)

meriah nichols

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this post was originally published on May 30, 2012 – it has been re-written and re-published as a part of the “Challenge!” Summer Blogging Series – open to all.


My Connection with Disability:

I was not born with a disability. I am one of the many of us that acquired my disabilities and joined the club of Disability after birth.

I went through the windshield of a car when I was 4 years old. This gave me Traumatic Brain Injury, an auditory processing disorder and most likely kick started my deafness (but we are not really sure). My PTSD was acquired later, as was the depression.

Even though I grew up with multiple disabilities, I had absolutely no connection with disability. For my family, people who were regarded as having “real” disabilities were invariably people who use wheelchairs. And since I didn’t use a wheelchair, I was just a misfit screw-up who needed to try harder, apologize more.

It’s worth mentioning here that my race was of paramount importance – you see, I was growing up in countries in which I was the minority. No one else around me was white. My whiteness was what was noticed first, commented on, teased, discriminated against. The fact that I am deaf or that I’d fall asleep in class if the fluorescent lights were used was a blip on the screen compared to my whiteness.

My disabilities hit me when I would return to the United States. I’d walk through customs and suddenly, my skin colour would fade and BAM! My deafness, my TBI and all the rest of it would return.

I wanted that about as much as I’d want to walk on a nail – and I did everything in my power to “fit in” and be like everyone else as I saw them in Mainstream, USA. I wanted the gloss, sparkle, I strived to be uber-thin, got the bleach blonde hair, worked on my tan. I took my anger, hurt, pain and frustration and bottled it all up.

Every. Single. Ounce.

I turned on myself – I was a cutter – I felt so much internal pain and anger, directed every bit of it on hurting myself in any way I could. I would cut myself with small knives, scrape my flesh off even with my fingernails. I was an anorexic/bulimic for years as well as an alcoholic, chain smoking Tokyo party animal who would take any drug offered. And I do mean any drug.

And I was so good at faking it. I remember in particular one night I had stayed up late, drinking and crying and scraping myself and struggling with the overwhelming desire to just die. I went to work the next day and a coworker of mine said, “Meriah, I just love your smile – you always seem to be so happy! You are the happiest person I know!


It’s impossible to get help when everything is so carefully and tightly tucked away and compartmentalized.When you know you need help but since you think it’s all your fault, feel like you don’t deserve it and can’t ask and the little bits that seep through the seams of an alcohol/drug laced blackout on a street in Roppongi drown in the cacophony of a chaotic life.

I went through a lot of careers. My brother and I have been working hard since we were 11 or 12, and nearly completely self-supporting since we were 15. I’ve worked just about every job imaginable, and worked hard, worked well and worked successfully, despite being deaf and konking out from TBI. I graduated from college at 19 – trained as an Elementary School teacher and I taught for a while. Then I went to graduate school when I was 24, was out and working again in curriculum developer, teacher training, school management. I shifted slighted from there to corporate training. I taught a lot of English in Asia.

When I returned to the United States at 29, I had a very difficult time finding a job. Part of that was the market at that time, but a huge part of that was my deafness which as always, became an issue upon re-entry. Through sheer dint of having a hard time myself finding a job, I ended up in the “disability industry”, starting and managing a program for students and graduates of UC Berkeley with disabilities.

It was UC Berkeley that changed my life.

Because you see, UC Berkeley is the home of the Disability Rights Movement. It’s where The Greats like Ed Roberts and Judy Heumann fought and won; it’s close to the San Francisco City Hall, where the historic 504 Sit In was held. “Disability” in Berkeley isn’t about pity, weakness, disenfranchisement, powerlessness: “disability” in Berkeley is about pride! It’s about claiming our identity, our culture, our tribe!

Bit by bit, day by day, I felt my resistance to connecting with ‘disability’ slipping. I met more and more people, representing every type of disability one can think of. Activists, other professionals like me with disabilities. Highly capable, intelligent people who have a disability.

The relief in connecting, in finally identifying with a group that made sense to me, that were among my own, was strong. My tears that came when I heard “Nothing About Us Without Us” for the first time were heavy, full of that pent up emotion of desperately trying to “fit”, realizing I couldn’t, and then angry at having felt the need to do so at all. Tears from the frustration at having people without anything “wrong” with them telling me what to do, what I needed. Or what other people with disabilities needed. Like a group of whites deciding what was best for blacks before the Civil Rights Movement.

I starting to “come out” as a person with a disability when I was there, but I fully and emphatically crossed over after I had Moxie.

And now…

Disability is a part of me – as a physical and cultural part of my life as a person. It defines me, it is who I am, it a point of pride with me – #deafpride ! This is my tribe, this is my culture, and this transcends all else.

Like a prism reflecting rainbows by the light captured within, disability is a way of seeing the world and experiencing it from a unique and particular vantage point.  – one that has taught me well and early the value and strength of the spirit and the transient nature of the flesh.

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

Please join:


My friend Meredith is teaching a class over on Clickin’ Moms – check it out – it’s more than interesting; it’s fascinating. I don’t want to talk much about it since that would be giving it away and I think you should just sign up since it’s worth it – but the major thing she is talking about in her course is telling the truth. That is, the truths that we tell people and how that’s reflected in our photography.

I have been thinking about that a lot lately – truth telling. I think it’s because here on this blog I talk about being deaf all over the place. It’s in the bio, it’s in the About section – I say it over and over, right?

Why do I talk about being deaf so much?

I think I like saying it partially because I have this fierce desire to connect with other deaf folks – I want people to know who I am in that regard right off the bat in case they are too. I also want to help normalize being young and deaf. This isn’t an old people thing, y’all. Anyone can be deaf and I hope I show through my own life example that it’s soooo not the end of the world. You can be deaf and be and do anything you want – and I hope to offer that to parents of kids who are deaf who read this blog.

And then – in deeper vein that you can’t politely talk about very often, it’s also a matter of reclaiming my own identity. You see, I was ashamed for so long in a way few people can comprehend about being deaf. I was ashamed to my marrow, I questioned my worth as a person, the validity of my own existence. It took working in Berkeley and being around the powerful disabled community there for me to really understand what disability – all disability, including my own – is about. Which is to say, it’s about a new type of diversity, it’s a different way of seeing, feeling, navigating, hearing this world – no more and no less and like all components of diversity, it makes our world stronger and richer.

So I talk about being deaf.

I talk about being deaf for those reasons on this blog but in real life, I don’t talk about it very much, if at all. The reason that I don’t is mostly because it’s so intensely uncomfortable to go through all the stuff that people just don’t know what to do with.

 People don’t know how to handle deaf people.

They don’t know how to handle deaf people – they wonder if they should try and make up signs for me? Like hey, “sun!” and point to the sky and make up something that they think looks like the sun. Or pull out their broken finger spelling? (I always feel pretty embarrassed for them)

Or people do crazy shit like over-enunciate while talking EXXXXXXXTTTTTTRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA SSSSLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWLLLLLLLLYYYYY. Oh my God. I had this former co-worker that would say stuff to me like, “do you have your hearing aids in, Meriah? DO YOU HAVE YOUR HEARING AIDS IN? ARE THEY IN???” before she’d talk to me, or others who would never, ever, but NEVER talk unless I was looking directly at them.

You can’t blame me for not wanting to talk about it when I get such asinine responses, can you?

I normally just wade through – I lipread, I pay attention, I do my best. When I’m tired, I turn off. And that’s that.

Here on the beach though, where I spend so much time without my hearing aids on, it’s different. I can’t hear almost anything. If Mikey is around when people interact with us, I might wing it, but if he’s not, I find that it is easier to just tell people right off the bat… and then I get to have fun wincing through the responses.

But back to the subject:

telling the truth

My being deaf is something that is enormous in the context of who I am as a person. As a fundamental part of my physical identity, it should be something that I always tell people in real life, but it’s not, simply because I don’t feel like dealing with people’s reactions that end up making things uncomfortable in my relationship with them.

They don’t treat me normally anymore. And since I enjoy being treated normally, I don’t want to tell them.

My friend Meredith is talking about how truth telling is reflected in our photography in her course, and like I said, I think you should check it out.

meriah nichols


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