By: Kristy Chase (06/30/17)
As a new learner of ASL and Deaf culture and history, I’ve been reading not only the information in my assignments as well as doing deeper research and reading on my own. I find it quite intriguing to find more information ‘out there’ pertaining to the various topics. I find the assignment of finding my favorite person in Deaf history rather challenging, because I’m just now learning about players in Deaf history.
Oh yes, I’m definitely intrigued. I’m amazed at how many Deaf people made contributions that we use today in our modern world. People like Paul D. Hubbard, who created the football huddle that we know today, and Laura Bridgeman, an educated woman who was a deaf-mute who lived 50 years before the famous Helen Keller. Even Laurent Clerc, the French guy who founded the first school for the Deaf in America. There are just so many Deaf people who have contributed to our world and who have really paved the way for generations of people to benefit, and not only for Deaf people, but for hearing people as well.
However, while I am greatly enjoying all of the newfound information I have learned about amazing players in the Deaf arena, I can’t help but set my mind on someone who I have known about pretty much most of my life. Marlee Matlin was the first Deaf person I had actually ever seen. When I first saw her, she was in the movie, Children of a Lesser God with William Hurt. The movie was good, but her presence, her performance and how she was able to carry an entire film through just using sign language was captivating. I completely fell in love with watching someone communicate without having to use their voice.
I had had an inner part of me that actually really wanted to learn sign language and to find a reason to use it. That stemmed mostly from a church class I was able to join in when I was in elementary school. I learned the alphabet and about 10 signs. But when I saw Marlee Matlin, I knew that learning ASL was a true desire I would have. However, that thought or feeling was never acted upon because I never really looked into my local resources.
And it’s not just that she signed, I was mesmerized by Marlee. It may have been how pretty she was or how charismatic she was, or that she was a great actress. But there’s no denying that seeing someone excel at acting… being able to accomplish so much in the world of acting, when we didn’t have very many Deaf household names to compare her to. I mean, I don’t think I can recall a single Deaf person in all of my years in growing up watching tv or movies, outside of Marlee.
I love that she never gave up and she found her opportunities. From movies to tv shows in my living room, she has always been someone I have recognized. What’s more is that since I’ve been learning about Deaf culture, I’ve learned so much about her. She has written four books, largely about her experiences and being Deaf. Something she has written about is how challenging it was for her to really connect with people. I’ve had a challenge with that in my life, and I don’t have any challenges with expressing myself or having a voice. Yet, I’ve never found that inner strength that some people just have. I remember her becoming a voice for the Red Cross, but I had no idea that she had a hand in getting legislation passed for Closed Captioning. What I love about Marlee is that she is someone that ties together people from the hearing world and from the Deaf world. Whether she set out for it or not, she’s a face that stands out, she’s a voice for the Deaf community, she’s a wonderful actress, she’s entertaining and serious and she stands for something. She is beautiful both inside and out.
About a year ago, I saw a tv show trailer that she was in, which made me take a closer look. The TV show is calledSwitched at Birth. Marlee Matlin was once again at the center of waking up that desire and growing an interest to actually act upon my new desire. The show is fantastic, and the Deaf culture and to some degree, learning the signs in conversation, has made watching tv fun for me again. While it’s centered around young girls, which I don’t really relate to, it was Marlee’s character that hooked me, and I fell in love with the show.
At that time, I put learning ASL on my ‘bucket list’ and decided to simply go for it, and sought out viable resources to assist in my learning. While it’s an interest from within, admittedly it has been influenced, at least in part because of Marlee Matlin.