Working as an actress who is deaf… 

  

Whether you’re aware of the #deaftalent hashtag trend that’s circulating social media, there’s a storm brewing in the deaf world. Or amongst the thespians at least. 

I say this because I’ve sensed for some time now a rising discontent when it comes to getting roles. Or – more to the point – at those bagging most of the roles. 

You see, a few hearing performers I know of recently worked in sign language roles, and subsequently faced the wrath of the deaf community. 

Regardless of whether they have deaf family or fluent signs, the general view from the deaf community has always been that roles with sign language should be given to deaf actors. Simple. 

Well… Not really. The thing is casting directors – more often than not – will ask to see actors ‘with sign language.’ This loophole means that they don’t have to be deaf, they merely need to act and sign well on screen. 

The director will have a vision for the production and will want to match it. Whether or not the actor is profoundly deaf, hearing impaired or a CODA (child of deaf adults) is not always of interest or use to them. 

This means that as an actress who is deaf I can’t fall behind my deafness and expect it to do the work for me. It’s my acting skills and role suitability that will get me jobs, not my lack of hearing. 

But I understand we need more representation on screen from artists who are truly deaf! We want inspiration, role models! We need real life demonstrations that anything is possible. 

And we do have that in a way in the form of Nyle DiMarco, the winner of America’s Next Top Model who is also deaf and a sign language user. He won, not because he’s deaf, but because he’s a blooming good model. Which is why the mainstream regard him as a ‘model who is deaf’ rather than a ‘deaf model.’ His work is not limited by his deafness.

But aha- that’s where the modelling world differs from acting. On stage and on screen it’s all about communication – so our deafness can’t help but be on show. 

For most of us, the moment we speak or sign we are outed as ‘deaf.’ And so we can’t help but be pigeon holed as ‘deaf actors’ and sent only for roles featuring sign language, or for characters with a hearing loss. We can’t play just anybody. 

So this is where the discontent towards non-deaf actors in sign language really lies. Seeing as they have all the mainstream roles to choose from, aren’t they being a bit… Greedy? Can’t they leave the deaf roles for us?! 

But, *sighs*. Acting. TV. Commercials. It’s a dog eat dog world. Hearing people who know sign language have every right to put ‘BSL’ on their CV’s list of languages and they have every right to attend auditions with sign language too. 

But what I want to know is why don’t we – the deaf actors – always know about these auditions? 

Hearing actresses I recently worked with spoke about auditioning for a role in a music video that featured sign language. Nobody in my agency had even heard about the opportunity. 

And then the said music video pops up online featuring an unknown actress with stilted signs who is is hearing… 

I’m not anti-hearing (my family’s full of them ;)) but you can’t help but wonder where the deaf artists are. 

A band I had hoped to work with recently also decided to use interpreters for their shows instead of deaf artists, blaming the decision on their budget…

And casting directors have postponed work purposely because they couldn’t find  enough deaf actors. When I personally know there to be loaaaads of us. 

Sure, my deaf acting buddies may not all fit the directors criteria but if people aren’t actually finding out about roles, can somebody tell me what’s going on?  

Are we not sharing enough? Encouraging each other? Are we harbouring audition information as deaf roles are hard enough to come by anyway…? I don’t know. 

We have the deaf actors. And we have the talent. But the opportunities seem to be getting lost. 

Are we getting lost in the mainstream? Do we need to raise our signs and get ourselves heard? Noticed?

I think we need a plan. A plan, not to prevent hearing actors from going for opportunities, but one to ensure that those who are deaf are being given an equal chance too. 

So come on, #deaftalent or #talentthatisdeaf who’s with me? 

Only the hearing need apply… 

  
An advert came through my door today. A local newsagent is looking for people to deliver the mail. Age is no barrier, they said. Dog walkers welcome! Insomniacs very welcome – their words, not mine. 

Yet I was left puzzled by the criteria next to “Qualifications.” They did not mention good sense of direction or reasonable fitness – they said 

providing you can see, hear and move normally , there aren’t any. 

But what’s normal anyway? I’m short sighted and use glasses to drive – does that mean my eyesight is abnormal? And if I’ve been dancing too hard my left foot gives way resulting in a swagger like walk – is that not a normal way to move? 

I’m being picky – I know. 

But seeing a point being made about needing to have normal hearing to post mail touched a nerve.

Do they not know that Derby has a higher than average number of Royal Mail post men who are deaf due to the city having the second largest deaf community in England? 

And would this advert not exclude youngsters who are deaf yet still have great work ethics and are ready to be independent and earn a bit of pocket money? 

Before the newsagent require mail deliverers have normal hearing, they should take a look at who’s actually delivering their mail. Professional, able, postmen – some of whom who are also deaf. 

That sounds very normal to me 😉