Importance of Role Models for Deaf and HOH Children

On February 2, 2014 Derek Coleman made history as the first Deaf NFL player to win a Super Bowl. He is a running back on the Seattle Seahawks, and made the first tackle in the first five minutes of the game. He isn’t the first Deaf NFL player, as Kenny Walker was the second deaf NFL player, who played for the Denver Broncos. There are others, but Derek Coleman is the most notable, for his Duracell commercial, and his “No Excuses” mantra, of not letting anything get in the way of one’s dreams.

Just like any child, the Deaf or HOH child needs to see visible role models, whether they are celebrities, sports stars, or within their own communities that are also Deaf or HOH. All children need someone to look up to, to inspire them, to show that one can do anything if they put their minds to it, even if it’s nothing more than becoming a doctor, a teacher, a news anchor or an actor. Deaf and HOH children in particular need to be exposed to these role models, read about others in history like Helen Keller or Beethoven. They also need to be involved in the Deaf community and see role models up close as part of their daily lives.

There is a young woman, who was deafened late in life, who is presently preparing to compete in the 2014 Miss Canada pageant. Her name is Shayla Selma Sabbagh and her profile will be up on in a couple of months. In the group we participate in on Facebook, she was asked what message she had for the judges, and this is her answer:

I would like to take this opportunity to educate the judges and anybody watching the pageant and not overwhelm them. I think it is important to give simple straightforward facts and issues we face as a community. I think it is important to tell them there are over three million Deaf/Hard of Hearing Canadians and I think equal access to communication is important. I strongly encourage Canada to implement VRS for anybody living with a hearing loss. I hope to explain some of the myths that plague our community, such as “All deaf people can read lips 100%”. I hope to encourage people to learn sign language and show how beautiful a language it is.

It is quite the goal, but it is important to note that she also wants to be

“an inspiration to young Deaf and HOH women who have been underestimated because of their hearing loss, and to show them they are capable of achieving their dreams.”

Parents need to expose their Deaf or HOH children to role models, and involve them in the local community to meet other Deaf or HOH individuals, to show that any goal or dream is reachable. Without this kind of exposure and encouragement, many Deaf and HOH children may not achieve their dreams. It is important to show them ways of overcoming their limitations and moving past any roadblocks others may put in front of them.

Derek Coleman is the perfect example of a Deaf child coming from a family with parents who refuted all the naysayers, told him to ignore them, and pushed him to keep striving for his goals. He has for the past few weeks been quoted on how important it is to ignore the naysayers, to work hard, to never give up on achieving your dreams. His Duracell commercial has been shared on YouTube and Facebook, and in it he speaks of his parents, the bullies, the naysayers.

Public figures like Marlee Matlin, Garth Brooks, Rob Lowe and Katie LeClerc (Switched At Birth star) need to use their status to talk about their experiences, to highlight the issues for the Deaf and HOH communities, and to raise awareness for others. It isn’t enough to have it randomly highlighted in People magazine. They can help raise the visibility of the Deaf and HOH community, by speaking up, and showing that even losing your hearing later in life, isn’t insurmountable. There is a need for better funding and supports to be made available to the Deaf community, towards employment, the purchase of assistive devices, and hearing aids. Those with the ability to raise that awareness at the local levels should also speak up, and get involved in increasing awareness. The Deaf and HOH will not become more visible without these people becoming active and vocal.

I am just a Canadian mom of three, in a little village in South Eastern Ontario, writing a blog about my experiences, and my journey with the cochlear implant. Yet, in doing so I am also increasing awareness when I write about various topics related to the lives of the Deaf and HOH. I am not a public figure, however I have hopes that I have been making an impact on others, by allowing you the public, the blog readers, the curious, Deaf, HOH, or hearing to see into my life, and my thoughts, and emotions. If I can inspire just one child to reach for the stars, then I have done my job. If I can offer hope and information to parents as they find their way through their child’s diagnosis, then I have helped one family learn to support that child.

All children need to see that with hard work, a strong will, and a supportive environment, that they can achieve their goals. That reaching for the stars isn’t an impossible dream.

Notable Deaf People and HOH (not a comprehensive list)

Linda Bove – Linda on Sesame Street, 30 years, longest running deaf actress
Marlee Matlin- deaf actress known for Children of a Lesser God
Kenny Walker – retired, Denver Broncos NFL Player
Heather Whitestone – first deaf Miss America 1995
Garth Brooks – country singer (progressive loss)
Halle Berry – actress ( unilateral loss)
Rob Lowe – actor (deaf in right ear)
Helen Keller – deaf/blind woman and activist


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