Marlee Matlin sees the ability in disability
DetailsCreated on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 03:06 Hits: 1449
Marlee Matlin, Academy Award-winning actress, author, producer and deaf advocate spoke Tuesday in the ballroom about her life experience in overcoming barriers and achieving her goals.
Born in Illinois, Matlin lost her hearing at 18 months old. Despite what the Internet says, “Doctors have been unable to specifically pinpoint what caused my deafness,” Matlin said.
“We wanted a speaker that embodied access and inclusion and success, and we thought that her body of work in Hollywood shows that with access, people with differences can break barriers,” said Leah Subak, staff interpreter and co-coordinator at Student Accessibility Services.
“We specifically were looking for a deaf person because some students at Kent State had asked us if we would please have a deaf speaker,” Subak said.
Matlin began her speech by pushing the microphone out of her way and said, “I don’t need this,” to an outpour of laughter.
Matlin described the frustrations of her early childhood dealing with her deafness in a hearing world and said that her anger was triggered by the ways the hearing world cut her off from her world that she wanted to embrace.
Matlin said “the fog lifted” when she learned American Sign Language because she was able to communicate again and know what it meant.
“My hands were now my partners in communication,” she said.
She discussed the important role her parents played in empowering her to pursue her dreams by standing strong against the negative attitudes they encountered regarding her deafness.
“From the beginning, my parents were determined to treat me as any child should be treated, with love and respect,” she said.
Instead of sending Matlin to a school for the deaf, her parents opted to send her to local schools.
“Life was going to be quote on quote ‘normal’ for me as a kid. I always qualify the word normal because who are we to determine what is normal?” Matlin said. “My life was so normal, in fact, that a reporter, many years later, described my life as one long episode of ‘The Brady Bunch.’”
Matlin spoke fondly of her mentor Henry Winkler, also known as “the Fonz” from the 1970s American sitcom “Happy Days,” who told her she could do anything as long as she followed her heart and not to let anyone tell her otherwise.
Matlin looked at the crowd and proudly said, “eight years later, I was standing on a stage with an Academy Award in my hand. That was a wonderful affirmation of achieving one’s dreams despite what barriers are out there.”
The next day, a critic wrote that Matlin’s win was a pity vote, but Matlin did not let it break her spirit. The critic fueled her to continue her career at full speed ahead.
Matlin also addressed scientific studies attempting to cure deafness.
“Stories about potential cures make great headlines, but at the end of the day, we have to recognize that behind all of this talk, there are millions of people who have families, jobs and productive lives,” Matlin said. “If you told us that we needed to be cured, many of us would respond ‘of what?’”
Matlin repeated twice that she urges people to reject the idea of a handicap and see the ability rather than the disability.
“There are still barriers out there, but somehow, after all this time, I’ve learned just to laugh at them, like when I was on a television series and a network executive … leaned over to the producer and said ‘Marlee Matlin is really good, is she going to be deaf for the whole show?’”
Matlin displayed her lively spirit with her closing segment.
“For me, though some may say I live in a world of silence, silence is the last thing you will ever hear from me,” she said.
Krista Wintersteller, sophomore zoology major, spoke highly of Matlin after her speech.
“She’s just really inspirational. She’s got a way with words and her story is awesome. I love the fact that she just doesn’t let her deafness stop her from doing anything. She is a wonderful role model,” she said.