Combating the Silence

By Abigail Barnard

Staff Writer

Can you imagine living in a world where everything is silent? Never hearing the birds sing or hearing a loved one laugh. When you go out into the world you must rely on your other senses, such as being able to read a room and reading lips. Sometimes using your hands as your only way of communicating.

When you go to the movies you have to read what’s being said rather than listen.

Can you also imagine going to places and being accused of ‘faking it’?

There are people all over the world who don’t need to imagine it, they live it. Deaf and hard of hearing people live silently in a world full of sound. We often believe that we know their stories, we assume we understand. But we are wrong. We will never understand their world until we understand how to communicate on their level. Our hands are an open door, an invitation to their world. 

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 15 percent of American adults aged 18 and over report some issues with hearing, that equates to 37.5 million people. While that encompasses anyone with a hearing issue, around 28.8 million American Adults could benefit from the use of hearing aids. One in eight people in the U.S. over the age of 12 has hearing loss in both ears.

In the last year, Marvel created both a movie and a TV series about deaf and hard of hearing superheroes! They started with “Eternals” which featured a new set of heroes, but one had a new superpower that we didn’t know we needed. Representing the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Makkari is a woman of color in Marvel’s latest movie and is played by Lauren Ridloff, who is deaf. Fans of Lauren Ridloff will recognize her from the Walking Dead series.

In the movie, Makkari uses American Sign Language to communicate with the other Eternals. Ridloff was born deaf to two hearing parents and communicates  through sign language in her daily life. Ridloff spoke to The New York Times about how important playing Makkari was to her. 

“It means that my two boys, who are also deaf, will grow up in a world where there are superheroes who are deaf. It means they’ll be able to dream a bit more widely,” Ridloff said.

While the Eternals and Makkari represent the deaf community, Marvel’s new ‘Hawkeye’ Disney+ series represents the hard of hearing.

At the beginning of the series, we learn that Clint Barton, Hawkeye, is now hard of hearing and wears hearing aids. Although Hawkeye always had hearing loss in the comics, Marvel waited until he got his series to move in step with the comics. At some point in the comics, Hawkeye was fighting another villain named, Mockingbird. Hawkeye bit down on one of his Sonic Arrows, which stopped the fight but permanently damaged his hearing. In the TV series Hawkeye’s hearing loss is chalked up to all the fights and explosions over the years finally taking its effect.

The Hawkeye series also has a deaf superhero/villain named Maya Lopez who later becomes Echo in the Marvel Comics. Hawkeye/Clint Barton is played by Jeremey Renner and Maya Lopez/Echo is played by Alaqua Cox, a Native American actress, who is both deaf and an amputee.

The “Hawkeye” series and “Eternals” debuted to  mixed reviews. Whether it wasn’t like the comics or it was too like the comics, one thing that fans are in agreement about is the representation of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

According to a digital language learning tool, Preply, there has been a 250 percent spike in searches for “learning sign language for beginners.”

Some users on Instagram asked the question “why didn’t we learn ASL in high school?” In most high schools we learn Spanish, German and maybe French. Isn’t it more likely to run into someone who is deaf than someone from Germany?

Northeast Texas Community College does offer ASL through the continuing education department, taught by Nancy LaBatt. The course introduces students to ASL and the hearing impaired community.  Students will be able to learn the alphabet, common greetings, and simple phrases. Students will also work through subject groups to build their vocabulary. 

 The class will begin February 7th through the 21st, Mondays 1:00 – 2:00pm, it will be at Northeast Community College on the main campus, in the TBA room. The classes will be through continuing education, the class is not covered by FASFA, it will cost the student $59.