Making Our Voices Heard in the Media

Voices from AG Bell

Meredith Sugar
Making Our Voices Heard in the Media

On March 13, AG Bell undertook an unprecedented public relations outreach campaign through a print advertisement in a USA Today editorial supplement which reached more than 1.3 million readers. An accompanying editorial article by Ted Meyer, M.D., Ph.D., AG Bell president-elect, drew public attention to newborn hearing screening and outlined first steps for parents of children with hearing loss.

The article and advertisement were part of the MediaPlanet Vision and Hearing Health campaign, an annual initiative to raise awareness about vision and hearing loss and new technologies, and to provide expert commentary on the latest developments in the field.More than 450,000 copies of the USA Today supplement were distributed in top media markets—New York, North Central Florida, Dallas, Carolinas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Nashville and Boston—and shared digitally, reaching even more readers.

To keep the campaign going, we are offering state chapters a branded, customized version of the print and digital ads in multiple sizes for use on their website, e-newsletters or other materials. We hope that this collaborative effort will have a ripple effect—and we encourage state associations to let us know how many people saw the message so that we know our total impact. Please share the ad and editorial through your personal social media networks.

The ad shows a child who is deaf using hearing technology to listen, talk and share his feelings with those closest to him. In a close-up photo, a parent and child are framed by their dialogue: “Today, my deaf son heard me call his name. He spoke the words ‘I love you.’” Readers are encouraged to find out how they can help a child who is deaf or hard of hearing to listen and talk by contacting AG Bell.

Lisa Cantwell, who is featured with her son Billy in the advertisement, said that she was “excited to be able to spread the word on just how much success a child with hearing loss can have with early intervention, involved parents and cochlear implants or hearing aids.” Billy, now 8 years old, exemplifies that success. After his hearing loss was identified through newborn hearing screening, he received cochlear implants at 11 and 13 months of age, and his language is on par with peers.

The ad is simple in concept with a compelling image and a powerful message that will go a long way in dispelling the myths that continue to persist in the minds of the public and the media. Over the years, people who are deaf and hard of hearing have been commonly portrayed in entertainment media as communicating through American Sign Language. As an example, Marlee Matlin, who is most known for her Oscar-winning performance in “Children of a Lesser God,” recently starred on “Switched at Birth,” which features co-star Katie Leclerc and a cast that uses sign language.

The portrayal of people who are deaf in the media poses challenges for aspiring deaf actors who use listening and spoken language as well as the public image of people who are deaf and hard of hearing. AG Bell hosted a special reception for the No Limits for Deaf Children production of “Silent NO MORE.” The talented cast shared powerful personal stories of growing up with hearing loss, including actor John Autrey II, who said that acting roles are difficult to find because he is labeled as a “deaf person” and asked to sign and not use his voice. John said that the entertainment industry does not think about writing parts for people who are deaf and listen and talk. John believes that his voice should be heard because life is not about limits—but having no limits.

We need to hear the voices of people growing up with hearing loss today who use listening and spoken language and to see public images that portray accurate reflections of their lives and achievements. This is seen quite clearly in many of today’s social media groups, in which comments related to children who have received cochlear implants and who listen and speak absolutely on par with their peers continue to chastise the children’s parents for not using sign language. Through a social media campaign on the AG Bell Facebook page and in our Facebook group, we will be spotlighting a series of notable people who are deaf and hard of hearing and who utilize listening and spoken language. We encourage you to contribute to the campaign by commenting with your own experiences, sharing throughout your network, and suggesting others to profile.

At the 2015 AG Bell Listening and Spoken Language Symposium next month, please join me in celebrating the remarkable successes of young people with hearing loss today, recognizing the challenges they face, and in exploring ways to contribute to their future through our professional skills and talents.

Meredith Sugar, Esq.

Source: Volta Voices (2015): Volume 22, Issue 2.

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