Nyle DiMarco: Hey, wassup, hello

So imagine my mama, who is becoming more adept at social media/using the internet than I am (embarrassing) saying, “Shayna. Have you heard about the newest winner of America’s Next Top Model? He’s deaf, dark haired, blue-eyed, and handsome.” Since I have been living under a ROCK for the past month (finals finals finals), my answer was no. Since I have no intentions of emerging out from under said rock to interact with the world just yet, I spent the past two days watching an entire season of America’s Next Top Model (with closed captions) like it was going out of style (lol never).

tyra-antm-wrong-1438190095

Sure, cycle 22 may have been the most dramatic season I’ve ever seen, but it was also the most intriguing, and that is because of Nyle. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be on a T.V. show, especially considering my deafness. However, Nyle’s task is one that even I cannot pretend to comprehend.

bb4qxnf

Nyle is a member of the Deaf community, which means he uses nonverbal communication and sign language as his means of expressing himself. The other 21 contestants were hearing individuals. No matter what kind of drama those other people got up to, if Nyle was in the shot, I was focused on him.

nyle-dimarco-gif

And not just ’cause he’s cute, okay? Okay.

It was so inspiring to see Nyle keep up with the others. His reasons for doing the show (proving that deaf/Deaf people can do anything) and his method of going about it just blew my mind. He was so composed and so patient, and while I can’t say I fully understand what it is like to be in his shoes, I feel that I understand more so than the average person.

When Nyle’s phone, which was one of his primary forms of communication with the other contestants (via various talk-to-text and sign-to-speech technologies) was taken from him so another contestant could take selfies, I felt his anger and his frustration. Obviously, what that contestant did was not cool and it should not have happened. At the same time, I understand Nyle’s desire to keep peace and not disrupt the vibe, choosing instead to internalize the frustration rather than express it. Many times, I have been in social situations where my hearing impairment was either forgotten or just completely disregarded, sometimes maliciously. Still, I wanted to give others the benefit of the doubt, to allow them the naiveté of not having to adopt another person’s perspective or burden.

um-okay-uh

When Nyle was a cast member on Tyra Banks’ music video, I was so stoked to see him keep time with the music (with some help from the crew and Tyra). He even did better than some hearing individuals!

When Nyle had to do a photoshoot in the pitch black of night (no sight AND no sound?!) I felt that bewilderment and desperation to succeed, in spite of a so-called “disability.” I was reminded of various nighttime talks I would have with my friends, around campfires, on buses, or just because. I remember feeling lost, like I had no anchor to hold on to, no visual cues, no facial expressions — just sound, which for me, and most other deaf individuals, is not always enough.

14418183

When Nyle had to walk the final runway to the sound of violins (no bass? Really, people, really?) I was taken back to my days as a songleader in high school, where I was able to perform in front of large crowds despite the fact that I couldn’t always hear the music. I had a job to do and an image to sell, and deafness didn’t really have a place in that description.

606e618a6c92d487b062bcba42edb1c6

When Nyle won, I could not comprehend how he must have felt. Yes, I understand pretty much every step of his story. I feel his pain, confusion, frustration, excitement, determination, and enthusiasm. He handled feeling invisible (because no one else spoke his language) with absolute poise and maturity. He kept his wit and humor despite the difficulty on many fronts — social, modeling, and beyond. Yes, I too, have been in similar shoes. But Nyle DiMarco did it without spoken language. As a result, I was positively mind-boggled. I once heard a person say, “blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from other people.” Watching Nyle DiMarco, and keeping in mind my own experiences, I just know this isn’t true.

tumblr_inline_nt361i1tk61qhb2yl_540

We are all bound by the human condition, and we all have different battles. A deaf/Deaf individual can connect to another person just as well as the next person. But other people have different obstacles to face and overcome. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t any one type of minority group keeping up with a majority. I think it is high time we all understood that life is the story of individuals not only keeping up with each other, but also holding each other up.

url

Seeing how Nyle found ways to reach his fellow contestants and seeing how they, Tyra, the judges, and the crew reached out to him was something special. As a deaf individual, it is reinforcing to see someone similar to me go out on a limb like that and succeed. Not necessarily because I feel like I can’t do it too, but simply because it is beautiful. It is progress. It is not a solution, it is not a clear announcement that okay, now being deaf is totally mainstreamed and normal, but I’d say it’s a start. A fierce one, at that.

giphy

Nyle DiMarco is helping amplify the voices (and signs) of so many deaf/Deaf people coming out of their shells and sharing their stories. His journey has been awe-inspiring from the get-go, and there is nowhere for him to go but up. Many thanks to Nyle, to America’s Next Top Model, and to the viewers who had open minds for helping to redefine what beauty is in the 21st century.

Nyle has an InstagramTwitter, and Facebook page. Follow him, like him, spread the love.

 

 

A Word

Happy Thursday folks.

So, it was going to happen eventually. I was bound to have a week where I couldn’t think about anything that happened recently that was specifically related to me and that had to do with hearing impairments (shocking, I know). However, the blog must go on. There is no shortage of topics in the deaf/Deaf/hard of hearing world to discuss, so today I thought I would talk about . . . talking.

Before I begin, let’s just back this up for a second.

There is not simply one type of deafness. To make matters even more complicated, there is no one type of association to hearing impairment a person can have.

What? English please.

There are three types of hard of hearing to deaf people out there. First, there is the term “hard of hearing.” This term is typically used when people have enough hearing to communicate (and often do, through spoken language). Second, there is deaf, with a lowercase “d,” this means that a person is unable communicate adequately with just their hearing. Contrary to the popular belief, being deaf does not mean you cannot hear ANYTHING. It means that you may need assistance with hearing (such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other hearing devices). Finally, Deaf with a capital “D” is a reference to a culture in which people use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate and live according to certain rules and values that they have set for themselves as members of this Deaf community. You can have any level of hearing loss to be a member of the Deaf community.

For me as a member of the deaf community (with a  lowercase d) I find the lines between people with hearing disabilities to be quite fascinating. When I was born (wayyy back when in ’95), newborn babies were not screened for hearing loss. Thus, my hearing loss went undetected for 11 months until my family realized that I not only was not talking (although I did make tons of nonsensical baby sounds which threw them off because deaf babies are often quieter) but also I could not balance at all. That is 11 months of not walking and get this — not even crawling. Many people are puzzled at this point in my story. What many forget is that hearing and balance are associated. Since I did not have strong hearing capabilities, I did not have strong walking capabilities. I was whisked to many doctors appointments until one pediatrician’s speech therapist wife picked up on the mystery of the limp baby (me). Once I was officially diagnosed, my parents wasted no time trying to close the developmental gap of 11 months. I had missed out on so many milestones that babies my age were supposed to have reached. I was in occupational therapy for the vast majority of the day to help me gain balancing, crawling, and general motor abilities. It was a whirlwind of playing catch-up.

The question of what to do with my ears was another can of worms entirely. My parents were faced with a  choice. Would Shayna be a verbal, speaking baby or would Shayna be a Deaf baby? Going with the motif of wasting no time, my parents began learning sign language and teaching me sign while simultaneously equipping me with hearing aids, not really sure which path to take, but definitely knowing there wasn’t time to waste. One day in my parents’ search for answers, they received a phone call from a leader of a local Deaf community. My parents got their first real exposure to Deaf community values during that call. “Putting hearing aids on your child would be like trying to change the color of her skin,” the leader said, “you should accept her as she is. She is one of us now.”

These words were paralyzing to my stressed out and confused parents. Would giving me the gift of sound be a blatant refusal to accept who I really was? What’s more, the Deaf community felt that I would have the most success within their culture of silence and sign language. They felt that when deaf or hard of hearing individuals try to integrate themselves into the “normal” hearing community, it results in depression and isolation. No one understands you except the Deaf community. Let her be deaf among the Deaf, where she will truly be happy. For my parents, who had no prior exposure to deafness (I am the only deaf person in my family tree) they felt that a life without sound would be terrible. “But,” they wondered, “can we understand what it is like to be our daughter? Will she be happier with silence?”

I cannot fathom the amount of pain and worry my parents went through in the following months. After consultations and research that cut into their own sleep schedules and careers, they reached their conclusion.

I, Shayna Cooperman, would hear.

When I started showing a propensity for sign language, blatantly refusing to use my words and signing instead, my parents immediately halted my sign language education so I would have a chance of learning to communicate verbally as soon as possible. For babies and children, speech and language skills must be picked up early on, and those skills will set the stage for the rest of your life. If I had any shot in the hearing world, I would need to be immersed in sound and know no other alternative to speech, at least until I demonstrated a reasonable grasp on language.

Don’t fret. I know this story is stressful, but if you have ever talked to me in person, you know we won the race against time to get those essential verbal skills. It wasn’t easy — there were hours and hours of speech therapy, hearing tests, hearing aid fittings, and more — but we did it.

I am forever grateful that I know what it is like to hear. I truly believe my parents made the right choice, but for me, as an individual. I do not claim to speak for all deaf/hard of hearing individuals. For Shayna Cooperman, hearing was the right choice. There is no Deaf culture in my community, in my family, or in my life. So while it might seem that being a member of the Deaf community would have been more natural, it would have actually been a stretch for me to find these people and ingratiate myself. I have a respect for the Deaf community and their way of life. They may think that the way of life I lead is extremely hard to grasp and bordering on impossible, but I can’t imagine how they do it either. Kudos, man.

If I have any regrets, it would be that I did not learn sign language. For this, I do not blame my parents. They were right to halt my sign language education so I could catch up to my hearing and talking peers. However, I was given several opportunities throughout my life to reacquaint myself with the language, and each time, there was some excuse or other that prevented me from learning it. My parents were open to me making my own choices once I was mature enough. I could sign if I wanted, I could get a cochlear implant if I wanted. They even supported the idea that I should learn sign language. For some reason, I never did, and that is my loss. Sign language is so beautiful and I understand why the Deaf community is so protective of it, especially as technology races onward. Cochlear implants, stronger hearing aids, and Baha devices among others promise hearing to those who would have never dared to hope to hear sound (yay!), but they are threatening to the Deaf community because when people hear, they don’t need to sign (not so yay). When people don’t need to sign, sign language becomes archaic, and goes the way of Latin, Ancient Greek, and Hebrew — beautiful, nostalgic, and a remnant of a time past. To learn sign language would be wonderful and fulfilling experience. I don’t think I will be speaking solely sign language any time soon, but it would be great to know and propagate. Also, disclaimer, I am definitely a fan of cochlear implants and hearing devices (I owe my life to them) so I don’t want to sound negative about them either. I just wish I could find a way for the two worlds to coexist peacefully.

There was a movie I watched a couple of years ago starring Marlee Matlin (a prominent deaf actress who also authored several books about deaf children that I also found enjoyable) called “Sweet Nothing in My Ear.” It was a Lifetime movie (I know, all the cheesiness and sobbing). I thought it was a wonderful portrayal of the tension between the two worlds: the hearing world and the Deaf world. If this is interesting to you, I would definitely recommend that you check it out. It is some serious food for thought.

I am aware that because I speak spoken words and wear a cochlear implant that I am somewhat of a disappointment to the Deaf community. I do not live my life in accordance with Deaf values or communicate in sign language or go to a Deaf school. I succeed in the hearing world and I have successfully integrated myself to the point where my hearing impairment goes virtually undetected. I wish whole-heartedly that the Deaf would see this as a success, but I understand why it is not, in their eyes. I also know I am not alone. There are many, many other people out there that have also chosen to be a member of the verbal world, and it is the Deaf community that must fend for itself.

I am not trying to advocate either way for spoken language or sign language, I am merely relaying my own story for the purpose of education. Ultimately, a person must do what is best for them. For me, I have no doubt in my mind that the path I am on is the best for me. Nothing gives me greater joy than music, laughter, and language. It really really really has not been easy, though. But it has been worth every minute. For others, this may not be the case and there is no shame in that either. They may have been born into the culture, they may have chosen the culture. Either way, tomato tomahto. You do you. I am accepting of every type of person and I cannot decide for someone else what works for them.

Look, I don’t know if my rambling (have I ever not rambled, though?) is doing any good for you, but I hope you learned something new. Obviously I cannot present an unbiased view because I am not an unbiased participant. I am nonjudgemental for sure, but unbiased I am not. If this topic interests you, don’t just take my word for it. My friend Google knows a lot more about this topic and would be happy to help you out. If not, that’s chill too. I hope you enjoyed the story and I am sorry I lied in the title. This post wasn’t a word. This post was 1876 words.

So You Think You Can’t Dance?

Hello Earpluggers!

This past Tuesday, I finally finally finally got to do an activity I haven’t done in two years.

What is it?

Dance.

Don’t get me wrong, I have danced at parties and shimmied around my room just as much, if not more than the next person. But what I have been itching to do is really dance. Dance like triple pirouette calypso roll to the ground bruised knees, sore body type dance. The kind I did in high school.

But wait! You exclaim. Dance? Aren’t you deaf?

Well sure, I reply, but what of it?

From an outsider’s perspective, I can see how this is a little bit oxymoronic. A deaf dancer? A blind painter? A paralyzed athlete? These types of people are not so common, but they DO exist. I can’t speak for the painter or the athlete (is dance a sport, though? Let’s save that can of worms for another day), I can certainly speak for myself, and here’s what I’ve got to say about this.

There are things a person CAN do, and things a person WON’T do. You’ll notice instead of saying “can’t” I said “won’t.” You may see where this is going.

Perhaps we can chalk this attitude up to a series of dance teachers who pushed me during every class and every private lesson to perform feats of dance with my own body I never before thought possible. Perhaps it is my disability, teaching me resilience. Either way, I feel that there is nothing a person cannot do if they really, truly, completely set their mind to it. I once heard the saying “if there’s a will, there’s a way.”

For me, there was a will. Granted, my first love was soccer. Then it was horseback riding. But once I realized that what I truly loved to do was groove to a great beat, I enrolled in dance classes.

But how? You may ask, still confused.

Here’s how. Prior to my implant, I really could not hear much when it came to music. I relied on the heavy downbeats and vibration of the bass in the floor to keep me on cue. I also would double, triple memorize the eight counts, and often times, those counts were the only thing I had to go off of. Accents in the music were all but lost on me.

It was hard, but it was doable. I found a way to pursue my passion without being held back by any disability.

Since my cochlear implant, my ability to hear music has made leaps and strides (pun SO intended), and my love for dance only grew. Now, I can hear accents in the music, lyrics, bass, downbeat, upbeat, sidebeat — well you get the point. If for some reason I don’t hear it, if someone points it out to me, I will pick up on it.

In fact, my biggest problem isn’t so much hearing the music as it is keeping the implant on my head. The force of a piroutte (turn) or a head roll is enough to send my implant flying across the room. Again, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I used double sided wig tape to secure the implant to my head, I wore an ear mold to anchor it to my ear, and I used a giant hair clip to fasten the magnet to my hair. It is complicated and it is slightly insane, but it works! With this crazy solution making, I was able to dance on my high school’s song team (also known as a pom dance team at other schools). I got to perform at basketball and football games, pep rallies, shows, open houses, and more. I loved every single second of it.

Sure, I had a disability that would seem, at first glance, to prevent me from participating in one of my absolute favorite activities, but the truth is, I knew that there was no way my heart and soul could be kept off a dance floor — and I acted accordingly. I believe that if anyone is compelled to, drawn to, lead to, dragged to any particular activity, no matter how crazy or far fetched it seems to that person, anything is possible. It takes guts, blood, sweat, tears, confidence, humbleness, resilience, perseverance, and more. I didn’t say success is a given, I said it was possible.

And possible, my friends, is where you start.

Curious to see what I look like when I dance? Can you guess which one I am? Check out this link. Then, come back to this page and scroll down for the answer. Also, thanks to my Song friend Sarah McVickar (who also appears in this video with me) for getting me to an empty dance room, and to Travell Johnson for some kick ass choreography.

https://vimeo.com/116429635

(I’m the one in pink).