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'CODA' won 'Best Picture' at the 94th annual Academy Awards, Troy Kotsur won the 'Best Supporting Actor,' and Siân Héder won the 'Best Adapted Screenplay.'

This milestone represents a significant victory for people with disabilities, especially deaf and hard-of-hearing people. It means dreams that can come true.

It means a future of more authentic representation of people with disabilities in all aspects of film creation. It can be behind the camera, in front of the camera, during the script adaptation, etc.

Sian Heder (right) accepts her Oscar for best adapted screenplay for ‘CODA’ | Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Last night, Siân Héder won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for her film 'CODA' at the 2022 Academy Awards. On her way to accept the Oscar award, she motioned the interpreter to join her on stage to sign the speech. It is a defining moment in history for Hollywood. The practice of inclusion and accessibility needs to be in your living room for everyone to see. The winner of an award bringing an interpreter on stage spoke volumes as this has never happened in the Academy Awards history! This gesture may seem small, but it was a tear-jerking experience as we finally understood the acceptance speech in our language, American Sign Language. Sian was not thinking of just herself; she was thinking about providing communication access to millions of people who are deaf, including her team. Siân Héder is who I call a 'true ally' to the disability community. We need more of 'Siân Héder's in this world.

Did you know that Apple TV+ has beat out Netflix to become the first streaming service to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards? It's all because of "CODA's" triumph.

'CODA' was a great example of the inclusion of deaf people during the beginning, middle, and end of the creation. CODA will be forever known as an original film. This act of inclusion fosters a culture of respect and belonging, which is seen loud and clear.

Troy Kotsur, the winner of the "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar, dedicated his award to "the deaf community, the CODA community, and the disabled community," saying, "This is our moment."

Yes, Troy! This major victory of winning three Oscars is our moment to show the world that chasing after dreams is possible.

The National Football Conference champion Los Angeles Rams defeated the American Football Conference champion Cincinnati Bengals, 23–20. Congratulations to the LA Rams for winning the Superbowl trophy. Yet, the entire programming of the Super Bowl left a bad taste in my mouth.

As a deaf person, I always anticipated seeing the national anthem and "America the Beautiful" performed by professional deaf entertainers who use American Sign Language.

This time, we saw an influx in news publications leading up to the Super Bowl event to see the Deaf performers on television. I'm letting out a sigh of relief, "Finally! It's about time that we are starting to see the inclusion of Deaf people on the screen for millions of people who have hearing loss to be able to have access."

It ended up becoming a significant disappointment for the deaf community as the ASL performers were excluded from the halftime performances and cast aside in a dark area where it's difficult to see the signers. Did you see the ASL performers on screen? Were you able to view the entire show in ASL on your TV screen? I didn't think so. The ASL performers were put in the endzone, in the dark, where it isn't easy to see the performance. The only way to see the ASL performance was through different programming that only a limited number of people knew about it and could access. How is that equitable communication access? Another case in point, it was not captioned for our deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers to make it worse. Captioning is another form of accommodation that millions of people rely on for accessibility. I've heard stories from hearing people who prefer to view closed captions during music performances. The captioning was not visible on the screen during most of the show, and it's like listening to a concert without sound.

Did you know that during the ASL rendition of the National Anthem & "America the Beautiful," a man was standing in front of Sandra Mae Frank, pacing back and forth, taking his hat off, and scratching his head, blocking the view? In addition to the barriers to communication, the captioning on the NBCSports app was not showing at all.

I realized it was never about providing access to the deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind people. I see this as an act of tokenism.

Tokenism: "the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly." - Merriam Webster.

Deaf people were excluded from viewing the ASL rendition of the Superbowl performance. How many deaf people knew that they had to download an app or view a specific link to be able to enjoy the programming of SuperBowl Halftime performance or the national anthem? This type of accessibility requires the user to be savvy with technology and only accessible to those who subscribe to cable companies.

I got so many questions from the deaf community:

  • How do I access the app?

  • How does it work?

  • Where do I find the ASL show?

  • Why are the ASL performers not on stage?

  • Where are the captions?

It was overwhelming that I ended up spending the first half of the Superbowl making a video in ASL explaining to our deaf viewers how to set up access to view the ASL performers. I barely managed to help only a few deaf people in time before the Halftime Show.

Think of it, hearing people have the privilege to enjoy the show by just turning on the channel, watching it at a restaurant, or simply by showing up at the game. Functional equivalency means having the same benefits and access to entertainment, just like hearing people. Functional equivalency is ensuring that deaf people can also have the privilege of enjoying the show at a friend's house party, restaurant, or by showing up at the game. How is it possible to provide equitable access? The answer is right in front of you. Broadcast the ASL performers on a pip screen on the TV screen while on they are the stage for everyone to see while displaying accurate captioning. What's the point of hiring Deaf ASL performers when you are not planning on including them on stage for deaf viewers to see? Are we ashamed to show Deaf people on TV during the Superbowl Halftime Show?

What will it take for deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind people to be heard, seen, and valued as humans of society?

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Updated: Feb 7

A Blog about the Inaccurate Representation of Deaf People In Stock Photos

I'm shaking my head in disbelief.

I'm in the middle of a project which is a new flyer announcement for one of the Deaf culture training events, and yet I'm struggling to find a picture that is of a Deaf person in stock photos directories. When I type the word "deaf" in the search bar, you will find several "fake deaf people" in the stock photo records, more than I can count. Any sighted person who lives with hearing loss, or works with deaf people, can immediately notice if the person in the photo is deaf. It all comes down to body language, facial expressions, and other nuances. The pictures with the fake deaf representation give away visible clues that the person cannot hear. Why is it important to emphasize that the deaf person does not hear you in the photo? Second of all, why is the takeaway message displaying helplessness?

The message is loud and clear in the pictures, depicting acts of audism. Audism is an attitude based on pathological thinking that results in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear; like racism or sexism, audism judges, labels, and limits individuals based on whether a person hears and speaks (Humphrey & Alcorn, 1995: 85). Audism also reflects the medical view of deafness as a disability that must be fixed.

The mission behind Access Vine's training is to dismantle the bias that Deaf people are not intelligent, not successful, or capable of doing anything. This photo below is offensive because it's making fun of deaf people. Please tell me, how do we ensure we are creating and telling stories that are a force for good and that entertain and empower other people who have a disability?

Person in a suit and bowler hat cupping their hands behind her ears, showing a silly facial expression.
By Getty Images.

Authenticity Means Everything to Us

"Nothing About Us Without Us" is a slogan used to communicate the idea that any representative should decide no policy without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy. In its modern form, this often involves national, ethnic, disability-based, or other marginalized groups from political, social, and economic opportunities.

We need to push for authentic representation of people with disabilities in stock photos. ‍If marginalized groups aren't able to see themselves in the media, it has a drastic and negative impact on their ideas of self-worth. Authentic representation means so much to the disability community to be seen, heard, and understood. Because there's a lack of accurate pictures of a deaf person in stock photos, it conveys that deaf people are not valued or included. The misrepresentation reinforces the acts of oppression and discrimination. It's already known that Deaf people do not have equal access to job opportunities, social services, medical care, mental health services, and more.

To reject deaf people from the opportunity to be a part of representation is the opposite act of inclusion.

It's becoming too familiar for us to find pictures of fake deaf actors cupping their hands behind their ears or plugging in their ears, expressing frustration. The common denominator that I'm noticing in most "deaf" pictures is the show of the ears while displaying emotions: goofiness, despair, helplessness, fear, confusion, or anger. Who decides what kind of message to send the public portraying deaf people? The photographer? Director of photography? The model who's acting like a deaf person? Let's save you and everyone some money and the trouble. Do not try to publish photos with hearing, non-disabled people representing a disability not part of their identity. Do you want to share pictures of deaf people cupping their hands behind their ears while experiencing despair, helplessness, fear, confusion, or anger? I didn't think so.

White man in blue collar shirt and hearing aids with hands cupped behind his ears, showing a confused facial expression.
By Getty Images

White woman laughing with both hands cupped behind her ears while wearing hearing aids.
By Getty Images

White bearded man in eyeglasses holding hand behind ear, with a puzzled look on his face.
By Getty Images

What in the world are you trying to say?

Another point to make is that when a hearing person who does not know sign language is trying to model as a deaf person, they try to imitate sign language but don't do it in the most natural way possible. The photos do not reflect the communication etiquette taught in deaf culture training sessions. For example, both individuals are signing at the same time. I see a pattern of pictures with the same signs - the First person is signing "F" but awkwardly - like the index finger and the thumb forming a perfect circle. As a deaf person, it's hard to sign F the same way; it even hurts my hand. In the same photo, the next person is signing "help."

Are you saying that Deaf people need help?

To add insult to injury, several pictures tagged "deaf" are of non-disabled actors acting deaf are sitting there, not doing anything productive but signing the word "help." Why is the word in sign language "help" in most deaf stock photos? Did you know that The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words in current use (and 47,156 obsolete words)? Out of a total number 218,632 words, you couldn't think of another word other than "help"?

Deaf people come from all walks of life. There are many distinct Deaf communities around the world, which communicate using different sign languages and exhibit different cultural norms. Deaf identity also intersects with other kinds of cultural identity. There are 48 million people who have some degree of hearing loss. Are you not able to find a person who has some degree of hearing loss?

Let's go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves, "How would deaf, DeafBlind, or hard-of-hearing people want to be portrayed in mainstream media?" It's easier than you think. Hire a team of deaf individuals who are qualified and can showcase the natural beauty of the deaf culture. Just know that we will not portray deaf people as helpless people who cannot hear. Deaf people can be independent and successful, just like hearing, non-disabled people. Deaf people are human beings who cannot hear. It doesn't mean our brains do not work, and it doesn't mean that we need help all the time.

Let's Make it Right

We need to push for positive changes in this world, such as more education and awareness about deaf culture, being more inclusive and learning how to work with Deaf and hard of hearing people with dignity and respect. Let's do better and take action by reporting the pictures depicting audism and replacing it with an authentic representation of deaf people in different roles such as employers, employees, case managers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, actors, models, and CEO. Let's work together inclusively by hiring deaf, DeafBlind, and hard-of-hearing photographers, media gurus, directors, models, and trainers to invest in improving the quality of disability representation in stock photo directories.


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