2015 was a breakthrough year for Deaf artists. Deaf West’s Broadway revival of Spring Awakening inspired rave reviews at every turn. Artist Christine Sun Kim enchanted TedTalk viewers with “the music of sign language,” and the hashtag #DeafTalent (brainchild of filmmaker Jules Dameron) trended on Twitter, garnering widespread awareness for the importance of casting Deaf actors for d/Deaf roles. Deaf people also featured prominently in the world of hearing entertainment: Deaf model/actor Nyle DiMarco won the 2015 season of America’s Next Top Model; ABC Family’s Switched at Birth entered its fourth season starring an array of Deaf and hard of hearing actors. In addition, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s Ukrainian Sign Language film The Tribe took festivals by storm across the US and Europe. It seemed like centuries of stigma against deafness might actually be falling away.
But if we look deeper, “seemed” is indeed the operative term. Simultaneously, Deaf education throughout the developed world is in a state of crisis. The medical community continues to push medical devices on parents of deaf babies, with the accompanying medical advice that the child be enrolled in oral-only education. Bilingualism, the goal for many hearing children, is framed as a fallback for deaf ones, who are supposed to focus on learning to pass in the “normal” world.