Over the last 30 years the deaf community has become increasingly represented within Hollywood. Deaf actors and actresses have dispelled misconceptions about deaf people and have demonstrated that you don’t have to have perfect hearing to be a star – just talent. Hearing-impaired stars have also worked as teachers and advocates for the deaf. Education and activism have been a passion for many stars — they have been instrumental in educating the public about deafness and deaf culture. They have also pushed for legislation important to the deaf community and have opened doors for new generations of artists.
Marlee Matlin is one of the best-known deaf actresses in the country. Matlin received a Best Actress Academy Award for her film debut in the 1986 movie Children of a Lesser God opposite William Hurt. Matlin gave a brilliant portrayal of a troubled young deaf woman who falls in love with a teacher in deaf education. The role drew praise from the deaf community and made her a star overnight. From there Matlin starred in the movies Walker, Hear No Evil and The Player. Matlin starred in her own TV series, Reasonable Doubts, as well as the TV series Picket Fences and The West Wing. She has also appeared on Dancing with the Stars and Celebrity Apprentice. Matlin is also currently a celebrity spokesperson for The Red Cross and helped get legislation passed in Congress to support closed captioning.
Sean Berdy made his film debut as the mischievous deaf boy Sammy “Fingers” Samuelson in the 2005 movie The Sandlot 2. He has also played deaf people in the films The Deaf Family and The Legend of the Mountain Man before landing a role as Emmett Bledsoe in the TV series Switched at Birth, a series about two girls who were switched at birth. Berdy says he likes the accurate way that deaf culture is handled in the show’s script. The popular Berdy was named Mr. Deaf Teen America in 2010 and was nominated for “TV Breakout Star” on the Teen Choice Awards in 2011.
Russell Harvard worked in deaf education at a school for the deaf in Alaska before graduating from Gallaudet College in 2008. Harvard’s debut in a first-run film was as the adult H.W. Plainview in the movie There Will Be Blood. He later starred as the wrestler Matt Hamill, who won a national collegiate championship in spite of his deafness, in The Hammer. Most recently, Harvard starred in an off-Broadway production of Tribes. He plays a young deaf man who struggles to be heard by his boisterous hearing family.
Katie Leclerc’s first big role was on the TV show Veronica Mars. Since then she has appeared in the feature films The Inner Circle, and Flying By with Billy Ray Cyrus. Currently she stars as Daphne Vasquez in the TV series Switched at Birth, a series that follows the lives of two deaf people, her character’s and Sean Berdy’s. The show has been praised for its accurate depiction of the deaf culture. Leclerc has also spoken out about Meniere’s disease, the cause of her deafness, to raise awareness of the condition.