Deaf Actresses: Trailblazers in the Performing Arts

The world of performing arts has long been enriched by the diverse talents of actors from various backgrounds, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Deaf actresses, in particular, have made significant contributions to both stage and screen, overcoming unique challenges and bringing depth and authenticity to their roles. This article shines a spotlight on some of the most influential deaf actresses who have not only excelled in their craft but also served as advocates and role models within the deaf community and the entertainment industry at large.

Marlee Matlin: Breaking Boundaries with Talent

Marlee Matlin stands as a towering figure in the world of deaf actresses. Born in 1965 in Illinois, Matlin lost her hearing at 18 months due to illness. Despite this, she pursued acting passionately. Her breakout role came in 1986 with the film “Children of a Lesser God,” for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Matlin’s win was groundbreaking, making her the first (and to date, only) deaf performer to win an Oscar. Her career spans television and film, including appearances in shows like “The West Wing” and “Switched at Birth.” Matlin has also been a fierce advocate for the deaf community, pushing for greater inclusion and accessibility in the entertainment industry.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Marlee Matlin.”

Phyllis Frelich: A Pioneer on Stage

Phyllis Frelich, born in 1944, was a trailblazer in theater. She was the oldest of nine deaf children in her family and attended the North Dakota School for the Deaf. Frelich’s major success came with her leading role in the Broadway production of “Children of a Lesser God,” a play written specifically for her by Mark Medoff. Her performance earned her a Tony Award for Best Actress in 1980, making her one of the first deaf actresses to receive such recognition. Frelich’s impact on stage opened doors for many deaf actors and actresses who followed in her footsteps.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Phyllis Frelich.”

Lauren Ridloff: A Modern Marvel

Lauren Ridloff, born in 1978, is a contemporary deaf actress known for her breakthrough role in the 2018 Broadway revival of “Children of a Lesser God,” earning a Tony nomination for her performance. Ridloff’s acting career began somewhat unexpectedly; she was initially a teacher and Miss Deaf America (2000-2002) before transitioning to acting. She gained wider recognition for her role in the popular TV series “The Walking Dead” and made history by playing the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film “Eternals” (2021). Ridloff’s roles have been pivotal in increasing visibility and representation for the deaf community in mainstream media.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Lauren Ridloff.”

Shoshannah Stern: A Versatile Talent

Shoshannah Stern, born in 1980, is another prominent deaf actress known for her versatility in both television and film. Born into a fourth-generation deaf family, Stern has been an advocate for deaf culture from a young age. She has appeared in numerous TV shows, including “Jericho,” “Weeds,” and “Supernatural.” Stern co-created and starred in the critically acclaimed TV series “This Close,” which broke new ground as a show written, produced, and performed by deaf individuals. Her work has been instrumental in showcasing the deaf experience in entertainment.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Shoshannah Stern.”

Deanne Bray: A Role Model on Screen

Deanne Bray, born in 1971, is best known for her lead role in the TV series “Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye,” which was loosely based on the true story of a deaf FBI analyst. Bray, who is deaf since birth, has also made guest appearances in several other TV shows, including “Heroes” and “CSI.” Her portrayal of Sue Thomas was significant for many in the deaf community, as it provided a rare example of a deaf character being portrayed authentically on mainstream television.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Deanne Bray.”

Millicent Simmonds: A Rising Star

Millicent Simmonds, a young and rising star in the deaf acting community, was born in 2003. She gained acclaim for her role in the 2017 film “Wonderstruck” and further recognition for her performance in the horror hit “A Quiet Place” (2018) and its sequel. Simmonds, who lost her hearing due to a medication overdose as an infant, has been praised for bringing a powerful depth and authenticity to her roles. She has also been an advocate for deaf actors and the importance of authentic representation in the media.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Millicent Simmonds.”

Amanda McDonough: A Fresh Face in Hollywood

Amanda McDonough is a newer talent in the realm of deaf actresses. She is known for her role in the TV series “Switched at Birth,” where she played a deaf student. McDonough, who became deaf in her early twenties, has been open about her journey and the challenges she faced in adapting to a new way of life. Her work in entertainment and as a motivational speaker has made her an inspirational figure for those experiencing hearing loss later in life.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Amanda McDonough.”


The contributions of these deaf actresses are not just limited to their performances; they have played a crucial role in bringing about a greater understanding and acceptance of the deaf community in the arts. Their achievements serve as a testament to the fact that talent and determination know no barriers. As the entertainment industry continues to evolve, it is imperative that the inclusion and representation of deaf actors and actresses remain a priority, ensuring that their stories and perspectives are given the platform they deserve.

The journeys of these actresses, filled with challenges, triumphs, and groundbreaking achievements, are not only inspiring but also pivotal in shaping a more inclusive and diverse entertainment industry. Their legacy paves the way for future generations of deaf actors and actresses, promising a richer, more varied tapestry of storytelling in the arts.

Trailblazing Deaf Actresses: Continuing the Legacy

As we delve further into the world of deaf actresses, it becomes increasingly clear how their resilience, talent, and advocacy have paved the way for greater inclusivity and representation in the arts. Each actress brings a unique story and perspective, contributing significantly to both the deaf and the broader entertainment community.

Amber Zion: A Versatile Performer

Amber Zion, another prominent figure in the deaf acting community, has made a notable impact with her versatile performances. Born in 1980, Zion attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and has since been active in both theater and television. Her work extends beyond acting, as she is also known for her advocacy in promoting American Sign Language (ASL) and the rights of deaf individuals. Zion’s appearances include roles in television series such as “House, M.D.” and “Criminal Minds,” where she brings authenticity and depth to her characters.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Amber Zion.”

Sandra Mae Frank: A Dynamic Presence on Stage and Screen

Sandra Mae Frank, an emerging talent in the deaf acting scene, has been gaining attention for her dynamic performances. Her most notable work includes a leading role in the Deaf West Theatre’s production of “Spring Awakening,” which was performed in both ASL and spoken English. This production highlighted the potential for inclusive theater and brought critical acclaim to Frank and her fellow performers. Her work in television, including a role in the series “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” showcases her ability to bridge the gap between deaf and hearing audiences.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Sandra Mae Frank.”

Alexandria Wailes: A Multifaceted Artist

Alexandria Wailes, born in 1976, is a deaf actress, dancer, and director known for her multifaceted contributions to the arts. She has performed on Broadway, including in Deaf West’s production of “Big River” and the revival of “Spring Awakening.” Wailes’ work extends to television and film, and she is also a respected advocate for deaf artists, working to ensure their representation and accessibility in the entertainment industry. Her diverse skill set and dedication to her craft make her a role model for aspiring deaf performers.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Alexandria Wailes.”

Treshelle Edmond: A Rising Talent in Theater

Treshelle Edmond is a younger actress who has been making waves in the theater world. Known for her performance in the Deaf West Theatre’s production of “Spring Awakening,” Edmond has also appeared in television shows such as “Glee” and “House, M.D.” Her work showcases the importance of providing platforms for deaf actors in mainstream media and the unique perspectives they bring to their roles.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of Treshelle Edmond.”

TL Forsberg: Pushing Boundaries in Performance

TL Forsberg is a deaf actress and singer who has been recognized for her work in pushing the boundaries of performance art. Identifying as a ‘Deaf-Enough’ artist, Forsberg’s work explores themes of identity and the intersectionality within the deaf community. Her performances challenge conventional narratives about deafness and disability, making her a thought-provoking and influential figure in the arts.

Read our in-depth article on, “The Life of TL Forsberg.”

Conclusion: The Ongoing Journey

The stories of these deaf actresses are more than just tales of personal triumph; they are narratives that challenge and expand our understanding of what is possible in the world of performing arts. Their contributions have not only enriched the tapestry of entertainment but also provided invaluable representation for the deaf community. As the entertainment industry continues to evolve, the influence of these actresses ensures that the journey towards inclusivity and diversity in the arts is an ongoing and dynamic one.

Their legacy is a testament to the power of resilience, talent, and advocacy in breaking barriers and creating a more inclusive world. As we look to the future, the impact of these deaf actresses will undoubtedly inspire new generations of performers, continuing to enrich the performing arts with diverse voices and perspectives.