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Blog Articles by: Marta Belsky

Living Loud: Robert Panara – Pioneer of Deaf Studies, Author, Historian, Poet, and Teacher

Deaf Culture   |  Monday, July 15, 2019

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

Dr. Robert F. Panara was much more than just a member of the Deaf community, he was an author, historian, poet, and a worldwide authority on deaf figures in literature. While these are all notable achievements, his biggest achievement was being a pioneer of Deaf Studies - the first deaf professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and founder of both the NTID Department of English and NTID’s Experimental Education Theatre program.1, 3

Robert Panara Quote
Robert Panara’s poem, “On His Deafness,” won first prize in the World Poetry Contest in 1988.
(Photo Credit: NTID Performing Arts.)

Early Life

Robert Panara, who went by the name Bob, was born on July 8th, 1920 in The Bronx of New York City, but according to an article in The Economist his life did not start until January 19th, 1931 when, at the age of 10, he became deaf after contracting spinal meningitis on his mother’s birthday. The meningitis caused blurred vision, temporary loss of feeling in his arm, and damage to his auditory nerves. It was not until a nurse had attempted to speak with Panara that they realized the illness had caused deafness.2

Finding a Passion for Deaf Studies

“ What the world needs today is more teaching that comes from the heart and soul and not of the coldly conservative and somewhat reticent mind.
     -
Robert Panara

Growing up Panara attended a mainstream school and would rely on fellow students to help him with taking notes. After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, he learned American Sign Language in Hartford, Connecticut at the American School for the Deaf. In 1940 Panara started working on his bachelor’s degree at Gallaudet University. During his time at Gallaudet, Panara published several papers that helped establish him as one of the pioneers in the deaf education field.1 One paper specifically, “The Significance of the Reading Problem,” articulated his views on teaching methods. Panara believed that “what the world needs today is more teaching that comes from the heart and soul and not of the coldly conservative and somewhat reticent mind.” This would set the tone of his teaching style in the future.1

Panara graduated from Gallaudet in 1945 and went on to earn a master’s degree in English from New York University (NYU). He was the first deaf person to earn a master’s degree from NYU.1 He would later have many more achievements just like this one.

Robert and Shirley Panara
Shirley and Robert Panara. (Photo Credit: NTID Performing Arts.)

Panara met his wife Shirley at a wedding and they got married in 1947. She was a deaf librarian, teacher, coach, sports enthusiast, and even played the drums on occasion. She was the first deaf librarian at the Library of Congress. They had a son, John, and two grandchildren.3

Panera taught at the New York School for the Deaf and then was hired to teach at Gallaudet University in 1948, where he taught for nearly 20 years. Then he joined the newly formed National Technical Institute for the Deaf (part of the Rochester Institute of Technology) and taught and was an administrator there for another 20 years.7

Robert Panara and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf

Robert Panara
Robert Panara (Photo Credit: RIT/NTID via Washington Post)

As a pioneer of deaf studies, Robert Panara helped change the life of many people in the deaf community. An article in the American Annals of the Deaf stated, “In 1965, he was invited by the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, John W. Gardner to serve on a national advisory board for the establishment of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID).” That experience would later lead to him being hired as the first deaf faculty member at NTID in 1967.1 He also was the founder and first chairman of NTID’s Department of English.3 During his time at NTID he would receive multiple awards and honors, but one of his most notable would be founding the NTID Experimental Education Theatre program as well as being one of the founding members of the National Theatre of the Deaf.1

Robert and Shirley Panara receiving award
Robert Panara receiving an award in 1988 at NTID with his wife Shirley. (Photo Credit: NTID.)

Panara created a form of production that could be accessible equally for both Deaf and hearing audience members. This would be not only for the audience, but also backstage and on-stage. Alongside the NTID drama club members, he was able to use “experimentation and imagination” as one of the foundations of the productions. They created bodies of art that enriched lives of the thousands of attendees. A 500-seat auditorium was built in his honor in the early 1970’s and would open as The Robert F. Panara Theatre on October 3rd, 1974 with the first production taking place in the space being Shakespeare’s play Taming of the Shrew. The theatre has hosted famous guests such as Phyllis Frelich, Marlee Matlin, Bernard Bragg, American Deaf Dance Company, Jane Fonda, and many other notable entertainers.6 This was a huge honor for Panara that brought awareness and artistic growth to the Deaf Community.

The Robert F. Panara Theatre was not the only honor Panara was given during his time at NTID. Other awards include: RIT Founders Award, the RIT Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching, and the NTID Student Association Outstanding Staff Award (McGrain, 2014).

Robert Panara US Stamp
A U.S. stamp was issued in honor of Robert Panara on April 11, 2017 as part of the Distinguished Americans series.  (Photo Credit: USPS)

He was even honored with being the subject of a United States Postal Service stamp. The stamp is the 16th in the Distinguished American’s series. Robert’s son John stated, “I’m very proud to see my dad honored and Deaf culture recognized in this way, and I want to thank the personnel at the USPS Stamp Development Office for all their work in the design process.”5 This was a great honor not only for Robert, but also for NTID and the Deaf community.

Leaving a Legacy

Panara died on July 20th, 2014 at the age of 94.2 Friends and colleagues described his positive perspective on life as well as the way he engaged with his students as admirable. In an interview with Harry Lang, NTID professor emeritus, Lang states that “his work [with the NTID drama club] helped the actors show the beauty of American Sign Language and opened minds and doors in so many ways. He had a true talent for translating the most complex of subjects, like Shakespeare, into ASL.”1 Lang was not only one of Panara’s colleagues, but also a close friend. It is clear that his impact on the Deaf community was influential.

Thanks to his many contributions to NTID and his many publications during his time at Gallaudet which demonstrated his focused teaching methods, Robert was named a pioneer of deaf studies.1 His legacy will live on and his place in the Deaf community will be forever remembered.

Biography About Robert Panara

Books by Robert Panara

  

Robert Panara Stamps

Resources

  1. McGrain, V. (2014). In Memoriam: Robert F. Panara. American Annals of the Deaf 159(4), 313-314. Gallaudet University Press. Retrieved from Project MUSE database https://muse.jhu.edu/article/561759

  2. Obituary: Robert Panara. (2014, August 1). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/obituary/2014/08/01/robert-panara

  3. Our History. (n.d.). NTID Performing Arts. Retrieved from https://www.ntid.rit.edu/theatre/our-history

  4. Gallaudet Museum (2016, May 4). Unveiling of Panera Exhibit [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.gallaudet.edu/museum/exhibits/the-life-of-robert-panara/panara-exhibit-unveiling

  5. RIT/NTID founding faculty member Robert Panara to be immortalized on postage stamp. (2016, November 23). National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Retrieved from https://www.rit.edu/ntid/parentnews/2016/11/23/ritntid-founding-faculty-member-robert-panara-to-be-immortalized-on-postage-stamp/

  6. Robert F. Panara Theatre (n.d.). NTID Performing Arts. Retrieved from https://www.ntid.rit.edu/theatre/facilities/panara-theatre

  7. Stamp: Robert Panara (2017, April 11). USPS. Retrieved from https://store.usps.com/store/product/buy-stamps/robert-panara-S_114004

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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

Living Loud: Clayton Valli – ASL Linguist, Poet, Scholar, Teacher, and Author

Deaf Culture   |  Sunday, May 5, 2019

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

Clayton Valli
Clayton Valli (Photo Credit: Clayton Valli “Nurturing ASL Literature”)

American Sign Language (ASL) is its own beautiful and rich language that has its own unique grammar and syntax. This was proven by linguists at Gallaudet University in the mid-twentieth century. Since then, more aspects of ASL have been defined, including ASL literature. ASL Literature is defined as creative works that have stood the test of time and reflect the deaf experience. These can be visual works, folk lore, plays, legends, or even personal experiences. One significant genre is poetry. These signed works tell stories in visual ways and also have elements of poetry, just like written poetry.

Clayton Valli was a notable ASL poet and linguist who identified aspects of ASL poetry and was a significant community member who contributed to the growing legitimacy of ASL. On May 25, 1951 Clayton L Valli was born deaf in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He was named after his father and had two brothers and two sisters.

Education: First PhD in ASL Poetry

Valli earned his high school diploma from the Austine School for the Deaf in 1971, at the age of 20. The school was located in Brattleboro, Vermont. The first of many degrees that Valli earned during his lifetime was an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Photography from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Next, he finished a B.A. in Social Psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno. His further endeavors led him to Gallaudet University, the only Liberal Arts College for the Deaf in the world. He earned his master’s degree in Linguistics from Gallaudet in 1985. He also later worked at the school as a professor of linguistics and interpreting. After his master's degree, Valli went on to earn a doctorate degree from the Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was the first person to receive a Ph.D. in Linguistics and ASL Poetics.

“ ASL poetry has two hands you can use to express yourself and they can both be doing separate things, which can add a depth to the message that spoken poetry can’t do when you only have one tongue to use.
     - Clayton Valli

He gave a lecture on his dissertation at the second National American Sign Language Literature Conference in Rochester, New York. The conference took place March 28-31, 1996. During this presentation Valli expounds on his findings on ASL rhyme and meter in poetry. Valli compared rhyme in a written/spoken language poetry piece to repetition of signs or hand shapes in a visual language. Meter, or stressed and unstressed syllables within words being manipulated, was compared to the innate holds and moves of signs with ASL. He also talked about the richness of ASL poetry in contrast to written poetry. “ASL poetry has two hands you can use to express yourself and they can both be doing separate things, which can add a depth to the message that spoken poetry can’t do when you only have one tongue to use.”2 Valli told the audience about how ASL in its very nature, being a visual language, has more parts that make it a vibrant form of communication.

Scholar of ASL Linguistics

In addition to poetry, his career focused on Sociolinguistics, or the study of how language, such as structure and word choice is impacted by a person’s background, like race, gender, or geographic location. He did presentations and workshop around the US and Canada, teaching people about his findings.

Through his work on ASL linguistics, he authored several books and numerous articles. He co-authored a linguistics textbook specific to ASL titled, Linguistics of American Sign Language, which has been edited and revised many times. Valli also co-wrote three other large works: What’s Your Sign For Pizza?, Language Contact in the American Deaf Community, and Sociolinguistic Variation in American Sign Language. In addition to these, he also worked as an editor for the Gallaudet University Press, including serving as the editor of the textbook The Gallaudet Dictionary of American Sign Language.

Renowned Poet

Valli was a proponent of showing the legitimacy of ASL as a language and ASL poetry as a valid part of ASL Literature, even though there is not necessarily a written form. Additionally, Valli was an ASL poet himself. He wrote and performed many poems including Dandelions, I’m Sorry, My Favorite Old Summer House, Mushroom, and Snowflake, as well as many others.

Watch Valli's Dandelions Poem:

Since the first recording of sign language in 1913 by Veditz, the use of film and video has been an important way to capture and preserve sign language. Valli is no exception to this, as his collection of poetry titled, ASL Poetry: Selected Work of Clayton Valli is not printed in a book but is only available in DVD format, so it can be viewed in its origin language.

Continued Legacy

Though Valli died from complications related to AIDS in 2003, his work and influence is still significant in the Deaf community even today. His written and signed works continue to be a source of education and entertainment. His textbooks are still used in classrooms and universities today. His poems are studied, analyzed and recreated by students every year. Valli work also inspired other Deaf artists including Bernard Bragg and Nancy Rourke, the notable deaf painter.

Clayton Valli
The artwork above was created by Deaf painter Nancy Rourke in 2011. The painting on the left was inspired by Valli’s poem Dandelions. The image in the middle shows how his hand movement from the ASL poem inspired the artwork. The painting on the right is of Valli himself. (Photo Credit: Nancy Rourke, 2001. Deaf Art:Valli's Dandelions and Clayton Valli.

Additionally, there are two memorial scholarships in his name at his alma mater and former workplace, Gallaudet University, for students perusing their education. He is greatly missed by the deaf community but his impact as a linguist, poet, scholar, teacher, and author still continues.

DVDs:

Books:

  

 

Resources

  1. Sign Language Studies (2003). In memoriam: Clayton L. Valli. Sign Language Studies, 3(4), 504-505.

  2. [ASLit 4ever]. (2018, April 11). Clayton Valli “Nurturing ASL Literature” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIr8gYX1fsE

  3. Lapiak, J. (n.d.). Clayton Valli. HandSpeak. Retrieved from 
    https://www.handspeak.com/study/index.php?id=95

  4. MSM Productions, Ltd. (n.d.). Clayton L. Valli. Deaf People. Retrieved from https://www.deafpeople.com/history/history_info/valli.html 

  5. The Washington Post. (2003, March 11). Dr. Clayton L. Valli Obituary. Retrieved from: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?fhid=4699&n=clayton-l-valli&pid=852032

  6. Rourke, N. (n.d.). Deaf Art: Valli’s Dandelions. Retrieved from https://www.nancyrourke.com/vallisdandelions.htm

Signing Savvy is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking signingsavvy.com to Amazon properties. That means Signing Savvy may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, your cost will be exactly the same regardless, but Signing Savvy will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us continue to improve Signing Savvy!

 

View/Add Comments (0 comments)

About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

Living Loud: Kitty O’Neil – The Fastest Woman in the World, Stuntwoman, and Racer

Deaf Culture   |  Sunday, March 24, 2019

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

Kitty O'Neal
Kitty O'Neil in 1976 with the rocket-powered SMI Motivator vehicle she used to set the land-speed record for women - a record she still holds today. (Photo Credit: Ky Michaelson)

Known as "the fastest woman in the world," Kitty O’Neil was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on March 24, 1946. She became deaf at the age of 4 months. She had a variety of illnesses including measles, mumps and the chicken pox - one or all of which led to her becoming profoundly deaf.

Despite her early illnesses, she became a phenomenal athlete. She said, "My mother pushed me to read lips… but she didn’t push me in sports – I did that myself. Because I was deaf, I had a very positive mental attitude. You have to show people you can do anything."

She fell in love with swimming and diving. She finished in twelfth place in the U.S. team trials for the Olympics in Tokyo, where she specialized in diving. Her Olympic dream came to a quick stop in 1964 when she became ill with spinal meningitis. She was told the illness would likely paralyze her. She survived spinal meningitis, only to battle two rounds of cancer by her 28th birthday. However, O’Neil wasn’t one to be defeated. "When I was 18, I was told I couldn’t get a job because I was deaf. But I said someday I’m going to be famous in sports to show them I can do anything." She lived up to her vow.

“ I’m not afraid of anything.
     - Kitty O’Neil

After regaining her health, she turned her attention to racing and performing stunts. She was small, at 5ft 2in tall and just 97 pounds, but she said her size made her light and quick and better to withstand impact. Most importantly, she was fearless. "I’m not afraid of anything," she said.

In 1976, at the age of 30, O’Neil was the first woman to be accepted into Stunts Unlimited, an organization of Hollywood’s top stunt people. She did stunts in TV shows and movies like Quincy, Baretta, The Bionic Woman, Smokey and the Bandit II, The Blues Brothers, and Airport ’77.

Kitty O'Neal
Falling 127 feet as Wonder Woman in 1979, O’Neil set a women’s high-fall record. (Photo Credit: IMBd)

Some considered her to be like a real-world Wonder Woman and in 1979 she performed her most famous Hollywood stunt as a double for Wonder Woman. She plunged headfirst down 127 feet from the 12-story Valley Hilton in Sherman Oaks, California onto an inflatable air bag set up on the hotel's pool deck. "If I hadn't hit the center of the bag, I probably would have been killed," she told The Washington Post. With the fall, she set a women’s high-fall record, however, she would later beat her own record with a 180 foot fall from a helicopter.

Kitty O'Neal
Mattel created a Kitty O’Neil action figure in 1978.

In 1978 Mattel created a Kitty O’Neil action figure and in 1979 a television film was made about her life called Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story. Stockard Channing stared as O’Neil and, of course, O’Neil did her own stunts. She later commented that about half of the movie was true.

Kitty O'Neal
Kitty O'Neil at the Eureka Pioneer Museum in Eureka, South Dakota. (Photo Credit: IMBd)

From racing boats, cars, dune buggies, motorcycles, a three-wheeled machine, and even holding a record for the fastest speed while waterskiing, she set 22 speed records on land and water during her career.

She died November 2, 2018, at the age of 72 in Eureka, South Dakota. The local Museum in Eureka showcases memorabilia from her career as a stuntwoman and racer. She is still the fastest woman driver ever and continues to hold the land-speed record today.

See It Signed - Example Sentence

See this example sentence about Kitty O'Neil signed:

Kitty O'Neil Example

English Sentence: Did you see the movie about the life of Kitty O’Neil, a deaf stuntwoman and racer?
ASL Gloss: YOU FINISH SEE MOVIE ABOUT DEAF WOMAN HERSELF FAMOUS S-T-U-N-T WOMAN AND CAR RACER. HER NAME K-I-T-T-Y O’-N-E-I-L.
 

Become a Member of Signing Savvy to see more example sentences signed, including example sentences related to Deaf Culture.

Resources

  1. Barnes, Mike (2018, November 5). Kitty O'Neil, Famed Hollywood Stuntwoman and Daredevil, Dies at 72. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/kitty-oneil-dead-hollywood-stuntwoman-daredevil-was-72-1158193

  2. History.com Editors (2009, November 13). Deaf stuntwoman Kitty O’Neil sets women’s land-speed record. History.com. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/deaf-stuntwoman-kitty-oneil-sets-womens-land-speed-record

  3. Hutchinson, Pamela (2018, November 7). Kitty O'Neil: the incredible story of the fastest woman in the world. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/nov/07/kitty-oneil-fastest-woman-in-the-world-obituary

  4. Kelly, Kate (2011, March 7). Kitty O’Neil (1947-2018), Stuntwoman. America Comes Alive. Retrieved from https://americacomesalive.com/2011/03/07/kitty-oneil-stuntwoman/

  5. Wikipedia contributors. (2019, February 25). Kitty O'Neil. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitty_O%27Neil

 

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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

Living Loud: Phyllis Frelich - Actress, Innovator, and Tony Award Winner

Living Loud: Phyllis Frelich - Actress, Innovator, and Tony Award Winner

Deaf Culture   |  Sunday, March 10, 2019

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

Phyllis Frelich
Phyllis Frelich was crowned homecoming queen in 1958 at the North Dakota School for the Deaf. (Photo Credit: North Dakota School for the Deaf Legacy of the Frelich Family)

Phyllis Frelich was born on February 29, 1944 (on Leap Day) in Devils Lake, North Dakota and was the oldest of her 9 siblings. Like both of her parents and all of her siblings, she was deaf and attended the North Dakota School for the Deaf. Her parents Philip and Esther were leading members of the Deaf community. They were actively involved with events at the North Dakota School for the Deaf and in the local Deaf community, and also both served as state officers for the North Dakota Association of the Deaf. She was a cheerleader and Homecoming Queen at the North Dakota School for the Deaf.

A Love for Acting

When Phyllis showed a dramatic flair in school in North Dakota in the 1950’s, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity or call for Deaf actors. When she went to Gallaudet College (now called Gallaudet University), there was no drama or theatre degree offered, she was discouraged from pursuing acting, and was told repeatedly there wasn’t a future in acting for deaf performers, so she got a degree in Library Science.

Her graduation gift, however, was connecting with others who had talent, imagination, and desire, including the group who founded the National Theater for the Deaf in 1967. This led to her first TV role on NBC’s nationally syndicated Theater of the Deaf, which was the first television show with deaf actors using sign language rather than mime.

Phyllis Frelich acting
Frelich starred as Sarah Norman in 887 performances over more than two years while Children of a Lesser God was on Broadway. It was the longest running play in the Longacre Theatre. (Photo Credit: Playbill: What 41 Shows Ran the Longest in Each Broadway Theatre?

Phyllis Frelich
Frelich with co-star John Rubenstein with their Tony Awards in 1980. (Photo Credit: North Dakota School for the Deaf Legacy of the Frelich Family)

Her theatre work reached a zenith in 1980, when she played the leading female role in the Broadway production of Children of a Lesser God, written by Mark Medoff. It was about the romantic relationship between a deaf student and her teacher and it has been said that Medoff was largely inspired by the relationship of Phyllis and her hearing husband when he wrote the play. The play won the Tony award for Best Play, and Frelich became the first Deaf person to win a Tony award, for Best Actress. She was also nominated for an Emmy Award for her performance in the 1985 television movie Love Is Never Silent.

She made several television guest appearances, on shows including Barney Miller, ER, L.A. Law, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. She performed the ASL interpretation of Jewel's rendition of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXXII.

She toured all over the world with the National Theater of the Deaf as well as with Deaf West, where she performed in shows like "Big River" and "The House of Bernarda Alba." She also took on gender-switching performances in "The Gin Game" (playing Weller Martin) and "Equus" (playing Dr. Dysart).

Activist and Trailblazer

“ We are a cultural minority. We feel we are different by language, not by physical disability.
     - Phyllis Frelich

Frelich didn’t take a back seat or give up when she was told there weren’t opportunities for deaf performers. Instead, she led the way, trailblazing a path for others, and became an activist for the rights of deaf actors. Frelich said she did not consider deafness a handicap and explained, “We are a cultural minority. We feel we are different by language, not by physical disability.”

Phyllis Frelich
This portrait of Frelich was painted by Vern Skaug and is displayed in the North Dakota Rough Rider Hall of Fame in Bismarck, ND. She was presented with the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award by the Governor of North Dakota in 1981. (Photo Credit: North Dakota School for the Deaf Legacy of the Frelich Family)

Though she and others paved the way for deaf actors and actresses, Frelich said “There are fewer stereotypes about deaf people than there used to be but Hollywood still tends to believe that deaf characters are either angry and bitter and/or victims; maybe that’s why deaf actresses work more than deaf actors, at least on TV. They’re women, they’re deaf, they’re victims. What we need are more deaf writers writing about our experiences truthfully.”

Phyllis Frelich died April 10, 2014, at the age of 70. Her obituary in the Washington Post called her “one of the most prominent deaf actresses of her generation,” citing not only her awards but also her work as the first deaf member to serve on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild and her advocacy for the rights of deaf actors.

See It Signed - Example Sentence

See this example sentence about Phyllis Frelich signed:

Phyllis Frelich Example

ASL Gloss: P-H-Y-L-L-I-S F-R-E-L-I-C-H HERSELF DEAF ACTRESS FAMOUS WHY? WIN T-O-N-Y AWARD FOR PLAY “CHILDREN O-F A L-E-S-S-E-R GOD.”

English Example: Phyllis Frelich was a deaf actress and famous for winning the 1980 Best Actress Tony Award for the play "Children of a Lesser God."

Become a Member of Signing Savvy to see more example sentences signed, including example sentences related to Deaf Culture.

Resources

  1. Bakken, Lilia. North Dakota School for the Deaf Legacy of the Frelich Family. North Dakota School for the Deaf Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Retrieved from: https://www.nd.gov/ndsd/sites/ndsd/files/documents/history/docs/Frelich%20Legacy%20Finished.pdf

  2. Horwitz, Simi (2004, May 14). Medoff's Muse: Phyllis Frelich. Backstage. Retrieved from: https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/medoffs-muse-phyllis-frelich-39589/

  3. McDonough, Megan (2014, April 14). Phyllis Frelich, deaf actress who won Tony for 'Children of a Lesser God,' Dies at 70. Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/phyllis-frelich-deaf-actress-who-won-tony-for-children-of-a-lesser-god-dies-at-70/2014/04/14/46fd6cf0-c3e2-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html

  4. National Theatre of the Deaf Performance Log. National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD). http://www.ntd.org/ntd_past-performances.html

  5. Phyllis Frelich. Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/phyllis-frelich-41308

  6. Phyllis Frelich. Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com, Inc. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0293992/ 

 

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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

Living Loud: Mandy Harvey – Singer, Ambassador, and Author

Living Loud: Mandy Harvey – Singer, Ambassador, and Author

Deaf Culture   |  Sunday, January 27, 2019

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

Mandy Harvey
Mandy Harvey (Photo Credit: Noam Galai, Retreived from Episode 5: Interview with Deaf Singer Mandy Harvey)

Mandy Harvey was born hearing, but her life took an unexpected turn when she became deaf at the age of eighteen. As a child, Harvey was passionate about music and when she began college she decided to follow her dream to pursue Music Education. However, when Harvey lost her hearing she also lost music, a huge part of her identity. In the ten years since Harvey became deaf, she has overcome emotional and spiritual obstacles and found new ways to pursue her dreams. In 2017, Harvey shocked the world with her singing on the television show America’s Got Talent and has since written a book about her experiences in life. She has inspired millions of people with her story and her music.

Growing Up: A Passion for Music

Mandy Harvey was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1988 and her family moved to Colorado when she was a young girl. Throughout her childhood and into her teenage years she was passionate about music. She participated in church choir starting at the age of four, and continued in music through high school. In high school, Harvey was in five school choirs, singing with a wide vocal range from tenor to high soprano parts. In an interview with Justin Miller for the Real Talk TV Show, Harvey described herself as a "strong voice in the choir, but not one to ever put [herself] in the spotlight." Although, she wasn’t much of a soloist in high school, her passion led her to pursue Vocal Music Education in college. She specifically wanted to teach jazz because of the emotion she would be able to create in others.2 Harvey attended Colorado State University. During her first semester, she began to realize that she was having trouble hearing.3

In Denial About Deafness

Harvey was born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which is a connective tissue disorder that caused her hearing to deteriorate during her first year in college.1 At first, when she noticed a change in her ability to hear, Harvey wrote it off as an ear infection or a perforated ear drum. She didn’t want to believe the severity of the problem. Harvey had her hearing tested and the results showed by that time she had already lost 30 decibels of her hearing. Frequent doctor visits over the course of the next nine months showed a steady decrease in her hearing. By Christmas of that year, Harvey had lost 55-60 decibels, making her legally deaf. She was fitted with hearing aids. Harvey still held on to the hope that her music dreams could remain intact. However, the realization of her deafness hit her hard and fast one day in her Music Theory class.2

The class was set up to take a test in which the students had to listen to the piano notes and record what was being played. Harvey was poised with pencil in hand waiting to begin the test, when she looked around and saw that all the other students were writing on their papers. Harvey sat there, unable to hear the test that was being given and one by one the students stood up and walked out of the classroom, leaving her sitting alone.2

Harvey dropped the Music Education program, changed majors, and took different classes. Harvey described the time as a "whirlwind" because of how fast things were changing and she had not yet felt the true impact of the situation. She said she was "still holding on to hope."2 During that transition time, she was walking on a sidewalk and she was hit by a bike. The biker was coming up behind her and had been calling out to her that he was passing on the left, but when she didn’t hear him she got hit and her hearing aid was crushed. This was when the realization truly hit her that her hearing loss was real and permanent. "I lost myself that day," Harvey said in the interview.2

Finding Hope: Discovering ASL, the Deaf Community, and Rediscovering Music

After her first year of college, Harvey moved back home. She said, "I would say it felt like I fell down a really dark well."2 She couldn’t see any brightness in her future and she didn’t know who she was anymore. "I had fed into all of the voices that were around me, which were saying that if you can’t hear, you can’t do music, and I allowed them to convince me that that was true and so I gave up on music. I didn’t even sing in the shower for a year and a half."4 Her own identity was intertwined with her life of being a musician and so when that was taken away from her, she felt all was lost.

This darkness took over Harvey’s life for quite a while, but gradually she pulled out of it. She began taking American Sign Language classes, and her sister even skipped her senior year of high school so that they could take classes together. Finding a way to communicate was a crucial step for Harvey to reform her life. She then started to get involved with the Deaf community, made friends, and found people with similar stories to her own. This is what gave her the confidence to allow music back into her life.2

Harvey’s father wanted her to play guitar with him, and she agreed to try. They were able to push aside their inability to communicate with one another and just play together. When Harvey’s father suggested they try to learn a new song, she didn’t think she would be able to, but they pulled up the sheet music anyway. By humming into a small guitar tuner, Harvey was able to see if she was hitting the correct pitches. Learning the song was a long process, but when she sang it through, it brought her father to tears. Harvey didn’t believe him when he said it was good so she recorded the song and sent it to a voice coach, someone she knew would be honest. The voice coach responded that she thought the song had been recorded before Harvey lost her hearing. When the voice coach learned the recording was recent, she insisted that Harvey come back and begin taking voice lessons again.2

Mandy Harvey on America's Got Talent show.
Mandy Harvey on America's Got Talent (Photo Credit: NBC, America's Got Talent, Season 12 (2017). Retreived from Mandy Harvey: Deaf Singer Earns Simon's Golden Buzzer With Original Song - America's Got Talent 2017)

Harvey soon found herself with a slot performing in a local jazz club. She developed her own techniques in being a musician. Harvey takes off her shoes so that she can feel the beat vibrating through the floor. At first, before she became comfortable, she stood at the piano using her hands to feel the vibrations, but gradually she stepped away from the piano.2 She used visual tuners to help her know she was in key and would put her hand on her throat to find where the vibration was the strongest for each note. She would do scales and run through patterns again and again. She can also feel the vibrations of her ukulele when holding it against her body. 4

Her singing career began to flourish, leading to multiple albums, and a tour.1 In 2017, Harvey was a competitor in season 12 of the America’s Got Talent television show. She wowed America and the judges and took 4th place in the competition.

Controversy: Promoting Oralism vs. Deaf Can Movement

During the competition, there was some controversy in the Deaf community because Harvey was "promoting a hearing activity," and she still continues to receive some backlash from certain individuals. They accuse her of promoting oralism and she has even received death threats.Harvey says it’s a very small group of loud voices that are critical and most of the deaf people she has met love what she’s doing.4

Harvey explains she understands the criticism is rooted in an effort to protect Deaf culture. "The Deaf community has been so oppressed for such a long time, and it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve even acknowledged that sign language is a language. In fact, I’m pretty sure only 44 states even accept it as a foreign language, which is ridiculous. But, to have a language, to be proud of your culture, it’s survival. And it’s important." So because she talks and she sings, some criticize her for doing hearing activities, and view it as shunning the deaf community and saying they need to also talk or sing. However, that is not Harvey’s point of view at all.4

“ Deaf [people] can do anything that they want to do, they can do any job. They can do any activity, they can sing, they can paint, they can climb mountains, they can have kids, they can be teachers, they can be CEOs of major companies. It doesn’t matter.
     - Mandy Harvey
Singer, Ambassador, & Author

When her hearing loss progressed, she felt loss, like she didn’t belong in either the Deaf or the hearing worlds. She says it was learning American Sign Language that really opened the door for communication for her and being part of the Deaf community, feeling a sense of belonging. Harvey says, "There’s so many different forms of being deaf… being deaf doesn’t mean that you can’t speak, being deaf doesn’t mean that you don’t like music, being deaf doesn’t mean that you have to live in one small bubble."4

She also explains this philosophy is part of the "Deaf Can" movement that has been going on for the last 15 years. The movement advocates, "deaf can do anything that they want to do, they can do any job. They can do any activity, they can sing, they can paint, they can climb mountains, they can have kids, they can be teachers, they can be CEOs of major companies. It doesn’t matter."4

Following her Passion


Mandy Harvey's book: Sensing the Rhythm: Finding my Voice in a World Without Sound

Harvey’s dedication to following her passion has inspired countless people around America and the world. She continues to sing and encourage others. She is an Ambassador for No Barriers USA, where she travels the country to encourage others, heighten awareness, and challenge stereotypes.5

She now has a book called Sensing the Rhythm: Finding my Voice in a World Without Sound which is about life lessons she has learned. “What story do you think God is trying to tell through your life?” Harvey was asked in an interview with Real Talk TV Show. She responded, "I think that it’s pretty simple, that bad things happen and chaos is all around us, but we have to just keep walking down the path, just keep going forward. That you have such a limited amount of time on Earth and it’s messy and it’s broken and you’re surrounded by people who are also messy and broken and we’re supposed to encourage each other, hold each other up."

Books:

Music:

Resources

  1. Rose, B. (2017, November 15). The singer sent death threats from the ‘deaf community’. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/disability-41850498

  2. [TheRealtalktvshow] (2017, February 17). Mandy Harvey Interview [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUb61GAr8dg

  3. Winners of the VSA International Young Soloists Competition: 2011 Award Recipients. The Kennedy Center. Retrieved from http://education.kennedy-center.org/education/vsa/programs/soloists_past_recipients.cfm?soloist=soloists2011

  4. Ruderman, Jay. (2018, December 3). Episode 5: Interview with Deaf Singer Mandy Harvey [Audio Podcast, with transcript]. All Inclusive with Jay Ruderman (a podcast on inclusion, innovation and social justice). Ruderman Family Foundation. Podcast retrieved from http://rudermanfoundation.org/podcast/episode-5-interview-with-deaf-singer-mandy-harvey/

  5. Harvey, Mandy. Speaking - Mandy Harvey. Mandy Harvey website. Retrieved from https://mandyharveymusic.com/speaking/

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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

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