Silent No More: Deaf adults share stories of heartache and hope

Listen to this article

Members of the cast of Silent NO MORE (l – r) Raquel McPeek, John Autry II, Carmen Meissner, David Hawkins, Taylor Wilson, Lea Hughes and Kathy Buckley. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Imagine for a moment that you are a handsome young man who has always dreamed of being an actor. You are talented and professional; you’ve got a real knack for nailing down lines; plus you have a pleasant speaking voice and a friendly disposition.

There is just one problem.

You are deaf. And the only thing casting agents can see is a “handicapped” individual they want to relegate to playing a mute who speaks with sign language.

John Autry II (Glen Lipton)
John Autry II (Glen Lipton)

Accounts such as this form the backdrop of Silent NO MORE – a collection of inspiring life stories by speaking adults and teens with hearing loss. Produced by No Limits – a non-profit educational center for deaf children founded by Michelle Christie in Culver City, California – Silent NO MORE has been staged some 85 times, reaching in excess of 150,000 people nationwide. Last Saturday night, thirteen resilient Silent NO MORE readers shared their stories at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. An insightful, hour-long talk back with the cast followed the presentation.

John Autry II told the audience, “All of my life I’ve had the acting bug, but it was difficult to get roles because I am deaf. Being an actor is my passion. I can play any role – not just a deaf/mute using sign language.”

Autry wonders if he will ever get that chance. “I am an actor first, and a deaf person second. Life is not about limits, but about having no limits!”

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Samantha Dudley said she was born with a syndrome which causes underdeveloped ears. Samantha’s remedy for dealing with well-meaning people was to come up with a Twelve-Step program.

The steps include:

> It’s Deaf – NOT Death
> Don’t Shout (I’m right here)
> Don’t Make Up Your Own Signs
> Deaf People Can Use The Phone and Go To The Movies (because of new technology)

“When you are deaf and you can speak,” Samantha explained, “you are like a mythical creature – anonymous – and caught between two worlds.  Silent NO MORE means anonymous no more.”

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Lea Hughes (Facebook)
Lea Hughes (Facebook)

Pianist Lea Hughes revealed that she has long expressed her emotions through music, and then demonstrated on the keys how her moods could swing from anger to happiness. “Some deaf people sign to communicate. Some deaf people use spoken language. I use music to communicate how I feel.”

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Jersey City resident Henry Greenfield celebrated his diploma of Master of Education by undertaking a cross-country bike trip to raise awareness for No Limits. By the time he completed his 13 state/3,410 mile trek, Henry said he felt “Invincible”.

Why God? Why did you make me this way?

A theme which many of the speakers shared was the hurt and frustration they have experienced.

“My brother is perfect, so I used to ask myself, ‘Why God? Why did you make me this way?’ said Carmen Meissner.

Carmen was fitted with a Cochlear implant when she was only two and half years old. “My parents really wanted me to be able to communicate with them and the rest of the hearing world.”

“A lot of deaf people would ask me if I can hear because my signing was so bad.”

Carmen’s signing may still be suspect, but she has no trouble getting her message across.

“I don’t want to ask God, ‘Why me?” but to thank Him for the life he has given.”

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

For Taylor Wilson, her hurt can be summed up in the mantra: “Getting a job sucks!”

Taylor Wilson (Glen Lipton)
Taylor Wilson (Glen Lipton)

“Yes, it sucks for everyone, but especially for someone with hearing loss. When I interview, I tend to do the ‘deaf nod’ to pretend I understand what the person is saying. I know I can do it! Then I wonder, ‘Where do I fit in?”

“I refuse to give up and let my disability stop me from trying.”

“Does anyone want to hire me???”

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Jeannie and Michael Turner shared their story of the dynamic which deafness creates for a mother and child.

“I wanted Michael to lean on his visible hearing aides to give him a pass in social situations,” Jeannie explained.

Not that Michael is the kind of teen to be intimidated.

Michael told the story of how he faced down a bully at school. His only disappointment: the bully didn’t bother showing up for the pre-arranged “fight.”

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Don’t try to intimidate David Hawkins, either.

“One of the first sounds I experienced was an airplane engine. I always wanted to fly. Then one day, while wearing my father’s Air Force shirt, I told another deaf boy I wanted to be a pilot. ‘You’re deaf!’, he said. ‘You can’t fly an airplane!’ That hurt me the hardest because it came from someone like me.”

At seventeen, with the help of special headphones, David flew solo and earned his solo wings. His secret? David has memorized – word-for-word – every command an air traffic controller can give. Which, along with his father’s old Air Force shirt could come in handy, if a bill (the Keith Nolan Air Force Demonstration Act) introduced by Representative Mark Takano (D-California) allowing deaf individuals to serve in the Air Force is ever signed into law.

Te Quiero

For Carlota Cerna and Claudia Alegria, their stories centered on the difficulty of being Spanish speaking moms who are seeking help for their deaf children.

Carlota recalled the anger and hurt she felt when she was incorrectly told her son José was “retarded”.

Samantha Dudley (Facebook)
Samantha Dudley (Facebook)

And Claudia remembered, “When I learned that my child was deaf, my first thought was she would never say, ‘Mama’, or hear me say, ‘I love you.’”

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Initially, Raquel McPeek relied on sign language to convey her story; urging the audience to watch her movements instead of the captioning device. Raquel admitted to sometimes feeling the need to use her ‘deaf voice’ to get her everyday needs met. “When you sign, you get better service because people immediately know you are deaf. I have created my own middle. Wouldn’t you?”

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Comedienne Kathy Buckley concluded the staged reading on an upbeat note, but observed, “Because of technology, many things have changed for the deaf, but the isolation, frustration and confusion have not.”

The anecdotes noted above are really just a thumbnail of the profound, true life stories the thirteen readers shared. Silent NO MORE is a compelling presentation and heartily recommended. But be forewarned: you will most likely shed a few tears and fall completely in love with the cast.

Hopefully, with shows such as this, some of the confusion within the hearing world will be abated. Especially when people learn that John Autry II is one heck of an actor. That Taylor Wilson would make a great employee, and David Hawkins can fly. That Lea Hughes…

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Silent NO MORE has been adapted in book form so that the stories which were presented at the Kennedy Center (and many more) can be shared to a broader audience. For more information, contact No Limits at 310.280.0878.  For more information on the Keith Nolan Air Force Demonstration Act, check out this article in the Air Force Times.


(This story first appeared in our sister publication the Baltimore Post-Examiner)