Accessibility Captioning Open-Captioned Live Theatre

Open-Captioned Live Theatre

Our guest this week is our friend Vicki Turner, whose career as court reporter and CART provider began in 1980. Vicki founded Turner Reporting & Captioning Services in 2005 and soon after provided Las Vegas with its first open-captioned theatre performance. Her list of theatre captioning credits continues to grow, as does her passion for spreading awareness of the importance and benefit in providing accessibility to Hard of Hearing (HoH) and deaf patrons. By providing open-captioned live theatre, Vicki makes it possible for a person to fully participate in their life experience and not feel isolated from the hearing world.

Vicki: A student asked, “Vicki, do you think you can caption the play for me after school?” “Sure, I’ll give it a try,” I replied. I had no idea how that exchange with the Deaf high school student I was providing CART for at a performing arts high school would change the trajectory of my career.  

With the caveat that I had no script, no names of characters, and I’d be going in cold and writing the show live in its entirety but would give it my best shot, we took our seats in the theatre.  

I did a decent job keeping up with the actors, but what I didn’t expect was what happened during intermission. When the lights came up, I turned to the student to see how it was going, and tears were streaming down her face. “This is the first time in my life I’ve been able to understand what was going on in a play.” The impact of that hit me hard, and I was hooked. I feel a pang in my heart to this day reflecting on that moment.

Fast forward 22 years later and countless open-captioned performances in cities across the U.S. and Canada, and my heart still swells as I think of the amazing patrons I’ve met who have become friends, as well as the extraordinary talent and creativity I’ve had a front row seat to experience, all of which have enriched my life. Seeing people shed tears of joy at being given back a part of their life they thought was over still touches me deeply to this day.

It’s been a long road, often frustrating, to get to where we are today. Thankfully theatres and event organizers have advanced from the days of offering a patron a script with a flashlight to follow along or responding to a request by saying, “Oh, we already have an ASL performance,” or the theatre who said, “No problem. We have a really, really large speaker we can place right next to your seat so you can hear better.”

Open-captioned performances are much more common and mainstream nowadays, with theatres often setting a specific date for an accessible performance for each touring show in addition to honoring individual requests for alternate dates.  

I often am asked, “How do I ask a theatre for captions?” The first stop is the box office, who hopefully has been educated on what open captioning is and already has a provider or vendor they utilize. If you’re met with a blank stare, then ask to speak with the person that oversees accessibility for the venue. Keep going up the chain of command until you reach the director of operations or general manager if you need to.  

If open captioning is a complete foreign concept to a venue, ask for a meeting to educate the theatre on why you need captions. Bringing a CART writer who is willing to donate their time to write the meeting for the participants is also very beneficial. 

Offering the name of a trusted vendor or provider to the venue is likewise appreciated.   Oftentimes, if a theatre has not offered open captioning in the past, they have no idea who to contact. Theatrical captioning is an art form that enhances the performance when it’s done properly, and you don’t want an uneducated box office to call a court reporting or sign language agency or even a CART agency that is not familiar with the ins and outs of theatre. A non-trained provider can make a huge difference in the experience you, and the rest of the audience, has.

There’s a lot of amazing entertainment available as theatres begin reopening after a 1-1/2 year shutdown. Don’t be afraid to ask for the accommodation services you need and deserve to have.  

Chelle: All theatres offer assistive listening systems but at a certain point in hearing loss, assistive listening doesn’t work. That’s when live captioning made a world of difference in my theatre experience. Without it, I’m lost. 

In Salt Lake City we have Hale Centre Theatre, they have a hearing loop which is the absolute best sound system for those with hearing loss. It feeds directly into our hearing aids via the telecoil which are programmed specifically for our hearing loss. This also saves picking up a receiver and returning it after. I do well in meeting rooms that have loops, however, I could not follow musicals. The music overrides speech and lyrics. They don’t offer captioned performances.

Vicki provides live-captioned performances at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake. Open captioning is the only way I can understand what’s going on in a musical. Now I must admit musicals aren’t my thing. I went to support captions, then faded out. Plus Eccles only offered captioned matinee showings which sometimes interfered with weekend activities. 

Several years ago I attended a play at a small theater, the Salt Lake Acting Company, and had a terrible experience. The venue and play (not a musical) was something I could get into. They claimed to have assistive listening but I quickly found out it wasn’t any good. They have an omni microphone above the stage which doesn’t pick up dialog like individually-mic’d actors. Even though I sat up front, I couldn’t use my lipread skills because the actors often looking another way or were too far away. The management at the time offered to let me read the script…a few weeks later. That’s unsatisfying. 

Vicki before the play because I can’t take pictures during.

Vicki contacted me in October to let me know the Salt Lake Acting Company was offering their first captioned play in October; I had to go. Management had changed and I was happy to see accessibility on their homepage of their website. Not just captioned, but they have an audio described performance for the visually impaired, a sensory performance and an ASL interpreted performance. Wow! I went to the captioned performance and I loved it! I understood all the dialog and laughed when others laughed. I can’t wait to attend the next captioned play in February.

San Antonio Express-News: “Newsies” transforms a cult Disney film into a stage sensation. Courtesy Deen van Meer

Michele: My first experience with open-captioned live theatre was during the SayWhatClub convention in San Antonio, Texas in 2015. With Chelle as the convention steering committee contact, Vicki Turner graciously volunteered her services for a performance of “Newsies” at the Majestic Theatre. The highlight of any convention is having a new accessibility experience; the cherry on top was spending time with Vicki during the convention and hearing stories of her world travels and adventures in captioning live theatre.

Assignment: People with hearing loss often accept that there are things we can no longer do; then, once an accommodation comes along that makes it possible again, we are in the habit of not considering it as an option. If attending a live theatre performance is something you gave up, purpose to request an open-captioned live performance at your local theatre and invite everyone you know with hearing loss. You’ll be glad you did! Requesting open captioning for a live performance is the best way to educate the public and theatre owners about accessibility for the HoH and deaf.

Communicating with Kids Communication Practices

Hearing Small Voices

Michele: Because I’m a lipreader, I’ve taught my granddaughter Ayla how to talk to me from the time she was born. Year after year, I’ve witnessed the benefits and it’s been awesome to see her progress on her own each time I demonstrate ways for her to help me understand more.

Here’s an example of my instructing Ayla at age four: I had picked her up for our weekly library storytime for preschoolers. While riding in the car, she spoke to me from the backseat. I instinctively checked the rearview mirror to lipread her. As she held up a flashlight her Pops (my husband) had given her, she said, “This flashlight turns ________.” 

I saw her lips move, but I couldn’t get the last word… my brain ran through the list of possibilities and nothing was right. I finally got it once she figured out how to make the flashlight turn GREEN. “This flashlight turns green.” AHA!

I took the time to let her know that I couldn’t guess the word until I saw the flashlight turn green (I had never seen the flashlight before that day, and no idea it turned green). I let her know she could have helped me by describing the word, and a better way would have been to say: “This flashlight turns the color green.”

She thought about it…

Later in the day, and in the car again, I asked her what she had for breakfast. She told me she had eaten, “One egg, three slices of bacon, and a ________.” 

Again, I couldn’t get the last word. It looked similar to bagel, but that wasn’t it. Looking at her in the rearview mirror I could see the wheels turning in her brain, and just like that, she said “I had a mango, it’s a piece of fruit,” and I got it. Sometimes getting difficult words on the lips is as simple as using more describing words. If you’re consistent, children will begin to integrate your direction into how they communicate with you without your asking.

Once Ayla started school, we didn’t see each other as much and she began to forget some of the things I had taught her. That meant reminding her more, and also finding new tools and techniques for communication.

Ayla in the bog. We were collecting things from nature for a school assignment.

Before Thanksgiving last year, Ayla’s parents were having a hard time with the online school schedule conflicting with their work schedules. She wound up staying at our house for 15 days until Christmas break so that I could help her get into a good routine that she could follow on her own as a 3rd-grader. It was challenging, and I gained a new respect for parents of school age kids during the pandemic craziness.

Ayla talks a lot faster than she used to, so while she stayed with me I used speech-to-text apps on my phone to help me get everything she said. We developed other methods and habits that built on the fundamentals I had taught her at a younger age. If there is anything you can depend on with hearing loss, it is that your communication needs are constantly changing and adjustment is necessary. Both for you and for those who communicate with you.

Chelle: My hearing has progressed over the years with a few big drops. It started out with a moderate loss in the high frequencies and went to profound deaf. Kids voices are the hardest for me to understand. I have a daughter and two sons. Before the boys hit puberty, I could not tell the kids  apart on the phone. I’d call them from work to check in from school. I used to try to guess who I was talking to but seemed to get it wrong more often than not. 

“Hi Chandel…” 

“It’s Cutler mom, not Chandel.” 

He took the most offense at my wrong guesses so I started asking, “Who’s this,” before I started talking. Once the boys hit puberty, I could finally tell everyone apart and I was so grateful!

I have two grandsons, ages 5 and 11. We’ve been working on them facing me when talking but it’s difficult which tells me how much I depend on sounds I can hear. Their voices are on the edge of nothingness with my current hearing loss so it takes focus on my part and repeats from them. I’m going to have to teach them gestures and fingerspelling in the near future to help. 

During COVID and the shutdown, we went to video calls. We used Google Meet for the speech to text option and it worked really well. It was almost better than in person conversations. The oldest grandson could wander around and talk without it focusing on his face and the captions appeared. The captions weren’t always right and when they weren’t he’d laugh and carry with the speech to text rather than me. It was fun, we had some good laughs.

The other night I went to my kids house to play cards. I was already tired when I got there and my brain doesn’t unscramble speech sounds as well. My oldest grandson took me aside to confide something and I could not understand, even with him facing me. My brain didn’t reach further to find other solutions either, so whatever it was is lost because he didn’t seem to want the others to know. I feel bad for that, next time I’ll make sure to use my speech to text app. 

Julia: Teach your children and grandchildren early on communication strategies. I said in a previous blog that I taught my children how to communicate with their grandmother by accident. It wasn’t because grandma sat us down and helped us know her needs, I learned these strategies from attending hearing loss events, classes, and support groups. The tidbits I learned from those with hearing loss helped our family communication as my grandmother’s hearing declined. I would set the rules with the kids about communication with grandma before we went to visit her. It is something that worked well for our family.

Before visiting with your hearing loss friend/family member have a talk with them on what rules or help they may like with the kiddos. Know when they might want help with understanding. And if you can mirror those communication strategies in your everyday life, it really does help with day to day communications inside your home and has a lifelong impact for your youngsters.

If you are out and about with your kids, and they talk to a stranger and you see the stranger ignore your child, do not assume this person is having an attitude. Maybe they didn’t hear that little high pitched voice. Politely tap and ask if your child can repeat. Or politely let your child know the person didn’t hear them. Let’s teach our kid’s patience and kindness. We need some of that in the world today.

Watch our companion video podcast.

Car Travel

Riding in Cars with HoHs

There is no secret to why riding in cars is so difficult for people who are Hard of Hearing (HoH). The environment of a moving vehicle is a cacophony of sensory stimulation; road and engine noise, wind noise if the windows are down, radio blaring, lively conversation, fluctuating light, and distracting scenery. It takes a lot of concentration for a HoH to hear and respond to speech in a car.

Chelle: I have a history of being a HoH in the car. One of my first signs of hearing loss was in the car. As a teenager, I hated sitting in the backseat because I could not understand what was being said up front. Before seatbelt laws, I could lean forward and force half my body in the front seat to hear. Now that I’m older, I’m content to sit in the back and read or play on my phone. 

We aren’t in the car, but… a picture of Chelle with her teenage kids.

Driving with a hearing loss has been a challenge…with hearing people in the car. Road noise and the stereo interferes with speech. When I was younger I adjusted my rear view mirror so I could watch the kids talk. Seeing is hearing! When no adult was along, one of the kids sat up front which gave them the responsibility of translating for the kids in the backseat. They didn’t seem to mind and I’m sure they used it to their advantage at times. The kids and I had another rule; talk or music, not both. The front seat kid would pause the stereo to translate backseat comments and questions.

Several years ago I got new hearing aids. They were so smart they automatically dampened the road noise and went into a forward focus mode. That meant my hearing aids were listening to the windshield, shutting down noise behind and beside me. My husband was not happy. He felt like my new hearing aids were worse than the old ones. I made an appointment with my audiologist and had my husband go with me, lending more credibility to the issue.

The audiologist called the hearing aid company about the situation. They were saying, “Her hearing aids adapt to those kinds of situations automatically,” and he told them, “No they are not.” Together they came up with the stroll program which forced the mics to listen from the side. It was developed for walking but it worked in the car too.

However, even with my hearing aids in, and in the right program, cars are not easy for conversation. It takes a lot of brain power, less if I’m the passenger but I’m still sifting through the noise. It’s more relaxing when I’m with my HoH friends. As HoHs, we decide to forgo talking, or the other person knows to look at me when talking and project their voice. It’s refreshing.

Julia: My experience with cars and HoHs is limited.  I remember one time while traveling with Sanderson Community Center for a workshop. There was an advance plan for the fast food drive through, we put together what everyone wanted to order, and my colleague Jorie Hill, who could hear and sign, placed the order. When questions came up she asked the appropriate person.

Julia and her grandmother.

My grandma and I maybe didn’t have the safest travel plan. Mostly it was me looking at her at an angle so she could lipread me with my eyes angled back at the road. Yikes! DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. I will say, we did have a lot of peaceful travels when I look back and think about it now.

Riding with Chelle and her husband Ken during a camping trip, I sat in the back so Chelle could hear/know when I was talking, something I knew. I caught myself answering Ken’s random questions/comments, which brought me to an ah-ha moment of, oh boy, hearing people have a hard time just sitting in the silence.

1978: Michele, riding in her boyfriend’s truck.

Michele: Early on, my coping mechanism for conversation in cars was to fake it. Unable to see a speaker’s face, I was on pins and needles waiting for the inevitable—communication breakdown. I had no idea how to say what was true, “If I can’t see you, I can’t hear you,” and I was taught not to inconvenience others. I kept my hearing loss mostly to myself.

Also, my hyperacusis complicates things, making road/car engine/wind noise painful. On long road trips I sometimes wear earplugs.

Eventually, I came to terms with how to inform others, and with my hearing abilities. With a profound hearing loss comes the acceptance that there are going to be situations where no effort on my part will be effective. Realizing I can choose where to apply my abilities was powerful and I began to take control by saying what is true.

In a dark car, I tell the others, “I would love to chat, but I can’t lipread in the dark.” In the daytime, “I would love to chat, but I’m not able to follow the conversation.” I always have a book, laptop, and/or phone to occupy myself. Notice, “I’m sorry…,” is not part of my explanations. Saying sorry is a bad habit many HoHs have. We’re doing everything we can to hear and it’s not our fault we have a hearing loss, so why be sorry?

As a driver, I let passengers know I can’t respond to speech I can’t see, adding: “You don’t want me to look away from the road to lipread.” 

My kids were always aware I wasn’t going to answer them unless it was an emergency. Sometimes on longer drives—it was an hour each way to get three kids to piano lessons—I would pull over to take questions or ask them what they wanted at a red light.

Passengers tend to get frantic when emergency vehicles are approaching. They excitedly give me instructions, but I can’t react to what I can’t hear. Most of the time I’ve already spotted the flashing lights. Once I pull over, I let passengers know that it is not helpful, and is even dangerous, to take my attention away from what I need to be focusing on while driving. A better solution would be to agree on a simple sign or gesture for such occasions.

Hearing Loss LIVE! would love to hear from other HoHs and their hearing family and friends on how they handle all of the issues that come up while riding in cars together. Feel free to share with us at

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Traveling by Plane

The Hard of Hearing (HoH) and deaf do not corner the market on being anxious about air travel and traveling alone. Many people who have no disability or barrier fear travel. However, the inability to hear announcements is an added anxiety and requires more presence of mind for the HoH to stay on top of important information they need to know.

Michele: I’ve been a frequent flier and enjoyed flight benefits for decades due to my husband working for a major airline at one time. Flying solo taught me so much about myself and honed my self-advocacy and communication skills. I recommend it as a great way to become self-sufficient and self-aware about your hearing loss and needs.

Two things you need to do every step of the way, with every person you encounter:

  • STOP FAKE HEARING—you have to get information right or you might miss a flight or wind up at the wrong destination. I used to not speak up when I wasn’t getting all of what a ticket or gate agent was saying. It only took a few times to see that faking it was a poor strategy that induced anxiety.
  • STATE YOUR TRUTH—when informing others, tell them exactly what they need to know about you and your communication needs. Simply saying, “I have a hearing loss,” or “I’m deaf,” isn’t enough; it leaves too much to the imagination. State exactly what is true, “I’m a lipreader, but it doesn’t always work and you may need you to write the information down for me so I can be sure of what you said.” I usually say this with a pen and pad at the ready.

When I first began traveling alone, no one believed that I was deaf because I coped so well as a lipreader—I received many compliments on my clear speech. I felt like I had to convince people that I really did have a hearing loss. And, even though I checked “Hearing Impaired” when I booked my flight, I was rarely approached about what I needed as a person with a disability, so it became evident I needed to take control.

When flying out of Atlanta years ago, I noticed the Special Services Security line and decided I’d give it a try. Fellow passengers and TSA employees challenged me for using the line—I don’t look disabled—so I asked for a supervisor. They confirmed that anyone with any disability was eligible to use the line, and that included hearing loss.

Special Services Line at the TSA/Security Checkpoint, Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)

If you get any pushback, educate. Once when leaving Salt Lake City, I had a TSA agent tell me the line was only for people in wheelchairs, while pointing to the “handicapped” sign. I politely pointed out that the wheelchair is only a symbol for disability, and doesn’t mean that the line is only for people in wheelchairs. A supervisor clarified this issue for the employee.

At smaller airports, there may not be a designated line for people with disabilities. If that is the case, inform the first TSA person you see of your disability and ask to go to the head of the line.

Chelle: Years ago I learned “hearing impaired” passengers could pre-board planes. At first, I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t feel impaired.  At one point I was in an airport that didn’t have visuals for announcements. I went to the boarding agent and let her know I could not hear and asked to pre-board. To my surprise she complied with no questions asked. Once I sat down on the plane, I realized how ALERT I had to be.

I used to sit as close to the boarding desk as possible. I’d keep my eyes on the agent to watch their movement for clues, strain to hear what I couldn’t, get up to look at arrival/departure boards, and more. Almost everyone else there was reading or playing on their phones. By the time I got on the plane I was worn out! 

From then on, I marked “hearing impaired” when buying plane tickets which guaranteed pre-boarding. Once on the plane, I could relax and read like everyone else had been in the waiting area. 

There are still some issues, like boarding agents forgetting to wave me over. Once there was an agent who wasn’t too happy letting me know what was going on and seemed put out. I told her, “I’m a lipreader. I’m going to stand right here at the desk so I can lipread your announcements.” After pausing, she said, “You can board now.”

Airports are noisy places and all that noise overrides most of the speech I can hear. The jet engines on planes also do a terrific job of overriding speech. It’s difficult to make small talk with strangers and I can’t understand the flight attendants either. I can guess at what they are saying (predict) because they follow a typical routine once I know they are there. I tell the person next to me I’m basically deaf on the plane which saves me conversation and saves some energy for the next leg of the trip. If the flight attendant needs my attention, I tell them to tap me on the arm. Most people are helpful in that way.  

Julia: Traveling with my grandmother in her later years was easy because she also needed a wheelchair to navigate the airport. So we always used the easiest navigation tools for those with disabilities. In hindsight, having me with her meant she could relax while waiting for our flights to board. If you are traveling with a hearing partner, make a plan to help alleviate anxiety.

With our new norm that includes masks and last minute flight changes due to all sorts of issues, I can hear nothing over the gate loudspeaker at an airport. And I have, as my kids call it, “Vulcan hearing”. I would love to start a movement that makes open captioning at airports mandatory; requiring airport terminal gate and check-in counters to be equipped with speech-to-text displays and LED boards that caption every gate/airport announcement.

Sensitivity training for ALL employees needs to happen. Educating about hearing loss is not limited to sign language. An understanding of, and better communication, and acquiring the skill is a big missing component.

Please, Airlines and TSA, help give your employees better tools. If you don’t know what those tools are, reach out to us, we are happy to give a workshop on communication with hearing loss.

  • USE THE SPECIAL SERVICES LINE for people with disabilities. It is for people with hearing loss.
  • ASK TO PRE-BOARD every time, don’t wait for it to be offered. Especially if you have carry-on luggage to stow overhead.
  • BE PROACTIVE don’t wait to inform about your hearing loss and communication needs. Tell everyone you encounter upfront. Being proactive is much better.
  • SAY WHAT’S TRUE when you board, tell the first flight attendant you see what they need to know about you. Example: “Hello, you need to know I’m deaf, but I am good at lipreading. I don’t need anything specific, but if you need to speak to me, please get my attention first by tapping me on the arm or shoulder. Also, I won’t hear any emergency announcements, so I will need you to come to my seat and let me know about any emergency.” Share the same information with your seatmates.

We all talk about the wheelchair thing… if you’ve checked the “Hearing Impaired” box when booking your flight, odds are you will find a wheelchair waiting for you when you deplane. For some, this is a good accommodation, for others not at all. If a wheelchair isn’t something you will use, thank the person holding the placard with your name and let them know that a wheelchair is not the accommodation you need; then tell them what would be a better accommodation—communication access (text of announcements). Ask that they relay that information to their superiors.

Watch our companion video podcast.

Parenting Kids With Hearing Loss

Parenting Kids With Hearing Loss

Our guest on this week’s podcast (be sure to watch on Monday) is Hollie Enniss-Poe, whose son Ben was born with complications that led to early hearing loss. Ben, now 17, is among the more than 90 percent of deaf/hard of hearing children born to hearing parents. Both Hollie and her husband Brian are hearing, and their family resides in Utah.

Hollie shares their experiences with professionals, the surprising source of connection to organizations that could help, and the research, resilience, and persistence needed to navigate the best way forward for Ben and their family.

Organizations mentioned in the podcast, and other helpful links.

Julia: When parents advocate for their children, they teach them to advocate for themselves. School systems can help, they offer parents some options for every IEP or 504 plan (learn the difference in this article). They might not offer all of the options, because they don’t know themselves. If they don’t know, how will parents know? A little research goes a long way and is a big help when meeting with school counselors to set up, or review, your child’s IEP/504. Here are some options that we know of. If you have other options, we would love to hear from you.

  • FM system or Hearing Loop
  • Speech-to-text Apps
  • CART/Live Captioning or TypeWell
  • Video to have captions
  • Desk placement, sitting up front near the teacher
  • Extra test time, extra assignment time
  • An hour of rest during the school day

The U.S. Department of Education has great information and resources for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Section 504 and ADA Title II and your child’s education rights.

Advocating with your child will help them to acquire the tools they need for a successful life, and will give them confidence to request what they need to transition into the workforce. Advocating becomes a lifelong habit.

Chelle: With hindsight, I can see signs of hearing loss in high school years:

  • It took a lot of visuals and yelling my name to get my attention in noisy settings such as the hallways between classes. 
  • I could not hear from the backseat of cars. I had to lean forward to be able to understand what was being said in the front seat.
  • I couldn’t hear from other rooms. While I could hear voices from another room, I could not understand what was being said.

At 18 years old, I had my hearing tested because of the onset of tinnitus. I tested in the normal range of hearing, but there was no speech in noise tests back then—now known as hidden hearing loss. I was 23 the next time I tested and my hearing loss was evident by then. 

One of my kids has an auditory processing disorder. After researching his learning style, I knew more of what he needed to succeed, and one school refused to help him. I homeschooled him for a few years until we moved and found that the school system there was willing to help. I actively participated with his IEP setup and reviews. This was in 2001 and there wasn’t as much information available then as there is now. I wish I had Hollie’s knowledge back then, I could have thrown in a few more ideas.

As a Hard of Hearing Specialist in Utah, I helped school staff understand the limitations of hearing aids and why the need for an FM system. The Utah Division of Services of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has a loan program and we loaned the school a personal FM system until they could get one of their own.

Never forget, children with hearing loss face listening fatigue. Classrooms typically have harsh acoustics and reverberation which affects hearing devices.

Michele: When I think of parents of kids with hearing loss who got it right, I go to the Rachels.

1. RACHEL KOLB is a writer, scholar, and disability advocate. She is currently a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University.

My first notice of Rachel was from a 2013 essay she wrote on lipreading, Seeing at the Speed of Sound—we native lipreaders recognize one another right away. There is also a short video based on the essay, CAN YOU READ MY LIPS? from LITTLE MOVING PICTURES on Vimeo.

Not long after the essay was published, Rachel was invited to speak at TEDx Stanford (read the transcript) where she talks about what is possible through family support and self-belief. You can read more about Rachel and her family in this 2015 Hands and Voices interview, and Rachel talks about her preferred ways to communicate in this Q&A.

Nine out of ten children with hearing loss/deafness are born to hearing parents, and of those families only 10 percent learn to communicate effectively with their child. Rachel’s parents embraced sign language for their family. Also, Rachel learned to speak with 18 years of speech therapy and she relies on lipreading for most social interaction. She wears a hearing aid in one ear, and a cochlear implant in the other. She majored in English, because reading and writing were always a passion for her. 

Rachel’s parents got it right. 

  • They valued communication and language in a variety of forms.
  • Their support network only included people who placed no limitations on what Rachel could achieve.
  • They taught Rachel to believe in herself, and that challenges are not outright limitations.

2. In 2002, RACHEL COLEMAN and her sister Emilie created the first Signing Time! video to help their friends and family members learn sign language so they could communicate with Rachel’s daughter, Leah, who is deaf.

In a video presentation, One Deaf Child (minutes 51:41), Rachel talks about being at a conference and stopping at a cochlear implant booth (CI) to see what was new with CI (it had been 6 years since CI first mentioned as an option for her daughter); she met some kids with CI and was blown away. She makes it clear she had always been anti-implant—“I would NEVER do that to my child.”—and felt sorry for children with CI, believing their parents clearly didn’t understand or accept their child’s deafness. Rachel talks more about this in her blog, and you can see Rachel and Leah talk about how Leah communicates in this Q&A video, which unfortunately is not captioned—I used Live Caption in Chrome to caption the video.

Rachel wondered, “What if I actually gave her everything?” She reasoned, “Signing is a tool, hearing aids are a tool… what if she could hear something?” At seven years old Leah asked for and received a cochlear implant; the ENT told Rachel, “You need to stop signing with her,” advice they chose to ignore.

Rachel is a parent who got it right. She was open to changing her mind to give her child everything.

The Kolb and Coleman families gave their children everything.

  • Fluency in ASL and English. 
  • A variety of communication therapies, skills and tools. 
  • They placed no limitations on what their deaf child could do.
  • Found support people who shared their no limits attitude.
  • They knew they could and SHOULD question what professionals told them. 
  • They made decisions that were right for their children and families, and they let their children make their own communication choices.

Like Hollie and Brian Enniss-Poe, they gave their children every opportunity to communicate.

Watch our companion video podcast.