Sunday, March 29, 2009

Marlee Matlin - Actress and Advocate

Marlee Matlin was first known as the young deaf actress from the show “Children of a Lesser God.” She has appeared in many movies and on many television shows and has given inspiring and thought-provoking performances. But there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye.

Marlee Matlin was born in 1965 in Illinois. Like Helen Keller, Marlee was hearing until the age of about 19 months. She then suffered a high fever which resulted in her deafness. Her family dealt with the issue in a very straightforward manner: they treated her just like her hearing brothers. She had a speech defect because of her deafness. Her brothers came up with a clever explanation: They would tell people that she sounded different because she had been born in another country. Marlee played around the neighborhood like all the other kids and had as normal a childhood as many children who hear.

After visiting several distant residential schools for the deaf, the Matlins enrolled Marlee in self-contained and mainstreamed classes near home. She was a strong-minded little girl and wasn’t about to let her hearing loss limit her unnecessarily.

At 7, Marlee we going to summer camp and appeared as Dorothy in an after-school production of “The Wizard of Oz” with a mixture of deaf and hearing children.

As an adult, Marlee became a devoted advocate for raising public awareness of the physically challenged. She has campaigned for improved educational opportunities for the deaf and blind as well. She is a spokeswoman for the National Captioning Institute. She was instrumental in the passing of a law that requires all televisions 13 inches or larger to have built-in chips that enable closed captioning for the deaf. This opened a much larger world for deaf viewers, and has been called a “godsend” for the deaf.

Helen Keller and her teacher, and other pioneers like them, paved the way for Marlee Matlin and others like her who have helped make such great strides in education of the deaf and deaf-blind.

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