Marlee Matlin speaks out in a silent world

With hands waving high in the air and some clapping, the audience in Plachta Auditorium gave both a silent and audible applause as Academy Award-winning actress and deaf advocate Marlee Matlin stepped on stage Wednesday evening.

Matlin, who has appeared on shows such as “Switched at Birth”, “Dancing with the Stars” and “Celebrity Apprentice” spoke about the challenges she faced growing up as a deaf child and how she eventually became a renowned actress.

Matlin’s parents were very instrumental in encouraging her to interact normally with other children, and teaching her how to communicate in a hearing world. Given the option of sending Matlin to a school for deaf children, her parents decided to keep her at home and send her to a neighborhood school.

“They encouraged me to play outside and live a ‘normal’ life,” Matlin said.

Matlin was taught the oral method, which required much persistence. She worked hard to read lips and communicate with her family as they did with each other.

“I was frustrated and felt like I was living in a fog, but that fog lifted when I learned sign language; communication and meaning returned,” Matlin said.

As a deaf advocate, Matlin advises parents who have children to find a mentor or devoted teacher that will give their child the attention he or she needs. Henry Winkler, American actor, director, and author was Matlin’s mentor and teacher.

When Matlin was young, Winkler told her that she could be anything she wanted to be, as long as she followed her heart,

“Eight years later, I received an Academy Award,” she said.

Matlin then recited a quote she had seen in Winkler’s home: “’If you will it, it is not a dream,’” she said.

The actress said she had to make things happen for herself, and despite barriers she could do anything but hear.

“There are still barriers, but I’ve learned to laugh at them,” she said.

The actress, who appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice,” was the first person to ever raise $1 million in one day for the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Her role on ABC’s “Switched at Birth” was also groundbreaking in that it was the first network to air an all American Sign Language episode with captions.

Detroit Junior Jawanza Hill attended the event as part of his ASL class,

“I really enjoyed Marlee Matlin.  She has a great personality and the obstacles she overcame really speak to her diligence as a person and as an actress,” Detroit junior Jawanza Hill, who attended the event as part of his American Sign Language class, said.

Matlin ended with some words of encouragement for those in the audience,

“We can achieve much more if we look to the abilities in us rather than the disabilities. We need to be given a chance to bloom into beautiful roses- just as my parents and Henry Winkler did for me,” she said. “It’s about listening to our hearts and embracing life and all that it has to give.”




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