Being an actor myself I realize that all actors believe they are qualified to play any role. If you showed me a script with a black woman character I would tell you that I could do it. That is what we do. We act as if we are someone else.
But people who think they can project themselves into deafness are mistaken because you can’t. And I’m not talking about imagining what a deaf person’s whole life is like I even mean just realizing what it is like for an instant.
For example, the first time McDonald’s put a deaf person in a commercial they saw a jump in sales. I think that happens with other kinds of disabilities and products and that is something that is being realized more and more.
I actually then went on to direct an after-school special where one of the characters was deaf. They hired me without even knowing I had any connection to the community.
I know deaf people. I have discussed the issues with them I’ve also thought about them a lot so I have some insights that go a little further than people who haven’t had contact with the deaf community.
Most profoundly deaf people have speech that is very difficult to understand.
No one will ever argue that someone could have played Helen Keller better than Patty Duke. It was an incredibly demanding role and I don’t think anyone can argue that it was a false performance.
Spelling is very easy to practice yourself whereas signing is not. So I would sit on the subway riding around New York and I would spell whatever I would see. When I watched a movie I would spell words as they came up.
The deaf community is in a favorable position because they have a national theatre and training groups of their own to get them started. Deaf actors have often acquired very valuable skills and experience before they get their break.
There is no relation to sound for deaf people. It is a totally different mental process.
You have to give access to people with disabilities but there is no requirement to hire them. What I mean by affirmative obligation is that producers must take the necessary steps to include opportunities for people with disabilities and a vast majority of them do.
You have to give people the opportunity to prove themselves.