People think I’m joking when I say that I wear hearing aids but no I’m being serious.
My name is Katherine Stella Marshall and I’m a deaf/hard of hearing actor, singer, dancer and model from Portsmouth, UK. I wear hearing aids in both ears, I lip read but I do not sign. I’m not able to sign and I actually don’t know anybody from the deaf community as I grew up completely in a hearing community. My main challenge is that I really struggle to hear people.
As an actor, it’s really frustrating with a group of actors because actors are the people who are meant to be speaking the clearest and the loudest for everybody to hear. I’ve learnt over the years that as soon as I get into a sort of workshop or audition space or rehearsal space is that I make sure that everybody knows about my condition, what my adjustments are or things that I need people to do. I can then say from the get-go that I’m confident that everybody is aware of the behaviour that they need to adopt. And that I’ve done everything that I can to hear most things that are said.
The key to pretending to hear people is just saying the word really? So it’s almost like you’re just mirroring. It’s brilliant. Watch my example in the video. I’m constantly pretending that I can hear people.
There’s a huge mental health aspect to being deaf – when we can’t hear or we’re in hearing situations and we’re not fully involved and people aren’t making any adjustments – that for me makes me turn inward. There’s a narrative going on in my head which is making me self-sabotage and become more and more deflated and isolated so there is that mental aspect. That’s why it’s so important that if you can make adjustments then please do because its more about us feeling connected and feeling that we matter rather than hearing some stupid comment that somebody made.
My advice specifically for the acting industry is to please hire more deaf actors, not just for deaf characters and deaf roles but also for other roles that are hearing for example. With the scripts we work perfectly and that’s our dream – to know what’s coming and what’s being said so we are more than capable of stepping up to a hearing acting role.
My advice for deaf people is to tell people from the get-go as soon as you enter the room what you need to have the best experience that you can because if you know that you’ve done everything to make your experience better – then the rest is on them and that’s all you can do.
Learn from me – I spent years and years pretending I didn’t have a disability and pretending I didn’t have any additional needs. In the long term it just made everything so much more difficult and more challenging and frustrating and I cried a lot more than I needed to. This all could have been avoided if I had just been honest with myself and other people from the start. So just simply tell people what you need.