When actress Marlee Matlin was asked to describe what if felt like to be the first deaf Academy Award winner, she responded ‘I”ll scream later.’” In a campus presentation in the UTC Fine Arts Center, she brought a message filled with a sense of humor and courage.
Saying “life is great” and “I relish the challenges,” Matlin made the decision “never to be afraid of Hollywood. It’s just like high school, except with more money.” She mentioned her famous supportive friends Whoopi Goldberg and Henry Winkler, who became her mentor. Matlin said Winkler advised her to “never let the critics define me. The only barriers were “up here, in my mind.”
The Office for Students with Disabilities invited Matlin to speak on campus in recognition of Disability Awareness Month. This event was sponsored by the Office for Students with Disabilities, Access and Diversity Committee, Speakers and Special Events, Student Government Association, and the Wellness Committee. Matlin used Sign Language to deliver her message.
Deaf since she was 18 months old, Matlin told the story of supportive parents who declined to place her in a special school for the deaf, located far from home and without easy access for her family. Matlin described being mainstreamed in a school near Chicago. She discovered acting at 7 years old.
She received the Academy Award for her role in “Children of a Lesser God” and she has appeared in additional films. Her television roles include guest appearances in “Desperate Housewives,” “My Name is Earl,” “Seinfeld” and “The West Wing.”
Matlin told several stories of using humor to diffuse uncomfortable remarks about her disability. “In the end, deaf people deserve respect, they deserve to be heard,” Matlin said.