Deaf Actress Marlee Matlin Screams Now For Deaf Rights

Actress Marlee Matlin smiles big for the camera.
Actress Marlee Matlin smiles big for the camera.Dale Johnson

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By Giacinta Pace

Marlee Matlin was only 18 months old when an illness permanently destroyed all hearing in her right ear, and 80 percent in her left ear, making her deaf. She pursued an acting career regardless of her struggles and received worldwide critical acclaim for her film debut in Paramount Pictures' "Children of a Lesser God," for which she received the Academy Award for Best Actress. She starred for seven years on the award winning drama, “The West Wing, ” and in 2007 Marlee joined the cast of “The L Word” for three seasons. Marlee broke barriers when she performed on “Dancing with the Stars” and in 2011, became part of the show “Switched at Birth. ” That same year, she broke ground once again as a finalist on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” raising a record-breaking $1 Million dollars for charity - in one day.

Marlee currently serves as a National Celebrity Spokesperson for The American Red Cross and was instrumental in getting federal legislation passed in support of Closed Captioning. The deaf actress is also the author of three children's novels and in 2009, published her New York Times Best Selling autobiography, “I’ll Scream Later.” She currently resides in the Los Angeles area with her husband, a law enforcement officer and their four children.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation's premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the US. On March 13th, 2014, Honorary Chair Marlee Matlin and Co-Chairs Henry and Stacey Winkler present the First Annual NAD Breakthrough Awards in Hollywood, California.

Interview Conducted Via Email By: Giacinta Pace

Q: What is your charity and how are you involved?

Marlee: My charity is the National Association of the Deaf. It's the nation's premier civil rights organization of, by and for millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans. NAD works across a broad spectrum of life for deaf and hard of hearing Americans, impacting present and future generations in the areas of early intervention, education, employment, health care, technology, telecommunications, youth leadership, and more.

As for my involvement with the NAD, I've been a celebrity spokesperson for them for a number of years and recently testified on Capitol Hill and at the FCC regarding closed captioning access - something I lobbied successfully for over 20 years ago for broadcast TV - now for broadband and Internet.

Q: Why is the First Annual NAD Gala important to you?

Marlee: The Gala is all about recognizing trailblazers in the entertainment industry who made it possible (and who continue to do so today) for deaf and hard of hearing artists to be part of the Hollywood landscape. People like Oscar and Emmy winner writer and producer, Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing, Newsroom, Moneyball, The Social Network); Lizzy Weiss, Executive Producer and creator of the Peabody Award winning ABC Family Television Drama, Switched at Birth, Disney Parks and Resorts; Bernard Bragg, one of the founding members of the National Theater of the Deaf; and PepsiCo, the first to promote a Super Bowl ad featuring deaf artists. Such inclusion and recognition is instrumental in how society perceives America's deaf and hard of hearing community, eventually encouraging and supporting equal treatment/access.

Q: What is the nicest thing someone has done for you?

Marlee: A long time ago, when I was 12 years old, a wise man told me that I should follow my heart and not let anything stand in the way of my dreams. That man was Henry Winkler. And 8 1/2 years later, I was standing on a stage in Hollywood with an Academy Award in my hand for Best Actress. He was and continues to me my mentor and friend and inspires me to spread the importance of mentoring, particularly on behalf of those who face barriers of one kind or another.