Making Education Accessible to Deaf Children | Nyle DiMarco | TEDxKlagenfurt

December 6, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney I’d like to tell you a story. When I was 24, I found myself living
in a small beach town by the name of Naples, Florida. I was looking for something new. I was 24. I’m 29 now. And in that small coastal town,
I was the only Deaf resident. In fact, the closest deaf person
was a few hours away by car. And all of the friends and acquaintances
that I had made could hear. I didn’t mind though;
I wanted something new. Lucky for me, Naples, Florida is home to some of
the U.S. Olympics volleyball team, where they reside
and train through the year. So I had a fantastic opportunity
to play with them every day I could. And we’d hit the court all the time,
either indoors or out at the beach; it was great. Lucky for them, I happen
to be very good at volleyball. So one night after a great game, a friend and I pull up
some chairs by the water to watch the sun go down and chat. And he looks over at me
and he asks me a question that completely blew me away. To be honest, in 24 years of my life,
nobody had ever asked me. And his question was simple: “Have you ever wished you could hear?” I looked at him for a second and thought, Where did that come from? Then I took a moment and I realized while we had been sitting there, I could see waves coming in
and crashing on the beach. He could hear that. Obviously, I couldn’t. My entire world is completely silent. To our left, people
had taken over the court and were playing volleyball,
cheering each other on. To our right, a mother
was playing and laughing with her baby. And behind us, cars and ATVs had passed by all day
without me even noticing. So, I was quick to answer: “No, of course not. I’ve never wished I could hear. I’ve never wished
that because I love who I am.” And you may be wondering,
How do I love myself as a Deaf man? Well, first, I was born deaf. My deafness shaped my childhood, and it’s all I’ve ever known. So my perspective on life
and my experience of the world is very different. My outlook and my life
has involved experiences that many of you have never
had to encounter as hearing people. My culture, something
I embody and cherish, has always been Deaf. My perspective on life
is completely different. The experiences I’ve had,
something I hold most dear, have taught me
to love myself as a Deaf man. To illustrate that point, if I were to walk into a job interview
with a panel of hearing peers, and if I were to approach that meeting
wishing that I could hear, wishing that I could speak like them, and focusing on that imbalance, do you think that I would do very well? Obviously not, right? Because in the back of my mind
I’m focusing on the negative, therefore creating a negative outcome, and I’m certain I wouldn’t get that job. But, if instead, I use my difference
as an advantage and an asset, I know that as a Deaf man
I have so much to offer their company. My experiences growing up
are much different from theirs. And knowing that allows me
to approach the interview positive. I can go into that meeting
and confidently tell them how they will benefit
from hiring a Deaf man for a multitude of reasons. And I can walk out with that job
because it’s all about mindset. So I say first and foremost
to love yourself. So as I mentioned, the first reason
I love myself is my upbringing. But many of you may not know
that I come from a rather large family. I have two brothers who are also Deaf along with my parents, my grandparents, and yes, even my
great-grandparents as well. I’m the fourth generation
in a beautiful family with over 25 Deaf members. Born to Deaf parents
who understood the Deaf experience, they knew exactly how to raise me. They knew how to provide me
with the best opportunities and to support me. From day one of my existence,
my parents gave me language, access to education, and love. Growing up, my life was perfect. Imagine, like many of you
born to hearing parents, I never noticed barriers
that simply weren’t there. I’m sure many of you
felt your life was normal, the same way that I did. Coming from a Deaf family, my world,
in every way, was a utopia. When it came time for my parents
to enroll me in school, they already knew
that I would go to the Deaf school. I would learn in an environment
that was designed for me. At that time, all of my peers, and teachers, and even the superintendent was Deaf. So, I was still in my perfect world. I was in an environment where I could grow
and where I could thrive. And I had no problems;
it was perfect for me. And many people
don’t believe that, but it’s true. For me, the Deaf community, our world,
was the perfect world for me. And I remember in the summer
before fifth grade, I was ready to go back to school, and I asked my mom
to go to a public school. She thought I was crazy. She said, “What?! No! Public school, it’s all hearing kids. The Deaf school is a perfect fit.” And I said, “No, I want to learn
what those students are learning. I want to see what
their classrooms are like. What are public school teachers like?” So upon my insistence she enrolled me. And after two weeks of frustration, I came home pleading
to go back to the Deaf school. She listened very sympathetically
and told me, “Nope, too bad.” I was floored. She told me I needed
to stick it out for a year because I needed to learn how
to interact with my hearing peers, and that if I gave it a little patience, I would learn so much
about the world around me. Because the reality is
the world is hearing. I was the only Deaf kid
in the entire school. Of course, I always had hearing friends,
but they could sign like me. So that year I gained a lot of insight. I couldn’t be involved
in any of the school organizations. My friends never learned
enough sign to communicate. And every time I tried
to play a sport, I’d get benched. The basketball coach told me a Deaf kid
could never help the team win a game. And I was athletic. So after a year,
I went back to the Deaf school where I realized that’s my home. That’s my community. And my community is where I can thrive. I got involved in the classroom again, joined a bunch of school organizations, and got back on the basketball team,
where I helped win many games. So it’s without hesitation that I can say
the Deaf community is in fact my home. After graduating high school, I was accepted into
the only Deaf university in the world: Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. It was there I gained
my degree in mathematics with the intention
of becoming a better teacher than the ones I had growing up. Like many of you, I sat through
some math teachers who seriously sucked. (Laughter) I wanted to be a good math teacher. But I also wanted to be
a good role model for those students. So as time got closer to graduation,
of course I was nervous. I started questioning
if I had made the right decision. And I decided to get out – to get out of my comfort zone
and to travel the world. Since then, I’ve been
to over 43 countries. And the funny thing about when I travel is that I’m constantly meeting
hearing people who say, “Nyle, you are so brave.
How do you travel like this? Isn’t it hard to be Deaf and travel? It looks impossible.” And let me tell you,
traveling as a Deaf person, I think, is actually much easier
than traveling for hearing people. Because sign language is something
that gives me access to a much larger world. I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories. A few years ago, I was in south Sicily
perusing a flea market, when I walked into a butcher shop, and standing there is an American tourist
trying to ask the butcher where the meat he was slicing
is sourced from. So the Sicilian man, speaking
no English, is gesturing, right? And you know Italians gesture. He’s trying to explain
where the meat comes from, and it’s going right
over the head of the tourist. So watching this very comical
breakdown in conversation, I’m understanding everything perfectly, so I pull out a paper and a pen, and I translate
what the butcher is saying, and I hand it over
to the tourist and explain, “This is what he’s trying to tell you.” So there I am, the Deaf person
translating for two hearing people. And in that situation,
they’re the ones disabled, not me. (Laughter) While that story is ironic, it happens so many times
when I meet people in other countries. I’m always amazed
to meet locals in other countries, and their ability to gesticulate
and communicate with me, often quite easily. And I would always tell myself
to visit the local Deaf schools and to make time to meet Deaf locals. But with every new Deaf school that I saw, I was sad to see that their schools
were in terrible condition, and their education was greatly lacking. Often, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. When I would meet Deaf adults,
I realized a common thread very quickly. They either didn’t have
the same level of education I did or their language was incomplete,
making it hard to communicate. They’d often complain to me
that the system had failed them, and now they struggled to find work. And I kept asking myself, why is this happening,
and why is this happening so often? Why am I somehow more fortunate? Growing up, I thought every deaf person
in the world was like me and had the same opportunities that I did. So in returning to the United States, I decided to do
some research on the topic. And what I found shocked me. There are currently more
than 70 million deaf people in the world with only two percent of them having
access to education in sign languages. Which means millions
upon millions of deaf children not receiving the education they need, also known as education deprivation. I also learned that over
75 percent of hearing parents don’t sign to communicate
with their deaf children. Which is astonishing. Again, imagine millions
and millions of deaf children without an education, without a language. Those children without language
and access to education exhibit signs of brain damage. In my research, I also found that I’m a part of an even smaller group. Ten percent of Deaf children
come from Deaf parents like mine. Only 10 percent. I’m incredibly lucky. I had access to language, an education, and I had parents who loved me
and put me on a path to success. I wouldn’t be who I am today
without any of those things. So it was clear to me
that something needed to be done. I got to work in setting up
my own foundation – the Nyle DiMarco Foundation – with the goal of improving the lives of millions of deaf people
around the world. We’ve since partnered with another
Deaf organization in the United States to introduce legislation – a bill that requires all deaf children
have access to language between the ages of zero and five, setting up benchmarks for their success. Because before the age of five, children have the ability
to acquire a foundation in language, readying them for the classroom
and for a successful life. After the age of five, that critical
language acquisition window closes. I’m working to give every deaf child
in the world a future filled with a rich language and the opportunities
I was lucky enough to receive. But the Deaf community cannot do it alone; we need you to become our allies and join us in making
the world more knowledgeable. We need you to join us,
to fight with us and for us in the ongoing battle of affording
children what they need to thrive. So before I go, I want to teach you
two very simple but important signs. The first is “love.” The second, “yourself.” Follow me: Love yourself. Brilliant! A-plusses all around! Thank you. (Laughter)