Top 5 FBTS Stories of 2018

December 26, 2018 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: May 1, 2020

2018 has been a great year for our storytelling project, Faces Behind The Screen. We’ve had the opportunity to interview people with sensory disabilities from all walks of life. Here are our top 5 FBTS stories of 2018. These individuals are breaking barriers and overcoming stereotypes, showing the world that people with disabilities can do anything!

1. Nico DiMarco

Nico DiMarco DJs for crowd

Nico has shown off his awesome DJ skills around the world, electrifying crowds with dazzling rhythms. His love for music started as a young kid, where he watched music programs and stayed abreast of the latest music trends. Nico’s parents didn’t understand his love for music because he couldn’t hear. Nico was born deaf and comes from 4 generations of deaf members in his family. His parents invested in his love for music and purchased a home theater with speakers. That is where it all began. Although Nico was deaf, he could hear just enough to pick up the rhythm of the song.

What started out as a hobby developed into a career. Nico saw a need in the music industry to play music d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals could appreciate. He decided to turn the tables and become a DJ himself. The Deaf community, contrary to popular belief, always loved music. As a deaf DJ, Nico was able to communicate with the community and provide them with a musical experience like no other.

Being a deaf DJ comes with its challenges. Some people have never seen a deaf DJ before, and don’t understand why a deaf person would want to DJ in the first place. Albeit, Nico understands that being deaf is not a barrier for him. You can catch Nico performing for crowds from the U.S. to France. “It takes baby steps to get somewhere”, says DiMarco, “but if you do it right, you’ll get to the top.”

Read more of Nico’s story here.

2. CJ Jones

CJ Jones smiling and waving

CJ Jones is a Deaf actor, producer, director, writer, and entrepreneur. He recently starred in the hit blockbuster film, Baby Driver. This year we had the pleasure of interviewing CJ and learning more about his work in the entertainment industry.

CJ shares that he wants the audience to forget that he’s deaf. Deaf people have relationships, they love, and feel sadness. They are more than just their deafness. CJ advocates for having more roles in Hollywood that show d/Deaf and hard of hearing people as multi-faceted and dynamic characters.

It’s important for CJ to educate others on deaf culture and include actors with disabilities at the table. The more exposure audiences have to diverse roles, more doors will open for other d/Deaf actors who want to work in the TV/film industry.

Read more of CJ’s story here.

3. Jari Hazelebach

Jari Hazelebach smiles

Jari Hazelebach is a Dutch entrepreneur who is changing the conversation around hearing loss. Jari grew up with Deaf parents and learned first-hand the difficulties some d/Deaf people experience when engaging in group conversations. This inspired him to start his own technology company called, SpeakSee, a speech-to-text device that helps hearing and non-hearing people have more natural conversations.

His idea came from wanting to help his father be included in business meetings and wanting his mother to hear small details in social conversations. Jari learned that many people with hearing loss don’t feel comfortable asking others to adapt to them. With SpeakSee, you can easily install the app on your smart device and everybody can connect. Every word in a conversation is recorded, and speech is transcribed into text in less than a second. This tremendously helps people with hearing impairments, especially in situations with a lot of background noise.

Technology has had a positive impact on the Deaf community. It gives d/Deaf and hard of hearing people the opportunity to communicate and bridge the gap between the hearing and non-hearing world.

Read more of Jari’s story here.

4. Michael Dunham

Michael Dunham poses with a statue

Michael grew up identifying as a capital “D” Deaf to emphasize his value of the Deaf identity. He didn’t meet a lot of people in the community until after graduating high school, where he attended Gallaudet University. When Michael was a young kid during the ’80s, ASL was not recognized as a formal language. He grew up learning English and Signed Exactly English (SEE).

ASL gave Michael the confidence to express himself. He started a hobby of board games, and over the years noticed socializing/playing with hearing people using board games made communication easier. Michael was able to teach sign language through the board game rulebook. This was his way of sharing and exposing ASL to hearing individuals who wanted to learn and play.

Combining ASL and board games made for easy communication because of the use of visual cues. He encourages socializing through games and emboldens hearing people to develop connections with deaf people and vice versa.

Read more of Michael’s story here.

5. Matt Maxey

Matt Maxey smiles

Matt Maxey is the founder of DEAFinitely Dope, an ASL interpreter and performance group helping deaf and hard of hearing fans enjoy live music. If you’ve been to a music festival in the last few years, you may have noticed sign language interpreters are increasingly making regular appearances and making concerts more accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

By making ASL more commonplace at shows and festivals, Matt is inspiring others to learn sign language and the opportunity to foster better communication between the hearing and non-hearing community. More recently, Matt went on tour with Grammy award-winning artist, Chance The Rapper.

The goal of DEAFinitely Dope is to bridge the musical gap between the deaf and the hearing world. “The more you show it on social media, the more you make the use of sign language interpreters more available, the more it’s exposed, the more it’s seen, the more awareness, the more change is actually going to happen.”

Read more of Matt’s story here.


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