The Power of Marlee Matlin


After reading Adreanline’s blog along with her vlog, “The Pain of Marlee Matlin”, and she expresses her ‘disappointment’ in Marlee Matlin being as a ‘celebrity’ spokesperson for causes that focuses on the medical view of deaf people. Adreanline hopes for deaf celebrities out there who will advocate for issues which addresses ASL and Deaf values.

With due respect to Adreanline, I beg to differ.

I dedicate this blog to Marlee Matlin and my title is “The Power of Marlee Matlin”, and that is how I feel about her at this moment.

Marlee Matlin is indeed a public face for the D/deaf Community and she has consistently proved herself over and over again by overcoming numerous obstacles and criticism. The harshest criticism were from the Deaf community.

In 1986, when a 20-year old Marlee Matlin was selected to perform as Sarah Norman for the movie, “Children of the Lesser God” with William Hurt. It was the first mainstream movie with a major character who is Deaf, performed by an actress with a hearing loss.

One year later, she won Academy Award, the youngest winner of Best Actress category at age of 21. I have witnessed this award show along with many Gallaudet students at the Abbey. It was a jubilant moment. However, in 1988, when Marlee was on the stage to announce the new Academy Award winner by using her voice instead of signing. It threw us off, and we were in shock and feeling disappointed. We criticize her. We shun her.

Yet, Marlee continues to work. She acts. She directs. She writes. She raised a family of four. She overcame addiction. She got involved with numerous charity organizations. She fights for accessibility. She did so much more, much more than ANY other actress I’ve ever known.

My resentment of Marlee for what she did in 1988 had evolved to everlasting admiration and awe.

I am in awe of Marlee. Today, she announced that she is a proud member of National Association of the Deaf. I am proud too.

Let’s look at this big picture. I created this graph here.

This is a visual graph of the total population of United States, and the bar on the right side represents the percentage of deaf and hard of hearing people, including a very tiny rectangle on the lower right corner representing approximately 500,000 ASL users.

The bar itself equals to the economic power – only 8.6% percent of US have hearing loss in various degree. Marlee represents the whole Deaf/deaf community.

Marlee turns people’s and politicans’ heads, and opens their pockets/purses. She is very influential. She is powerful.

Let her soar, and don’t clip her wings or tell her what to do, act and behave. Let her be. She KNOWS what she is doing. She is not stupid.

More power to Marlee Beth Matlin! You got my upmost respect and admiration.

Check out her OUTSTANDING professional resume, on the IMDb.

Amy Cohen Efron

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36 comments on “The Power of Marlee Matlin

I appreciate your advocating Marlee — I did indeed forget one key part of her career that “speaks” volumes, the My Deaf Family pilot. That was awesome.

I’m not trying to tear down Marlee or say she shouldn’t be a celebrity at all. She has done a lot! What I was shining a spotlight on was that small part and it in no way defines her as a whole. It was something I wanted to examine. I’m sorry I didn’t express that clearly — that is the risk of a public vlog. 🙂

Hi Adreanline,

I am glad you came to my blog and leaving a comment here. I know that we all recognize Marlee’s work and persistence.

I respect your opinion you have for Marlee and her charity choice, and I am sure that she have done so much MORE to bring the media exposure of Deaf Community.

Let us recognize Marlee’s work and her dedication.


Absolutely. People don’t realize what they are missing here. She is that magnet and has the ability to help increase the exposure about people with hearing loss, especially of those in the signing community. Because of politics some people are trying to mold her into their own image instead of letting her be herself. People need to applaud for what she’s doing instead of focusing on what she’s not doing. The mewlings and gnashings need to stop. When was the last time anybody ever watched a major television series show with several hearing and deaf actors that signed?

Folks, stop with the juvenile complaints about Marlee Matlin. She’s doing just fine. And, yes, I watched that show last night with my wife. We both enjoyed it. I thought perhaps that Marlee Matlin’s character would be the killer. BTW, has she ever played the role as a killer?

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by DeafRead and Amy Cohen Efron, Amy Cohen Efron. Amy Cohen Efron said: Wrote my rebuttal blog. "The Power of Marlee Matlin" […]

[…] ***** UPDATE: Check out Amy Cohen Efron’s excellent response here. […]

Marlee is very powerful for the deaf community, a diverse deaf community to be exact. I have never seen her put down any segment of the deaf community. Like Amy said, she is a member of NAD, she also is a spokesperson for Starkey and is involve with providing hearing aids for kids in third world country. I have always enjoyed watching Marlee. In other blogs, I have noticed someone mentioning her ASL skill, her exaggeration in signing. Truth is, all that is pretty common among the many deaf people I have encountered that are a part of the deaf culture. We all don’t sign exactly the same way (and hardly anyone uses true ASL these days) and we all use various level of expressions. All in all, I think we should give Marlee our support because she does represent all of us, especially the diverse deaf community and not just one segment of the deaf community. People look up to her and whatever she advocates for, people listen.

Thank you both, Amy and Adrean. I think this is an excellent conversation to have and am glad to see this discussion. I am thrilled with the work that Marlee Matlin has done and the fact that she has used her influence as a celebrity to help give a voice to some very important issues. And I appreciate the fact that she should be able to choose the charity that touches her. That said, I had a similar reaction to Adrean when I heard the charity choice. It was the same reaction I had when I watched Extreme Makeover when they were at the Oregon School for the Deaf and there was so much emphasis on getting the right hearing aids for the students. Do I think that those things are unimportant? Not at all. Anything that improves a person’s quality of life is important and I’m glad to see expanded access to those opportunities. The tension for me lies in the fact that that continues to be the dominant view and message and that opportunities to provide a different perspective are often missed. Provision of speech therapy and hearing aids fits nicely into the view that most people have of difference–that it is to be fixed. It fails to challenge the dominant views. And we hear the many stories of people for whom a focus on hearing amplification and speech skills did not improve their quality of life but instead made them feel like they were inadequate.

Perhaps it would be helpful to identify causes that would challenge the status quo view of being Deaf and contact Ms. Matlin and others in positions of influence to consider supporting those next time there is an opportunity.

Marlee Matlin visited my classroom (resource room for mainstreamed deaf/hoh students within a public school) a very long time ago. I remembered that she was really nice and really skinny. I vaguely remember her showing us some signs and talking to us a little. It was the first time I had seen someone use sign language in person. Imagine that. I don’t remember much else.

Thinking about it now, it is awesome that she took the time out of her way busy schedule to visit our classroom.

One of the things I like about her is that she does what she wants to do. Nothing seems to stop her or get in her way.


Melanie, Marlee Matlin has NEVER focused or discussed speech skills but rather about making hearing aids available. She still signs. All of the kids signed on Extreme Makeover, including the ones who got free hearing aids.

Marlee Matlin supports the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s philanthropy and mission “So the World May Hear.” Marlee Matlin has attended previous “So the World May Hear” galas in the past for several years with many notable and well known celebrities supporting the cause such as Jim Belushi, Lou Ferrigno, Glenn Frey, Goldie Hawn, Jay Leno, Kenny Loggins, Leslie Nielsen, Mickey Rooney, Kevin Sorbo, Robert Wagner, and many others.

She wears hear own Starkey hearing aids and has benefitted from wearing one so it’s no suprise that she supports this philanthropic mission on making hearing aids available to those who need it. Yet, she still signs.

What’s the problem?

Well said, Melanie — you explained it better than I could! I posted a list of possible organizations to consider supporting over at my original blog post. Perhaps that would be a good resource?


I am very curious about your next blog/vlog post about your perception of NAD and why you didn’t feel convinced that NAD fully support ASL and Deaf values. Did you know that NAD is membership driven, and the more members like us joining NAD, and volunteer our time or resources, then NAD represent us. The Scoggins Administration has been very supportive of ASL and Deaf values. They changed the mission statement and they added more vlogs on their website. Do you remember the Pepsi letter written by Alexander Graham Bell Association, and NAD’s response? Do you remember the NAD’s involvement with Pepsi/Enable to create a commercial, Bob’s House two years ago for pre-game Superbowl? NAD was instrumental to help COAT to lobby for 21st Century Telecommunications Bill? I could list so many things what NAD did, and can you help me to understand why you haven’t been convinced? Would you be willing to join NAD to make the difference as Marlee did?

I didn’t read @Adreanaline ‘s comment as “telling Marlee what to do” at all, but just a question thrown out for discussion. In my opinion, Marlee overreaced with her response. I’m sure she’s criticized often, but I just didn’t read that into @Adreanaline’s comment.
I admire, appreciate, and enjoy Marlee’s work. I don’t think that means she is off limits regarding our opinions being expressed to her.

Hi Sara,

I don’t mean to silence anyone’s opinions of Marlee Matlin. I felt compelled to give a sense of balance to this argument by how much Marlee have done for us. When asked a person on the street if they ever knew of a Deaf person and they say, Marlee Matlin. Not everyone personally met a regular Deaf Joe or Jane out there. I like how people knew Marlee Matlin.

Amy, I have addressed NAD in the past through my blog and other articles, on different topics. My perspective has changed over time but I still need to think it over more before I open a public discussion about it.

Certainly, take your time to think this over. I really appreciate your sharing thoughts and opinions. I am so excited that we have a respectful and meaningful dialogue here.

It is my hope that NAD grows into a stronger organization, and they desperately need brain power, and resources. NAD is an organization, and we as members can define how we want this to happen. I have seen NAD touching back to their roots, and at the same time, NAD is trying to evolve to meet the demanding issues out there.

Best regards,

I think that NAD has to consider the wide variety of diverse deaf/hh people out there and not stick to one specific view. I believe that is how it should be and I hope NAD continues to address issues that covers the diverse deaf/hh population. Those that uses sign languages of some sort and not just ASL, those that uses devices such as hearing aids/cochlear implants and those that are not just in deaf schools but also mainstream. Even those oral deaf too. Sometimes we need to think of other deaf/hh people’s needs and not just our own. We can be a big community that comes together respecting and tolerating different ways one can be deaf/hh. We’d go far with that.

Exactly, Candy. I see NAD as limiting rather than something that can be more expansive in what it can do because they let ideology and politics get in the way. There are room for a lot of things.

McConnell, I thought I was clear that I was not critical of Marlee Matlin. I’m a fan! I respect her immensely.

I also do not fault the work of anyone working to improve opportunities and quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing people.

There are just too few images out there that counter the dominant view that it is better to hear and speak than to sign. And I hope that there will be more chances to provide the perspective that communication is the key…and that communication happens in many forms. Adrean provides some alternative organizations on her vlog page that would present a different view such as Audism-Free America.

Thanks, again, Amy for providing a place for provocative conversation!


Well there are pros and cons when it comes to countering such a dominant view. For one, the majority of people with hearing loss aren’t those that know sign. In fact, they make up a teeny amount when compared to some 32 million people with hearing loss in the U.S. where they represent anywhere from 2 to 3 percent of that 32 million. Secondly, having a bunch of signing Deaf actors in television shows have the potential to create a stigma that signers are unable to talk clearly or even talk at all. Or even hear well enough to function without the need to sign.

In CSI, when the conclusion came after reassembling the pieces of bomb wirings part that almost killed the character that Marlee Matlin played saying that because of the sound it made concluded that it must have been assembled by a hearing person and not a deaf person. Why make that conclusion? It could have been made by a hard of hearing person or a deaf person who can hear well enough with a hearing aid or even a cochlear implant.

I have great respect for Adrean, as she initiates important and necessary discussions in our community. I have never known her to be anything but polite and respectful in doing so.

Adrean, your discussions are not “mewlings” or “gnashings”, and most certainly not “juvenile complaints”. Thank you for your courage in breaching topics others are afraid to touch, and for doing so in a thoughtful way.

Amy, thank you also for responding to Adrean in a thoughtful and respectful way. You two are setting excellent examples of healthy discussion that I hope more people will emulate.

On the matter of stigma, I think the bigger issue is that there is any stigma at all attached to hearing or speech level. It shouldn’t matter whether or not you hear, or whether or not your speech is intelligible. When people are concerned about the perception (or lack thereof) of deaf people as having some hearing or some speech, to me that concern is but a symptom of the bigger issue.

Marlee also has been active in captioning advocacy as well as other Deaf interests. What some forget is that no one can be all or advocate for all things…we all have to pick and choose what we want to promote. Kudos to Marlee and a big hand for her activism! I hope that we all can do the same!

Oops, typo in my post. “breaching” should be “broaching”.

Dianrez, good to see you chime in! I always enjoy your comments, including the ones at the NTID Tom Humphries presentation. Hope to be able to introduce myself in person next time!

I believe there are sounds that is not heard at certain decibel at certain distance even for HOH or deaf with CI (remember, some do have difficulty with distance sounds, background noises and even telephone). So even if it was a hoh or Cochlear implantee, it still have to be someone who is capable hearing it.


I think what Mike pointed out is true. Even hoh with hearing aids are capable of hearing certain sounds that other hohs can’t. Not all hoh have same frequencies and some are better at hearing certain sounds than others and it is based on type of hearing loss. With CI, I would assume that all frequencies are raised as shown on many CI’s audiogram unless there’s some problems with certain electrodes. I would think those with CI can hear more, especially if they are familiar with a particular sound. Takes listening skills for one and not everyone has that. Take another HOH with similar hearing loss as mine, we both will react differently and it’s based on how we choose to listen. How we choose to pay attention to certain sounds. Sometimes it is there but we choose not to listen for it. So, in other words, Mike is right…bomb could be made by a hoh or CI person who can hear it. It is possible. Ticking sounds are easily detectable by me, for example. Used to be I would hear a low ticking sound and it bothered me then I realized a family member bought a new clock and that clock drove me crazy…another family member with hearing loss could not hear it. Remember, we can’t use one person as an example for all others. Each of us are unique. That is the key here, we all are unique in our own way and that includes how we choose to be deaf.

Yeah, go Marlee! 😀

Yes, I used to hate her during my early teenhood, and then later, now I appreciate her very much for her amazing work. I still watch her shows some time to time. Cheers~


I think the reason why Marlee really getting better actress and come warmest each other more deaf actress and actors. It is looking better and years and years .. All of things it always changed while they getting better due to better films directors or some kind of their action huge changed better. I believe that

Phyllis is very lovely actress which Marlee and Phyllis almost always work together … kind of ? .. she is really wonderful and lovely!

Cheer, I do agree with you They are amazing and excellent actress.

What she had and has done for HERSELF is exemplary in all aspects. The very first public words she expressed is the most memorable. I never had seen her before and she wasnt talking nor signing for a while in her first movie. at first she looked retarded, and then when she executed the very first explosive sign. that is the key to her lifetime success.

Before you make any judgement, take a very HARD look at YOURSELF! what have YOU done that equal or exceed Marlee Matlin? The youngest actress in history to date won Oscar is that woman. I, for one, have been very successful as career architect in public realm, feel that Marlee had exceeded my ability and capability, I bow my hat off to her.

Ahh… I realize I’m probably not being clear. I will clarity it right now. I didn’t say I hate Matlin forever. I used to hate her when I was only young girl, later, now I get older and my views of her is totally changed. Just like Amy Efron did. I hope that is clear…

So yes, I completely agree with you, Micheal and Margaret. Good comments.

A few thoughts —

There is no major foundation advocating ASL and deaf people who choose to sign. (in contrast to the Oberkotter Foundation.) The CSI episode has reminded us of this fact. 

Just because the number of signing deaf people is small doesn’t mean that the overall signing community is small. For every deaf signer there’s probably hundreds of people who have some degree of signing ability because of that person. So lets look at the *signing community* numbers.

The signing community wants representatives — foundations, celebrities, and so on. That was my hope in the beginning. Emotionally-charged, yes, but a hope. Marlee has built a screen presence around her ability to sign — “Deaf woman with sexy signs versus woman with an unusual voice” as a friend succinctly put it. Picking or helping found an ASL-centered foundation would be a wonderful opportunity to give back, to establish something concrete within our community.

Amy, it’s precisely because our numbers are small that we need more people to speak out. Marlee was given a golden opportunity be be famous. It would take incredible circumstances for another person to get to where she is right now. I’m sorry ASL doesn’t have the money to pay for a celebrity sponsorship. Of course she has the freedom to choose what she endorses, but that doesn’t mean we should say nothing. She needs us, and we need her (Gallaudet board and NAD work boosts her credibility for example). This is precisely why we should care. How to care in a good way as a community, together, that’s something to consider.

On another note — Michael, your work as an architect is equally as important as the work Marlee does as an actress. All of us have roles in our community, whether great or small, and those roles are actually interdependent. Marlee couldn’t back up her “independent deaf person” talk if there weren’t Real Live independent deaf people out in the world proving her words true. Even if the only thing you do to contribute to our community is to comment on a blog, that’s still something!

On a personal note — every single one of us deep inside have some kind of pain from our experiences. This is why the deaf community is so sensitive. It also explains the reactions of Marlee and I — both of us have painful experiences in the past that influences how we relate to others. We might actually have the same sources of pain coming from a mainstreamed background, and raised by hearing parents using a total communication approach! We chose different coping strategies and different careers. This is just an example. Keeping this pain in mind might help us empathize with each other more and not take each other’s intentions badly. Just a thought. 🙂

“keeping this pain in mind might help us empathize with each other more and not take each other’s intentions badly.”

Well, maybe it works for you. For me, I don’t have any painful memories of being deaf or being in an oral school. All of that was part of life experiences that makes me the person that I am today, without grudges or bias towards any individual/community/entity. I don’t think we all have painful memories. Some might, but not all. Some people make a big thing out of their past and some don’t, some simply move on. It’s all in the attitude.

NAD has been around since the late 1800’s, they could have done more…such setting up a foundation similar to Oberkotter foundation. Oberkotter foundation does not have a sorrid history like deafhood does, so, I don’t see dh foundation getting anywhere near where Oberkotter is. Do we need something similar to what Oberkotter has on their site, would be nice. DH just doesn’t fit the bill, they have too much baggage and it’s unfortunate. I know my comment is going to rile up some people, but, ya know what? This is my opinion and no one has to agree. It doesn’t mean I have less view of the deaf community because truth is I don’t. I see things as they are and say it like it is.

As for foundations providing monetary resources..there are plenty of scholarships to look for.

Hands and Voices has many chapters that provide scholarships to high school graduates

There are other scholarships deaf/hh can get:

AGBell does offer scholarship to non-oral deaf/hh as well. They do.

I found many more scholarships that are offered. One has to go out and look for it and apply for these scholarships.

NAD also provides scholarships too.

To top it all off, there are plenty of scholarships that are not specifically geared towards deaf/hh that they can get. Don’t limit yourselves to just deaf entities, go out there and get it.

Candy — good points!

A new foundation would be nice, a fresh start. That’s something NAD could still consider, but really a core group of people with great connections would be excellent as well. An ASL-centric mission would probably let the new organization drop the “degree of deafness” baggage?

Baggage can be in the eye of the beholder. 😉

I think that even if a foundation has its mission focused on signing community (ASL-centric would eliminate many other deaf who do not sign ASL fluently or those who uses other forms of signs) and is careful about how it goes around sending their messages, keeping their reputation in check – that would be cool. There’s nothing wrong with having a foundation that focuses on signing community only. In fact, I do think there is a need for it. A great core of people that establishes a foundation would also be cool too, again, there is a need for such foundation to remain professional and not get into the polarizing views of their community. Holding a view is fine, putting down a view is not smart.

Then they go to the “capable of hearing it” category.But I still think a hearing person can hear a lot better especially under certain situation. The only reason they dont always hear what we hear because habituation . I used to tell my coworkers about bird chirping and I keep picking it up with my HAs (we were outside and the bird was loud) she was surprised that she didn’t notice the bird. She didnt hear it until I point out to her, yet she have more hearing than I do even with HAs. Thats just the way their brain handle sounds. Btw, does every movies or shows have to include hearing aids or CI just because it is about deaf community or culture.

I just wanted throw this in the mix, habituation is the very reason why deaf should not expect their CODA to hear everything

[…] The Power of Marlee Matlin […]

hi my name is samantha jane smith i am 24 years old
i am into marlee matlin films and marlee matlin is my first favourite deaf actress on the deaf people list as well and marlee matlin is profoundly deaf and has a wonderful and best interpreter in the would jack jason cool oh

from samantha jane smith from taunton somerset

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