Should a Hearing Actor Ever Play a Deaf Character?

In the last several years, TV shows and movies have begun including more characters who have both physical and invisible disabilities in an effort to better represent the experiences of those watching. This represents a change happening in our culture overall - one that is working to be more inclusive of those with disabilities and making things more accessible. Though we still have a long way to go. RespectAbility, an organisation fighting stigma and advancing opportunity for people with disabilities, shares: “An estimated 95% of available roles are portrayed by talent without a disability.”

The representation of disabled characters in mainstream media - and the choice to prioritise actors with disabilities to play those characters - is growing slowly. Rather than defaulting to already-known hearing actors to play these roles, many are speaking out and putting pressure on the executives in charge of casting to find talent that will better represent the character being portrayed.

Several popular movies from the past few years have centred around characters who have a hard of hearing diagnosis.

Award-Winning Oscar Movie CODA features deaf actors

CODA, a 2021 Oscar-winning film (and an acronym that stands for Children of Deaf Adults), stars two deaf actors as the parents of an aspiring singer. Ruby Rossi (played by Emilia Jones) is a highschool student and the only hearing member of her family, who run a fishing business in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The movie is a coming of age story for Ruby, who’s seen as an outcast at school due to her family’s special needs.

Actor Marlee Matlin, active in Hollywood for 35 years, plays Ruby’s mom Jackie Rossi. Matlin was outspoken about her opinion that another deaf actor be brought on to play her husband in the film. "If you do [cast a hearing actor], I'm just out, that's it,” she said to USA Today. “I've seen so many times in this industry where hearing actors take on the role of deaf characters. We've had enough of that. It's time for myself and other deaf actors to be able to speak up and say, enough is enough. We are here. Our talents are valid."

The role of Matlin’s husband, Frank Rossi, eventually went to deaf actor Troy Kotsur. CODA won best picture at the 2022 Academy Awards, and received wide acclaim for its representation of the struggles of a hard of hearing family in modern America.

Marvel TV characters wear hearing aids, as does the actor who plays him.

Marvel TV series Hawkeye also features deaf and hard of hearing characters in a way recognized favourably by the deaf community. Hawkeye, also known as Clint Barton, wears purple hearing aids. His character, based on the Hawkeye character from Marvel Comic books, has a confusing history of deafness, and over the years different reasons have been given for his disability - from childhood abuse to proximity to one too many explosions.

Jeremy Renner, who plays Hawkeye, who is also hard of hearing, told Screen Rant that it’s: "a really wonderful thing" that this side of Hawkeye is being shows. "A lot of that is in my life,” he continued, and "it’s always been a part of Clint’s character in the comics."

The series also induced a second deaf superhero Echo, played by deaf actor Maya Lopez, who was greeted in ASL by the cast on her first day on set (and the first day of her professional acting career). Though these superhero characters exist in a world different from ours, the depiction of deaf people, super powers or not, whose characters are not exclusively about their disability alone, is a step in the right direction for disability awareness.

Disability representation in the media matters

From both a representation and story-telling perspective, no amount of acting can replace a true, lived experience. Casting deaf and hard of hearing actors in central roles forces the old system of hiring already-popular actors aside and presents the important challenge of finding talent of a wider variety.

If you are experiencing symptoms of hearing damage or hearing loss, and a long term disability insurance company denies your LTD claim, we can help. With 35 years of experience as a disability law firm in Ontario, Share Lawyers has helped many clients, including those with hearing-related diagnoses get the disability benefits they rightfully deserve. Disability law in Canada is always evolving and now covers more conditions than ever before and legal precedent suggests that disability can and should be interpreted in broad terms.

At Share Lawyers we understand and empathize with the challenge represented by living with hearing difficulties. The long term disability lawyers at Share Lawyers have experience in helping people with hearing disabilities get the LTD benefits that they need.

Thank you to this article from Buzz Feed which supplied information for this article.

If you have had your claim for long term disability denied, contact the long term disability insurance lawyers at Share Lawyers or take our short quiz to find out if you have a case. Our 35+ years of experience inlong term disability (LTD) law can help you win your case against Canada Life, Desjardins, Manulife, RBC Insurance, Sun Life, and other insurance companies. We offer free consultations and there are no fees unless you win your case. Join us on Facebook and become a Top Fan for a chance to win each month.


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