Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin: a sign of hope

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 | 10:06 p.m. CDT; updated 11:34 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Marlee Matlin signs to students and members of the community during Celebrate Ability Week at Jesse Auditorium on the MU campus Tuesday. Matlin is a deaf Oscar award winning actress who now advocates for the deaf community and disability awareness.

COLUMBIA — Through the sea of waving hands signing applause, Marlee Matlin could barely be seen standing at the lectern, accompanied by her interpreter, delivering her message in sign language.

"It's all about ability," she signed.


"Children of a Lesser God," the movie Marlee Matlin one an Oscar for, is playing for free 8 p.m. Wednesday in Jesse Wrench Auditorium in Memorial Union South.  

Matlin is a deaf Oscar-winning actress, author and activist. She spoke to a full Jesse Auditorium on Tuesday night as part of MU's Celebrate Ability Week, sharing the story of the barriers she had to conquer to become successful. The speech was done through sign language, projected behind her as her interpreter, Jack Jason, verbalized the speech.

Matlin discussed her success in life as a way to inspire the audience to conquer their barriers. To her, "courage plus dreams equals success," and she taught the audience how to sign the phrase.

Matlin shared a mix of upsetting and funny stories from her time in Hollywood.

Shortly after winning an Academy Award for the film "Children of a Lesser God," film critic Rex Reed wrote that her Oscar win was the result of a pity vote and that she didn't deserve the award because a deaf woman playing a deaf role wasn't acting. Matlin said this was the first time she felt handicapped.

"Even New York Magazine said I was a fine actor, but I could never work in Hollywood again because roles for deaf people were limited, which meant that I was limited," she said. "For the first time in my life, I truly felt handicapped and alone."

Matlin also used humorous stories of the trials she has had to conquer from childhood (like explaining to other kids that her hearing aides were actually wads of bubblegum) through her recent appearance on The Celebrity Apprentice to get the audience laughing and to convey an important lesson she learned from her parents.

"I strive to pass along the important message from my parents," she said. "No matter what barriers are out there, all of us, no matter what abilities we have, not only deserve respect, but we deserve to be heard."

Overall, audience reaction was satisfied. Christina Wilde, an interpretation major at William Woods College, said she learned from watching Matlin and Jason.

"I'll remember how they had an easy going relationship and bring that into my interpreting," she said.

Callie Lockhart, chair of the Films Committee for the Missouri Students Association, said everyone seemed very excited over the the presentation.

"One person even said, 'Can't top Marlee Matlin!'" Lockhart said. 

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Sign Shine October 5, 2011 | 2:33 a.m.

Marlee Matlin is such a great inspiration--both for deaf and hearing individuals everywhere. I definitely don't believe that her Oscar award was anything but deserved and her new role on ABC Family is also a great way to promote awareness about the deaf community. She is such a strong advocate for the deaf community and her stories are definitely both interesting and inspiring.

As a sign language and parenting expert, I believe that sign language is beneficial at any age, especially for babies who are just learning how to explore the world. If you wish for more information about baby sign language, please feel free to visit my website at and explore some of the resources available for those just starting to sign!

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