Many of us take simple pleasures such as singing along to a song on the radio, hearing a friend’s voice on the phone or listening to the sound of the Seattle rain fall on rooftops for granted. From an early age we’re taught about the five senses, and trying to imagine life without one of those senses is nearly impossible.
For the one person in 20 who is deaf or hard of hearing, life without those sounds is a daily reality. Hearing loss or absence affects every aspect of a person’s life, from their ability to communicate with others, to their job prospects, to dealing with hurtful stereotypes and misconceptions. However, a lack of hearing does not mean this community doesn’t have plenty to say that we should pay attention to. Deaf culture is just as vibrant as any other, and CommLead Cohort 15 student Jacob Christensen took an opportunity to show the world the depth and richness of a community many of us know little or nothing about.
As part of an assignment for a core Communication Leadership class (COM 536: Leadership Through Story and Communities: Creativity and the Digital Age), Christensen sought to create a short video that would both highlight the richness of Deaf culture while enlightening hearing individuals on the struggles deaf people face. He says he developed an interest in Deaf culture after taking two years of American Sign Language in high school.
“Over the years, I have found myself troubled by how a group of people so large could play such a minor role in America, with stereotypes continuously dampening their career aspects,” Christensen writes in the description of the video on Vimeo. “When the opportunity presented itself to create a video aimed to educate hearing people about the Deaf person’s inequality, I took it.”
CommLead Associate Director Anita Crofts, who taught COM 536 this fall and supervised Christensen’s project, says that the video puts into practice the goals that he articulated from his very first COM 536 assignment. “Jacob wrote that he wanted ‘to search not only for a great way to use my camera skills but also for a way in which I may help better society as a whole,'” Crofts wrote. “His final project twinned his videography skills to bridge the Deaf and hearing cultures, and was so well received that his 52 peers voted his project one of the top five in the class. I look forward to how he continues to take this project forward during his remaining time at Comm Lead.”
Christensen shot the video over three to four hours with the help of cohort 14 student Leigh Burmesch and two ASL interpreters, and then spent another eight to 10 hours editing the footage. With the goal of reaching and educating as many hearing individuals as possible, Christensen paid close to attention to the secret sauce that makes viral videos so addicting. Part of that meant keeping the video short and sweet, and the finished product clocks in at just over three minutes. His studying has clearly paid off: the video has racked up more than 150,000 views and almost 3,300 shares since being posted on Facebook Monday evening, and those likes, shares and views continue to grow at a dizzying pace.
While the reception of the video has been largely positive, it has received some criticism. Part of the video shows two hearing individuals listening to music that has been modified to mimic the experience of what it might sound like for someone with a cochlear implant. While the video presents reasons why a person may not use a cochlear implant, some of the criticisms come from the perception that cochlear implants are an end-all-be-all cure for deafness, and that the video is painting deafness as something that needed to be cured in the first place. In actuality, Christensen says the video is meant to celebrate and respect the experiences of all deaf individuals, regardless of whether or not they have the implant.
“Some deaf people seek out cochlear implants because the technology has the potential to aid them with being more involved in the hearing community. But some people are very proud of their Deaf culture and do not need a “cure” for them to make the most out of life,” Christensen said. “We are not saying whether or not people should support cochlear implants, but that everyone, regardless of their individual decisions, should be respected for who they are. ”
Christensen says he will continue exploring Deaf culture and the Deaf community, and plans to release a series of videos on the topic. Although not hearing impaired himself, Christensen believes that’s exactly what allows him to be an effective ambassador for the Deaf community. “I found myself perfectly poised to create a video that hearing people would like, while still understanding the values of Deaf culture,” Christensen said. “I believe that I am in a unique position and fully plan on exploiting my abilities to create more videos empowering Deaf culture.”
You can watch the video in full below:
You can keep up with the project on Facebook, Vimeo or Christensen’s personal site. You can also read Flip the Media’s previous coverage about Rainworks, another viral video created by Christensen and fellow cohort 15 student Scott Morris.