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Michael Schwartz, Law Professor

As one of the few born-deaf professors in the country, Michael Schwartz has  never let his handicap stop him from communicating with those around him. He is  an assistant law professor and director of the Public Interest Law Firm, a civil  rights clinic at Syracuse University's College of Law. Schwartz works with an  interpreter both in class and in his office. While he can read lips and has been  able to speak from a young age, an interpreter helps him communicate more  clearly, in situations where it is harder to communicate. He did not learn to  sign until later in life, and grew up using speechreading and oralism.

Schwartz believes that his deafness only affects him as far as he lets it.  "Disability isn't my deafness, Schwartz says, "disability is how society is set  up so that I'm at a disadvantage."

Ambitious from a young age, Schwartz went to Northwestern University as an  undergraduate student. He then went to the National Theater of the Deaf, where  he learned how to mime. "I thought that I was going to become an actor,"  Schwartz explained, "then I shifted to another direction and went to New York  University."

Schwartz made quite a shift indeed. He got a degree in law from NYU and  became the assistant district attorney of New York County. After fighting for  civil rights and even being arrested at a protest, Schwartz said, he got a  master of law degree at Columbia University.

After that, he now had a new dream: to become a law professor. Schwartz  worked for a time at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical  Institute for the Deaf teaching political science, but eventually left. "I had  four degrees, and RIT said I wasn't qualified," Schwartz explained.

In 2004, while working on his doctorate through the School of Education with  a concentration in disability studies at Syracuse, a job opened up. Today  Schwartz, who successfully defended his doctorate to receive it on April 4, is  an assistant law professor and supervises 10 third year law students.

Steve Simon, director of the Office of Disability Services, works with  Schwartz and other deaf students to provide for their needs. "Ensuring academic  equity for students who are deaf involves providing services that create equal  access to information that is ommunicated in the classroom and in other  university sponsored activities," Simon wrote in an e-mail.

There are approximately 20 deaf or hard-of-hearing students at Syracuse. It  is difficult to gauge an exact number because many students either choose not to  identify themselves or need little or no assistance from the Office of  Disability Services, Simon added.

Those like Schwartz who need interpreters look to Aurora of Central New  York's Marjorie Clere Interpreter Referral Service. Aurora, as per a contractual  agreement with the university, refers one of the freelance interpreters they  work with to the school for students and staff. They also provide interpreters  upon request for SU-sponsored events and speakers.

One such interpreter, Liz Wilcox, a Syracuse native, works with Schwartz on  Tuesdays and Thursdays. She was inspired to learn sign language by a deaf friend  and effortlessly communicates with Schwartz in sign language, almost instantly  translating the rapid hand movements into words.

Learning sign language is very difficult, said Angelo Coppola, director of  MCIRS. To become nationally certified, one must pass a grueling examination that  includes both a written test and a sign language performance. "Being a certified  sign language interpreter, to equate it, would be comparable to being a U.N.  interpreter," Coppola said. Wilcox, who is not yet certified, said she hopes to  take the test soon.

Coppola went on to acknowledge that many people don't address deafness  because they are unaware of it. "It's an invisible disability," he said. "The  only time it becomes visible is in communication."

Schwartz agreed, saying people don't know he is deaf when they see him  walking down the street. Communication however, can often exclude him from  others. "When I'm with a group of hearing people and I don't have an  interpreter, I feel isolated; I feel left out," Schwartz said. "When I'm with  other deaf people, I don't feel disabled."

One way to ensure equality among deaf students and faculty is to learn basic  sign language, Schwartz said.

Although Schwartz may be different than other professors at SU, he doesn't  let it bother him. He still gives students the best education they can get and  moves through the world as a normal, functioning person. "I identify myself as a  member of the deaf community. I am familiar with all of the markers of that  identify a community, particularly the deaf community," Schwartz said. "If I'm  walking down the street and (people) looked at me, they would not know that I  was deaf."

Marlee's Speech: Goodbye Marcia Brady,

Hello Alice: Challenges and Change for  Marlee Matlin
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in the 1970s  was not much different for me than it was for anyone else. In fact, life on Ozanum Avenue in Morton Grove, Ill., was pretty much like an episode of 'The  Brady Bunch.' Every day was a "sunshine day" -- it was all about "keep on, keep  on, keep on groovin." I had my hearing aid firmly planted in my ear and walked  around like I was the most popular girl in town, an attitude my parents totally  encouraged. I envisioned myself as a deaf Marcia Brady with long, luxurious  hair, skating down the street saying "hi" to everyone in the  neighborhood.

In our household it was all about chutzpah. To my  parents, it was me, not my deafness, that was notable. Whether or not the world  liked it, I was going to be treated like any child should be treated, with love  and respect. So every day my parents opened the door and encouraged me to  explore. They allowed me to roam the neighborhood on my own, walk to stores by  myself and even let me meet new kids on my own. Yes, I was "different." And,  yes, people were often cruel but -- deaf or not -- that was just part of growing  up. Growing up as a Matlin, however, meant there was an answer for  everything.

When kids made fun of my hearing aids, I would  tell them they were just big globs of bubble gum. And when some kids made fun of  my speech, my brothers would jump to my defense and say, "Our sister doesn't  talk funny. She just has a mysterious accent because our parents are foreign  spies."

But it was when I faced my biggest barrier -- my  own attitudes about my hearing -- that my parents helped me understand that  deafness was all in my mind and not in my ears. It happened when they got the  city to put up a big yellow sign right in front of our house that said,  "Caution: Deaf Child Crossing." At first, I fought that sign hard; I thought it  would remind people that I was "handicapped." But my mom and dad offered a  different perspective. They told me that the sign wasn't for the handicapped -- it was an announcement that people were coming to Marlee's neighborhood. Though  it might have said, "Deaf girl lives here, you better slow down," they told me  to see that the sign had another message. It said, "Hi, I'm Marlee. Want to stop  by? I'll be your best friend!" Besides, they told me, what other kid in the  neighborhood had their own sign?!

Well, eventually that sign became one of the  defining moments of my life, and for that reason, it's why I used it as the  title of my first novel for children, 'Deaf Child Crossing,' about a young girl  who just happens to be deaf, dealing with the ups and downs of growing up in a  suburb of Chicago over the course of a summer. It's funny, it  wasn't until I was researching the book, that I got my dad to admit that  he had another motive for putting up the sign. You see, whenever my dad's poker  buddies got lost coming to our house, he would just simply tell them: "Just  drive around until you see that big yellow sign with the deaf kid warning on it  and that's where you know to park your car." No wonder no one ever got lost  coming to our house!

This "can do" spirit -- the idea that I could do  anything I set my mind to despite being deaf flowed freely from my family --  particularly from my mother. It was my mom who helped me discover my love for  acting. She saw it as the perfect outlet for the girl who loved sitting down  with a Judy Blume book in hand or in front of the bathroom mirror, performing  stories and creating fantastic characters. You see, in my world of books and  mirrors, there were no barriers. In books, I would never have to struggle to  hear the printed word and in my mirror, everyone signed perfectly.

Well, eventually, my mother helped me find a more  productive outlet -- the small community theater called The Center on Deafness  -- a place that served both hearing and deaf children a few minutes away from  our home. I was just 7 years old when she brought me there and as soon as I  walked in I learned that they were putting on a production of 'The Wizard of  Oz.' No need to tell you who got the part of Dorothy.

I've been acting ever since, but somewhere along  the way, I stopped playing Marcia Brady. Today I am the mother of four. I am  also a Girl Scout leader, cook, car pool driver, mediator, closet organizer and   pretend math whiz. Whatever fantasies I entertained at 11 years old about being  the beautiful Marcia Brady have given way to another reality: I have morphed  into Alice. Goodbye Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.

Seriously, life is grand for me and I relish the  challenges I face every day. As for work, despite the predictions of many in  Hollywood that my Oscar for 'Children of a Lesser God' was the result of a pity  vote and that I would disappear like so many one-hit wonders, I am still -- as  always -- a working actress who happens to be deaf.

Whatever issues many predicted would stop my  career dead in its tracks are just not there. Times have changed; technology has  evolved to the point where I have 100% access. But, most importantly, attitudes  have changed. In the end, I tell people the only thing that I can't do is hear.  Whatever handicap they think I have here in my ear has more to do with whatever  is in their mind.

Most of the barriers I face on a daily basis are  more humorous than they are distressing. Compound it by the craziness we know is  Hollywood and all I can say is that I've had some interesting  encounters.

Once, while working on a television show for NBC,  a studio executive came to visit the set and watch me work. After a few moments,  he went over to the show's producer and commented: "That Marlee ... is ...  fantastic!" -- (pause) -- "Is she going to be deaf for the entire  series?"

And once, while getting ready to appear live in  front of millions of viewers on CNN -- as the director counted down the seconds,  "5, 4, 3" and I got my last looks from hair and makeup -- the female interviewer  leaned over to Jack here and said in a most serious manner: "Could you tell  Marlee that my dog is deaf?"

But I have to be fair -- these encounters don't  only happen in Hollywood. Here's a good example: I'm waiting for a plane to take  off when the flight attendant hands me a dinner menu. Suddenly, she notices me  signing, holds up her finger and grabs the menu out of my hand. A few moments  later, she returns with a new menu ... in braille.

I tell these stories not to trivialize the  barriers facing people like myself but rather to show that, in my case, breaking  through barriers often means doing it with a smile. And I'd just as soon prefer  to walk around them than break them down. I work every day to help people  understand, like my parents taught me, that deaf people not only deserve  respect, they deserve to be heard. I'm here, being honored with this wonderful  group of Chief Everything Officers, because of the can-do attitude, lots of love  and little bit of chutzpah my parents gave to me -- thank goodness I was born a  Matlin.

I am proud to wear the Chief Everything Officer  badge. I hold my head up, proud to be Alice and not stress out that I am no  longer Marcia. Yes, as a mom of four, I am short two kids to qualify as a full  bunch, but it's a challenge nonetheless, especially now that I'm working  full-time on a series. I am still managing to make it work, but only because  I've got my CFO, my Chief Father Officer -- my husband -- right there beside me  the whole way.

Like Alice's Sam the Butcher, my ever-reliable  husband, Kevin, is why I'm able to be here today. No matter if I'm traveling and  working, girl-scouting or carpooling, it all happens because he is there with  his love and support 24/7, filling in, subbing, taking the reins when I  physically cannot be like Samantha Stevens on 'Bewitched' and be in two places  at once. And just when I was feeling my worst -- two days after my last  c-section, he managed to come through as any CFO should - he gave his CEO a nice  bonus package for a job well done [Matlin refers to her necklace].  Unfortunately, the timing of his "push present" was just a bit off. He did it  while I was hobbling to the bathroom, bent over, dying for a Vicodin. When I saw  the necklace, I sat up like this, smiled for a brief second and then retreated  to my hobbling position.

Life for me will always be about doing all that I  can, reaching for my dreams and never stopping. And every day those dreams are  coming true. Sixteen years ago, I lobbied to Congress on behalf of closed  captioning and twenty-six million hearing impaired Americans. As a television  viewer, it was important for me to spread the message that those little black  and white words at the bottom of our TV screens are so important to our world.  Today, closed captioning is everywhere and not only provides access for millions  of Americans who are hearing impaired but also serves to help people learning  English as a second language and serves as a tool to help our children learn how  to read. They even work great in bars and at the gym!

And today, AOL is jumping in by breaking new  ground in providing closed captioned content for streaming videos. I will  continue to work to ensure that executives in Hollywood and across the  entertainment industry understand their responsibility to provide programming  that is accessible to all despite what barriers stand in their way. I am proud  that AOL is there at the forefront and I look forward to much more.

So what is today about for me? Well, it's no  longer about hearing aids and speech classes. It's not even about whether or not  a deaf person like me can make it happen in Hollywood. For me, it's about  listening, listening o my heart. In the end, silence will be the last thing the  world will ever hear from me -- you can bet on it. And I'm sure it's the same  for the women we are honoring today.

Thank you.

Matlin: CEO

Matlin was recently honored by AOL & Dove at their 2nd Annual Chief  Everything Officer Awards luncheon, held on May 17, 2006, at New York's Gotham  Hall, where she was introduced by Felicity Huffman and gave a keynote address.  That's CEO as in "Chief Everything Officer" - women and men who manage  households and multiple other activities. As a mother of four, Girl Scout troop  leader, activist, actress and writer, Matlin certainly fits the  description.

In April, news came out that Matlin has agreed to be  executive producer and play a leading role in "Silent Knights", to be filmed in  Pittsburgh, PA, probably during Fall 2007. According to producer Robert D.  Slane, "It's about a small college football team that overcomes adversity and  beats the odds to claim their first winning season in decades."

In  addition, Matlin recently wrapped up a seven-year recurring stint as deaf  lobbyist Joey Lucas on "The West Wing" and is now set to release her second  children's book published by Simon & Schuster, with a third one in the works  for 2007. The soon-due book is called "Nobody's Perfect," and is due sometime in  May. According to Matlin, "It's about the friendship between a deaf girl and  another girl in school who seems practically perfect in every way, but the  friendship is frustrating, and it turns out she is hiding a brother who is an  autistic kid."

As if that wasn't enough, Matlin will also be joining the  cast of "The L Word," Showtime's drama about a circle of gay friends and lovers  who move in the trendiest of L.A. circles. A Showtime representative explained  that Matlin will play "a fiery artist who catches the attention of Jennifer  Beals' character, Bette Porter." Look for Matlin in the fourth season of the  series, which begins early next year. 

She serves on the boards of  charitable children's organizations such as Very Special Arts, Easter Seals,  Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS  Foundation and other charities benefiting children.

Matlin: A Magical Life

Deaf actress and activist Marlee Matlin was the final speaker for the Bellin  Health LifeLines Series at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in  Wisconsin. She charmed the audience with her almost-magical tales of her Midwest  youth, and stories of how she deals with challenges now in Hollywood. Her speech  was interpreted into English by Jack Jason, her  interpreter/manager.

"Life is challenging, but the real handicap of being  deaf lies in the mind," Matlin told a Weidner Center audience. "I want to help  the general public understand that deaf people not only deserve to be respected,  they deserve to be heard."

Matlin lost her hearing at 18 months because  of an illness. She said that although her parents were devastated and didn't  know what to do, they defied those who advised them to send Matlin to a boarding  school for the deaf.

Matlin described being raised in Morton Grove, Ill.,  by parents who instilled in her that her deafness made her all the more special  and adored. "Every day, they opened the door and let me explore," she said of  her parents, describing being allowed to grow up like any other kid, riding her  bicycle, meeting new children and making friends and playing in the  park.

"It was all about me, not my deafness," she said, adding that it's  a whole lot healthier to focus on one's abilities rather than one's perceived  disabilities. "My parents treated me with love and respect."

Matlin has  helped produce two Baby Einstein educational DVDs that help in the teaching of  sign language to babies.

She played a key role in 1990 in getting  Congress to pass laws requiring American television manufacturers to equip their  TVs with closed-captioning capabilities.

Issues

This Month's Video

  Published on 4 May 2017Marlee Matlin visited the Microsoft campus to learn more about accessibility at...

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