Which actress could read lips in an episode of Seinfeld, and more recently starred as Jackie Rossi in the film CODA?

And the answer: Marlee Matlin.    
Photo credit: Angela George. 

After losing almost all of her hearing at 18 months old, Marlee Matlin has been a lifelong advocate for the rights of deaf people. Having worked with the ACLU and an advocacy group called HEARD, Matlin has championed legal rights literacy among deaf people. In 2014, she worked with the National Association for the Deaf and petitioned Congress, demanding that streaming services include closed captioning.

In 2009, Marlee Matlin sat down to watch one of her favorite movies with her family: The Wizard of Oz. For an actress whose first role was playing Dorothy on stage at the International Center on Deafness and the Arts (ICODA) children's theater, Matlin was crushed to discover that the video platform had no closed-captions whatsoever, thus rendering the content inaccessible. Matlin remembers:

"Right there, my daughter saw a barrier in front of my face. There was nothing I could do in this special moment. I was robbed of the access that I had for so long [with video].”

After tweeting her frustration to a platform of over 200 thousand people, change began to stir. Emails began to flood to premier streaming sites, while Matlin herself began collaborating with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) to send Congress a letter demanding that streaming sites offer closed captioning. Ultimately, it took a lawsuit for the FCC to finally get involved—finally settling the suit by agreeing to caption all its shows by 2014. Following the suit, all Internet streaming services are now required to offer closed-captions.

Did you know?

The last week of September marks International Week of the Deaf! This week is one of the only weeks in the year to see highly concerted global advocacy to raise awareness about the Deaf Community on different levels. Learn how to get involved here.

Throughout her life and career, Matlin has advocated not only for the rights of deaf individuals, but for structurally disadvantaged communities across the world. Before spearheading the cause for closed-caption access on the Internet, she began getting involved by testifying at a congressional hearing in 1995. Her testimony helped get a law passed that requires all television sets 13-inches or larger to be manufactured with closed-captioning chips. Moreover, Matlin serves on the board of a number of charitable organizations such as Very Special Arts, the Starlight Foundation, and other charities that primarily benefit children.

Learn more about Matlin’s activism and life work here.

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