You are a deaf creator and consultant in the audio space, and Seen and Not Heard was one of your first big forays into the fiction space. What was the impetus behind this deaf story in particular?
I’ve been trying to tell this story since I was 19 in some form or fashion, because it was my way of processing what I was going through losing my own hearing and all the different emotions that surrounded that. I've reached a point in my life where I'm at the acceptance part of the grief of losing something like that. It just felt like the right moment and the right medium. I was extremely new, so I wasn't sure if it was the right moment professionally. But I was like, “Alright, we're just gonna kick myself out of the nest and see if I fly.”
I was defining success, and I still am, by whether it was received in a way that opened the door for conversations that needed to happen about disability and inclusion and accessibility. For me, it could create more space for D/deaf and hard of hearing creators who maybe want to be part of podcasting but aren't sure how, or also for people who are not D/deaf or hard of hearing to see that you actually can hire us. We really can do this! And we're out here.
People don't think about D/deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences. They associate deafness with a concept of a total lack of hearing, and nothing else. You either can't hear anything at all, or you can hear fine. What do you want people in the industry to understand about D/deaf audiences?
First of all, that they're there. I think people just assume, “Oh, it's an audio medium. So it's not going to be of any interest to deaf people.” Which just isn't the case. You know, that's like saying, “well, they can't see. So there's no way they're ever going to, you know, turn the TV on.” Are you kidding me?
I do think the first thing people need to know is that there is a spectrum [for deafness] like there is for every other thing on planet Earth. It’s important to consider that fact, and to take us into consideration before you start your project. I've had people approach me wanting to know how to be accessible for D/deaf people. Build it into your budget, build it into your schedule. Consider all of those factors before you even start, because the last thing you want to do is have to scramble to make transcripts or to suddenly realize that the transcripts you have are not the right kind, not in the right format, not communicating the right information. Cassie Joseph has a guide for transcripts because we don't really have an industry standard.
When I’m consulting for transcripts, I'm not necessarily looking for every single show to have the same kind of transcript. I'm looking for consistency within their format, and descriptions. Like, what does the music sound like? Okay, you told me there's music, can I have a hint? Is it a piano? Is it a guitar? Is it rock music? Is it classical? Give me something.
And I think that one thing that frustrates me as far as accessibility goes is how often things are behind a paywall or not linked in show notes. Save us the work, and don't make us pay to be disabled.
When you were producing Seen and Not Heard, what was one struggle or roadblock that you encountered that has stuck in your mind as important even if it didn’t seem to be at first?
I kept dwelling on: am I doing this as responsibly as I possibly can, even as someone who's in this community with my experiences? Am I being as responsible as I possibly can while still being realistic? Because that’s the tricky thing: I was not telling a story that was about the idealized, necessarily best practices, because that's just not reality. Even in the deaf community, we don't always do things perfectly. For instance, in the first prologue, and in a couple of other episodes, there are times when they're communicating using what's called simultaneous communication, which is signing and speaking at the same time. Culturally, kind of a no-no. Generally, you would either sign or speak, you're not going to do both at the same time, but in reality, it happens all the time. People do it all the time. And the character of the ASL teacher is what's known as a CODA, Child of Deaf Adults. He’s not deaf himself, but grew up very much immersed in Deaf culture. And that’s not necessarily ideal, but it's really common.
The further we got into creating the show, the more I was like, “Oh, boy, I hope this is not going to encourage bad behaviors and incorrect practices.” Instead, we'll open the door to talk about what is best. And thankfully, so far, that has been the case. I have not had anyone yell at me yet.