Deaf actress showcases diversity

Published 3:50 pm Thursday, October 2, 2008

Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin made her first trip to Shelby County this week to help area schools celebrate National Diversity Day Friday.

Matlin, who is deaf, spoke at Jefferson State Community College’s Diversity Conference Thursday. Friday, she sat in on a class at Mt Laurel Elementary School.

Matlin said the goal of her trip was to encourage people to think about diversity and acceptance.

“My life is an example of diversity,” she said. “I can’t do it alone. I need everyone to work together as a team and make changes to make things better.”

Matlin, who grew up in Chicago in a time when deaf children didn’t have easy access to information, said deaf people are much less isolated today with the advent of closed captioning and text messaging on phones. Matlin herself was an integral part of getting Congressional legislation passed in support of closed captioning in 1992.

“I bring attention to all kinds of diversity,” she said. “I have fought for the rights of people that are deaf and hard-of-hearing. That’s just part of it.”

Matlin’s dancing partner on “Dancing with the Stars,” Fabian Sanchez, lives in Hoover. Matlin is taking the opportunity to visit Sanchez and his wife, Jacqueline. The Sanchezes will travel to Mt Laurel Elementary along with Matlin, and Jacqueline read from one of Matlin’s books out loud while Matlin read along in sign language.

Matlin said was excited to interact with the students.

“I’m a mother of four, so I would hope I would enjoy being with kids,” she said. “Kids are my favorite people.”

Mt Laurel Elementary Principal Angela Walker said her students were excited to meet Matlin.

“They probably don’t know as much about her acting career as they do about her children’s books. They are excited about her coming as an author and seeing her overcome her struggles,” Walker said. “All of our students have learned a little bit of sign language. They’re excited about being able to say hello to her in sign language.”

While in Hoover, Matlin attended a dance class at Sanchez’s dance studio, she said. She also went to a Jazzercise class where Sanchez is a regular.

“We were thrilled to have Marlee and Fabian take Jazzercise here in Birmingham,” said Jazzercise instructor Carla Phillips. “Having Marlee Matlin in town was a rare treat for us.”

After her short trip here, Matlin said her biggest priority is at home in Los Angeles.

“Besides making sure my kids are well taken care of and doing their homework, I have the premiere of ‘The L Word’ on Showtime and the ‘Dancing with the Stars’ tour in December,” she said.

She also has to focus on her autobiography, which comes out soon, and her never-ending stream of appearances in support of diversity and deaf awareness.

“I’m busy,” she said. “But it’s a good busy.”