Interview with Joanna Hawkins, Ismaila Alfa
Will air: May 27, 2016 7:40 a.m.
Ismaila Alfa: A reality TV show had an interesting conclusion this week...
[ Clip from Dancing with the Stars: Nyle and Peta.. Paige and Mark.. The winners and new champions of Dancing with the Stars are... (crowd cheering loudly)... Nyle and Peta! ]
Ismaila Alaf: Dancing with the Stars wrapped up on Tuesday, and this year's big winner was
Nyle DiMarco, who also happens to be Deaf. The show, and DiMarco's win, are bringing
awareness to Deaf culture around the world. That's good news to Joanna Hawkins. She's a
former Executive Director of the Manitoba Cultural Society of the Deaf and she's here with me
today speaking through an interpreter. Welcome to the show.
Joanna Hawkins: Hello, thank you for having me.
IA: Great to have you here. What did you think when you heard about Nyle DiMarco's victory?
JH: It was amazing news. It was so exciting for us in the Deaf community. He is a role model;
he is an ambassador for us. Specifically because he is Deaf and uses our language and
promotes sign language
IA : Was this something you were following? You knew he was on this reality show, had you
been paying attention to what was going on with it?
JH: Through Facebook, thankfully. I would miss it on Monday nights, I have to work, so I would
always catch up with it the following day. It was crazy, the Deaf community, and all the events
they would have watching it live or posting everything afterwards on Facebook. It was great.
IA : Great stuff. I would assume, then, that for someone from the Deaf segment of our
community, Nyle DiMarco being able to perform and do so well in the competition wasn't that big
of a surprise. But it may be a bit of a surprise to some who aren't from the Deaf part of our
community. Can you explain why this is a big deal?
JH: That's very true, yeah. We have a lot of talented, skilled Deaf people here in our own
community. But we often don't get the chance to show ourselves. For instance, myself, I'm
involved in 100 Decibels, the mime troupe here in Winnipeg. It's great to be able to showcase
what we can do to nonDeaf individuals, because they don't realize that we can do a lot of things
we just do them differently sometimes.
IA: One of the things that may be surprising for those not from the Deaf part of our community is
the enjoyment of music, and how music is interpreted by those from the Deaf community. For
yourself, how do you take in music? What enjoyment do you get from it?
JH: I do enjoy music. There's a visual element to it watching
people dance, feeling the rhythms, feeling the bass. It's quite visual for me. Other people who have more hearing can hear it. There's actually a bar in Edmonton that I know of that actually has the speakers on the floor, so that if Deaf people come on a certain night they can actually feel the vibrations, which is fantastic.
IA: That's actually a very important distinction you make there as well, because I think when we
think of someone who is Deaf, we jump all the way to, 'well, they don't hear anything.' The fact
that there are those in the Deaf community who do have some hearing is something I would
assume is a misconception that many would have outside of the Deaf community.
JH: Yeah, exactly. We do try to have awareness campaigns that, you can't assume that
everybody is completely Deaf, or, you know all Deaf people don't lip read, or all Deaf people
aren't completely Deaf, just like all Blind people aren't completely Blind. We have different
abilities.Some people enjoy music who are Deaf, and some people don't enjoy music who are
Deaf, just like some hearing people or nonDeaf people enjoy rap music and some don't.
IA: Are there many other Deaf dancers out there?
JH: There are. Definitely in Europe it's much more progressive out there. Here in Canada, I
haven't seen it myself, but I believe it's probably because there's not the awareness out there, or
it's just not out there as much. I think they're out there, we just haven't heard about it. There's
actually a Deaf ballet dance troupe here in Canada. I've heard a little bit about them, but I
haven't actually seen them. So it would be nice to see more of that.
IA : With his dance, as well as on his Twitter account, Nyle DiMarco is bringing attention to Deaf
culture. When you look at the mainstream I mean, I see music videos out there now that
people have made with American Sign Language interpretations with the actual lyrics of the
song. How do you feel about Deaf cultures presence in popular culture at large?
JH : It's exciting. I think that Nyle has said it himself people can hear, everybody can hear, but
not everybody can listen, regardless of your hearing abilities. It's just great to get more
awareness out there, so that people know that Deaf people can, you know?
IA: How much of a challenge is it as a young pe who happens to be Deaf as well to get past
those misconceptions that people have out there that might keep you from getting involved in
things like dance, like music, like sport?
JH: Imagine enjoying something as a child, and then having to stop because people assume
you can't do it, or always having to prove yourself that you can. It's disheartening, a lot of times.
It would just be nice to be able to just be involved with everybody and show off what you can do
everybody has abilities and skills. Just being able to do it together regardless of your hearing
abilities would be great. But it is very frustrating.
IA: What would you like to see happen in the future to bring more attention to Deaf culture here
JH : I think we need a little bit more government involvement, maybe even on the federal level,
just to get more funds for Deaf awareness, to break those barriers. We have the organization
Manitoba Cultural Society of the Deaf, and we have started to kind of revitalize ourselves so we
are having more Deaf events. So hopefully that will bring a little bit more awareness to show
that we do have actors and photographers we have a drumming group here in Winnipeg. but
we do have a lot of barriers we come across and one of the main ones is funding. There's not
enough funding for courses to take, and for interpretive services.
IA: I really appreciate you coming by today. Thank you for chatting with me.
JH : Thank you for having me, I enjoy it. Thanks.
IA: I'm learning the sign for thank you thank you.
JH: (laughs) You're welcome!
IA: Joanna Hawkins is a former Executive Director of the Manitoba Cultural Society of the Deaf.