The producer and staff had the goal of increasing awareness about d/Deaf culture and the D/deaf community, as well as promoting d/Deaf representation in the media. But many in the community believe their goal wasn’t quite met.
This is our review on “Deaf U”.
“Deaf U” follows a group of undergraduate D/deaf and hard of hearing college students at Gallaudet University. The reality show provides viewers with a glimpse into their every day social lives, families, and backgrounds.
While the goal of the series was on point, many d/Deaf and hard of hearing viewers voiced concerns that “Deaf U” may not be good for the deaf community, saying it provides an incomplete picture of what Deaf Culture and the Deaf community is really like.
For our “Deaf U” review, we’re focusing on two key criticisms and concerns about the show: misrepresentation and lack of diversity.
Read more: Deaf Community and Deaf Culture
Gallaudet University’s community and culture are various and diverse, but it wasn’t portrayed in their entirety.
“Gallaudet University’s community and culture is various and diverse but wasn’t shown in its entirety.”
For instance, the common theme of partying, drinking, and romance throughout the series will have viewers questioning how the d/Deaf community is being represented. Many of us in the d/Deaf and hard of hearing community believe there’s so much more ground to cover.
Topics not covered include academics, hearing technology, accommodation and accessibility struggles, and the struggles of living with hearing loss. Some say that the series made Deaf individuals out to be nothing but “wild partiers.” This portrays our community in a negative light.
They also didn’t discuss hearing technology, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, which were worn by some on the show. The fact that some people on the show communicated orally while others communicated with sign language shows the diversity in their use of technology and communication preferences.
Some viewers also point out the limited diversity in the show. Lena Finkel writes about this in Femestella. Producers and directors claim this was by no means intentional. They attribute the lack of diversity to the individuals who applied to be in the series. If another season airs, they hope for increased diversity.
There are in fact a few subtle yet key takeaways from the show that viewers may have missed:
This takes us back to the question of “Are we Deaf enough?” This is a prominent theme in the show. d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals often struggle to find their identity.
Many terms are used to describe us, including deaf, hard of hearing, hearing impaired, Deaf (with a capital “D”), late-deafened, oral, signing deaf, and speaking deaf. But what is right for one person may not be for another, and there are words that we should avoid.
The definition of Deaf, deaf and hard of hearing, however, provides just a glimpse of what these terms mean. In reality, they are much more personal and complex than just a definition. Not everyone with hearing loss identifies with one definition and may have their own way that they identify with their hearing loss.
There are many types of hearing loss that can’t be put into a box or under a label.
The show also brought up the struggle for acceptance. In this context, acceptance ties into the Deaf elitism mentioned above. However, D/deaf and hard of hearing individuals also struggle with acceptance in many other areas of life.
A common pattern of mental health struggles was evident among many cast members, particularly towards the end. The challenges the d/Deaf and hard of hearing community face in society can definitely have a toll on mental health.
(Viewers of “Deaf U” have to watch the entire series to see this concept.)
Read more: Mental health and hearing loss
A few cast members mentioned instances of childhood trauma. While it’s unclear if these instances are connected to their hearing loss, it’s important to note that this can be a real struggle for many in the community.
The D/deaf and hard of hearing community are more than what was portrayed in the Netflix series. This show and representation alone does not sum up who we are as a d/Deaf and hard of hearing community. We have unique experiences, challenges, languages, communication, ways of life, and so much more.
None of our experiences is exactly the same, because none of us is exactly the same. We all have different values, hobbies, passions, and beliefs, and we all have a story to tell.
Should another season of “Deaf U” come about, we hope to see more diversity and expansion into other aspects of the lives of the d/Deaf and hard of hearing community.
For those who are just being exposed to our community and culture through this show, know that there’s so much more. Don’t be afraid to get know us or hear our stories!
Do you have a story to share? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org