No, this isn’t the start of a pub joke. (I’ll leave the jokes to the comedian.) It’s the start of the Here to Hear Tour, and the beginning of a month-long mission: to travel across the United States to break down stigmas around hearing loss with comedian D.J. Demers.
It’s early Friday morning and Justin Dalferes, the tour’s videographer, and Mike Connor, who is driving the crew across the country, stand outside the bright green RV, plastered with D.J.’s face.
D.J. is late, but he’s the talent, so we let it slide. We’re alerted of his status via his Instagram, where he reports he’s stuck in L.A. traffic.
Traffic will be inevitable on the team’s 34-day road trip from California to Connecticut, but everyone is excited to begin.
Bridging gaps and breaking down barriers
It’s louder on an RV than you might imagine.
As I yell to D.J. across the coach, “We’re going to do a call with Allee so we can learn some sign language,” the wind whistles through the plastic sunroof and the kitchen cabinets shake with each bump in the road.
D.J., a comedian who has worn hearing aids since he was four-years-old asks, “sorry?,” as he points to his ear and turns his head my direction, requesting the question again.
I say it more clearly this time. And get out the Roger Pen.
For someone with severe-to-profound hearing loss, D.J. hears exceptionally well with his technology. There are moments, of course, where we have to repeat a question, and I’ve found that calling his name from behind doesn’t often get his attention, but for the loud environment inside the RV, we don’t have any issue communicating. (Or at least not more so than anyone else with “normal hearing” would have.)
These communication techniques are among what we want to explain on the tour.
What is a hearing aid? How does a hearing aid help someone hear? Does a hearing aid make a person hear like “normal”? What are the best communication methods to talk to someone with hearing loss?
D.J. begins his Skype interview with Allee Hewitt, a college student who wants to be an ASL teacher. She graciously volunteered via Instagram to teach D.J. sign language while he’s on the road.
“I want to learn as much sign language as I can before the Gallaudet show,” he tells Allee. “I’ve taken some classes before, so I don’t want you to think I’m a natural.”
They go through the signs for “hello,” “goodbye,” “nice to meet you,” and “mosquito,” before he proudly fist-bumps his chest – the sign for “Canada.”
“I’m not really in the “D” Deaf world, and I’m not really in the “hearing world,” he says. “There’s a lot of us in this in-between world where there’s no place to identify and not a lot of awareness about.”
Justin, the 20-year-old who is filming the daily vlogs on YouTube, takes a break from editing to play chess against D.J. The glass King piece slides across the board as Mike takes a left turn near the Oregon-Washington border.
“Do you have a strategy… or?” he asks D.J.
“No, I play chess like I live my life, you know. One move at a time,” D.J. says.
“That’s the way to do it,” Justin says, as they burst into laughter together.
While the crew resettles in the camper van for their long journey to Washington State University for the first show of the tour, I look over to the whiteboard calendar we taped up by the door, with “OCTOBER” written in bold.
Twenty shows in 30 days.
It’s going to go by in a flash, but everyone is ready to use squeeze all the life out of every moment and spread the word that hearing loss is no barrier to any dream.
Check the tour dates at heretoheartour.com to see D.J. Demers live near you!