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An Impressive Adult

Alexandra Grossi has been profoundly deaf since birth, but wasn’t diagnosed until she was a year and nine months old. Then residing in Massachusetts, her parents researched all the available options and chose the oral route for many reasons. The clinching factor in their decision was meeting an oral Harvard student who was deaf and thriving.

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Written By: Lisa A. Goldstein

Isabella “Izzy” Daponte, 23, adjusts lights while keeping an eye on her surroundings. She sees Kevin holding a camera bag. He looks agitated and yells into a walkie.

“For Christ’s sake, can somebody please get Giovanni to set right now? The boss is getting antsy,” he says, before mouthing “I’m sorry” to the boss.

“I got it!” Izzy says, as she grabs an equipment bag meant for Giovanni and walks through the set.

“I’ve had a lot of doubters who never thought I would be able to nail this ‘adulthood’ stuff,” Izzy says. “A lot of naysayers who never thought I would be independent. Well, today I can happily say they were wrong. So [expletive] wrong.”

Izzy looks up to her right, where an “Impressive Adult TM” barometer goes up to 78%.

This is the opening scene of the pilot episode of Oral entitled, “Impressive Adult TM,” that aired as a virtual table read the summer of 2021. To avoid technical glitches, it was prerecorded and edited in a creative and fun way with graphics and visuals – and of course, captions. Because (oh, did we neglect to mention this?) Izzy is deaf.

In fact, Izzy is based on co-creator and writer Alexandra Grossi’s experiences as a speaking person who is deaf. As she shared in the show’s introduction, “This ‘way of being deaf’ isn’t portrayed in popular culture, and as a result, I have always felt like the odd one out. I am constantly explaining my kind of deafness to new people and writing Oral was a way to change that.”

Background as Inspiration

Alexandra Grossi has been profoundly deaf since birth, but wasn’t diagnosed until she was a year and nine months old. Then residing in Massachusetts, her parents researched all the available options and chose the oral route for many reasons. The clinching factor in their decision was meeting an oral Harvard student who was deaf and thriving. “He was charming, confident, and had every opportunity waiting for him,” Grossi says. “Ultimately, that’s what they wanted for me.” This student, by the way, was longtime AG Bell member David Davis.

Grossi had high-powered hearing aids in both ears until she was 16, when she got her first cochlear implant. At age 30, she decided she wanted to hear in stereo again and got her left ear implanted.

The family moved to California when Grossi was in high school. After college in New York, she moved back to Los Angeles, but has been living in North Carolina since 2014 with her now husband and infant son. She is currently the User Experience Lead Designer for IBM Accessibility. For her Master’s thesis in graphic design, she designed a conceptual smart user interface for cochlear implants. “Having a deep connection to accessibility (and oftentimes lack thereof) makes my work as an advocate a personal mission,” Grossi says.

Hollywood

Grossi fell in love with Hollywood while working as a writing intern on Deadwood, but it wasn’t until she was involved with the documentary Bridegroom that she saw how powerful pop culture was in changing hearts and minds. Drawn to television, she was inspired to share her story and broaden people’s view of deafness. “I wrote Oral to show the world there is more than one way to be deaf and ultimately I want to help destigmatize disability,” she says.

The show’s star, Juliet Perrell – who wears CIs — reached out to Grossi after reading a New York Times article in which she was featured talking about the lack of oral deaf representation in Hollywood. Grossi and her writing partner Adrienne Marquand pooled their resources and connections and ended up with a talented cast — including some well-known stars — who all donated their time.

While deafness is part of Izzy’s life, she’s also grappling with the same problems as many 20-year-olds.

The reaction to the show has been phenomenal, Grossi says. Rave reviews mention its humor and the concept of “feeling seen.” The writing partners are working with an agent at the Creative Artists Agency, who is pitching the show to production companies. 

“I want this show to exist for other… people [who are deaf and hard of hearing], especially children, to know they are not alone,” says Grossi.

For more information, please visit AG Bell here.

Una adulta impresionante

Isabella “Izzy” Daponte, de 23 años, ajusta las luces sin perder de vista el entorno. Observa que Kevin sostiene una bolsa de cámara. Se muestra inquieto y grita por un walkie-talkie.

«Por el amor de Dios, ¿alguien puede llevársela a Giovanni al set ahora mismo? El jefe se está poniendo nervioso», exclama antes de decirle al jefe «lo siento».

«¡Ahora voy!», responde Izzy mientras agarra la bolsa del equipo para Giovanni y atraviesa el set.

«Ha habido muchos escépticos que creían que nunca sería capaz de desenvolverme en la “etapa adulta”», dice Izzy. «Muchos pesimistas que creían que nunca sería independiente. Bueno, hoy puedo decir felizmente que estaban equivocados. Totalmente equivocados».

Izzy mira hacia su derecha, donde un barómetro de «Impressive Adult TM» indica un 78 %.

Se trata de la escena inicial del episodio piloto de Oral titulado «Impressive Adult TM», que se emitió como un ensayo virtual en el verano de 2021. Para evitar problemas técnicos, se pregrabó y editó de una manera creativa y divertida con gráficos y efectos visuales y, por supuesto, subtítulos. Porque (ah, ¿nos hemos olvidado de mencionarlo?) Izzy tiene sordera.

De hecho, el personaje de Izzy está basado en las experiencias de la cocreadora y coescritora Alexandra Grossi que tiene sordera y utiliza el lenguaje hablado. Tal como explicó en la introducción del programa: «Esta “forma de tener sordera” no se muestra en la cultura popular, por lo que siempre me he sentido una persona rara. Tengo que explicar constantemente mi tipo de sordera a las personas que no me conocen y la escritura de Oral fue una manera de cambiar esta situación».

Antecedentes como inspiración

Alexandra Grossi tiene una sordera profunda desde que nació, pero no se le diagnosticó hasta cumplir un año y nueve meses. A continuación, sus padres investigaron en Massachusetts, donde residían, todas las opciones disponibles y optaron por la vía oral por numerosas razones. El factor decisivo en esta decisión fue un alumno oral de Harvard que tenía sordera y que se desenvolvía a la percepción. «Era encantador, estaba seguro de sí mismo y le esperaban todas las oportunidades del mundo», dice Alexandra. «En última instancia, eso era lo que querían para mí». Este estudiante, por cierto, es David Davis, miembro de AG Bell desde hace mucho tiempo.

Alexandra utilizó audífonos de alta potencia en ambos oídos hasta los 16 años, cuando recibiría su primer implante coclear. A los 30 años, decidió que quería volver a escuchar en estéreo y recibió otro implante, esta vez en el oído izquierdo.

La familia se trasladó a California cuando Alexandra estudiaba secundaria. Tras realizar estudios universitarios en Nueva York, volvió a Los Ángeles, si bien ahora reside en Carolina del Norte desde 2014 con su pareja, actualmente esposo, y su hijo pequeño. En la actualidad, trabaja como diseñadora jefe de experiencias de usuario para IBM Accessibility. Para su tesis en un máster de diseño gráfico, diseñó una interfaz conceptual de usuario inteligente para implantes cocleares. «El tener una conexión profunda con la accesibilidad (y, a menudo, su carencia) hace que mi trabajo como defensora sea una misión personal», asegura Alexandra.

Hollywood

Alexandra se enamoró de Hollywood mientras trabajaba como redactora en prácticas en Deadwood, pero no se dio cuenta hasta que trabajó en el documental Bridegroom del poder que tenía la cultura pop para cambiar la forma de sentir y pensar de la gente. Atraída por la televisión, se sintió inspirada para compartir su historia y ampliar la visión que tiene la sociedad sobre la sordera. «Escribí Oral para mostrarle al mundo que hay más de una manera de tener sordera y, en última instancia, quiero ayudar a desestigmatizar la discapacidad», añade.

La estrella del programa, Juliet Perrell (que utiliza implantes cocleares), se puso en contacto con Alexandra después de leer un artículo del New York Times en el que aparecía hablando de la falta de representación de la sordera oral en Hollywood. Alexandra y la coguionista Adrienne Marquand aunaron sus recursos y conexiones, terminando por reunir un reparto de talento, incluidas algunas estrellas conocidas, que en su totalidad donaron su tiempo.

Si bien la sordera forma parte de la vida de Izzy, también se enfrenta a los mismos problemas que otros muchos jóvenes de 20 años.

La reacción al programa ha sido espectacular, dice Alexandra. Las críticas favorables mencionan su sentido del humor y el concepto de «sentirse visto». Las guionistas trabajan con un agente de la Creative Artists Agency, que presenta el programa a las empresas de producción.

«Deseo que este programa se vea para que otras… personas [con sordera e hipoacusia], especialmente los niños y niñas, sepan que no están solas», concluye Alexandra.

Para mas infomación, visite a AG Bell International aquí.

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