Speaking to a room of 40 people, Amanda McDonough’s voice rises and falls — sometimes seeming like it’s beyond her control — as she tells her story. McDonough is completely deaf.
Speaking to a group of faculty, staff and students Thursday at Forsyth Technical Community College as part of the school’s celebration of Disability Awareness Month, McDonough, 29, detailed her childhood experiences after being diagnosed with progressive hearing loss, and her life after becoming deaf in her senior year of college.
Starting from the beginning, McDonough condensed what was virtually her entire life story into an hourlong talk where she detailed how she went from living in denial about her hearing loss, to her struggles after becoming deaf to how she’s now an aspiring actor working to bring visibility of hearing-impaired people to the big screen.
She was first diagnosed with hearing loss at 4 years old, and said as a young child she chose to live in denial of her condition.
“I didn’t like this new version of me, I just wanted to be Amanda,” McDonough said. “I spent a good portion of my childhood pretending I was fine.”
Every six months after her diagnosis, McDonough said her parents took her to the doctors to get her hearing tested. Each test her hearing got worse, but still she pretended everything was normal even though she strained to hear.
Then, during her senior year of college in California, she got sick, and when she woke up one morning, her hearing was gone. Because she lived her life up to that point in denial, she never learned sign-language or how to lip read. In the hospital following her total hearing loss, nurses hung a whiteboard around her neck so she could communicate.
After spending days hiding from the world, McDonough said she became determined to pick her life back up, starting with teaching herself how to lip read.
“How do you communicate in a world that’s not made for you,” she remembers asking herself.
For hours on end, she would watch the TV newscasters’ mouths, trying to discern what they were saying. Eventually, she could. Now she can “read lips from across the room.”
McDonough went back to school and her university provided her with a court reporter that transcribed all of her lectures for her she said, enabling her to graduate with two degrees.
As she looked for work post-graduation, she said employers didn’t want to hire her because of her disability. Growing up in Los Angeles, she always had an interest in acting, and saw a TV show on ABC Family that featured deaf performers.
“I thought it was the most amazing thing ever, I wanted to cry,” McDonough said about seeing the deaf performers.
The rest is history. McDonough eventually landed a small role on the show, and has appeared in commercials, short films and other bit parts on TV. She’s also authored her own book, “Ready To Be Heard,” a retelling of her life story.
FTCC will continue to celebrate disabled persons’ successes and educate its students about people with disabilities throughout October.