Clarke Alum and Award-Winning Filmmaker Seeks to Educate Families of Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
With her documentary film, The Sky’s the Limit, Clarke alum Carys seeks to “shift the lens on deafness from being a loss or deficit to representing it as a journey.”
Each May, Clarke celebrates ASHA’s Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM), raising awareness about hearing loss and demonstrating the boundless potential of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. To align with ASHA’s 2022 theme, “Connecting People,” we are highlighting Clarke alum, Carys, whose advocacy work through documentary filmmaking celebrates the diversity of people who are d/Deaf* and hard of hearing.
College student and filmmaker Carys is profoundly deaf in both ears and uses bilateral cochlear implants. She attended Clarke’s Preschool Program and after joining her peers at a mainstream school in the third grade, Carys received support from Clarke’s Mainstream Services throughout elementary school, middle school and then high school. While Carys primarily uses Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) to communicate, she is also proficient in American Sign Language (ASL). Bridging the diverse experiences and communication modes of people who are deaf or hard of hearing was crucial to her documentary project, The Sky’s the Limit.
“I created The Sky’s the Limit because I wanted to highlight a few voices of d/Deaf experiences and show that the stories and experiences of this community are infinitely individual,” Carys explains. “No one’s journey is ‘correct’ but rather it is the relationship that one has with their identity that will always be unique to that person.”
Carys’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2020, she received the “Young Advocate of the Year Award” from the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for the film’s exploration of diversity in the d/Deaf and hard of hearing communities. Due to precautions around the pandemic, Carys’s formal recognition was postponed to the spring of 2022, when she will join commission members at the state house in Boston, Massachusetts.
“We are proud to recognize Carys’s creative talent showcasing the power of documentary that tells important stories to bring awareness about deaf people and culture to a wider audience,” says the Massachusetts Commissioner for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Dr. Opeoluwa Sotonwa. “Carys’s documentary The Sky’s the Limit explores the diversity of the deaf and hard of hearing community touchingly and profoundly.”
When Carys thinks about her advocacy work and efforts to build awareness, she reflects on the concept of taking up space. “Everyone deserves a seat at the table, but I was taught that there are going to be times, places and people that tell me there isn’t space for me there,” Carys says. “I learned that we all have a right to sit at our place, to contribute, to be seen and heard. Learning that we deserve to take up space, advocacy gives us the voice to remind ourselves and others of that.”
Clarke alum Lauren was a member of the Clarke preschool class featured in Carys’s film, The Sky’s the Limit. Lauren is now a first grader in a mainstream school. She plays soccer, dances and loves to play with her sister Holly. (still from The Sky’s the Limit)
“[Lauren] is always smiling and loves all her friends,” says her mom, Sarah.
In her film, Carys documents the experiences of preschool, elementary school and high school students who are deaf or hard of hearing and who use LSL, ASL and Signed Exact English (SEE).** She also includes interviews with parents who have chosen various communication paths for their children and a mainstream educator who incorporates SEE into her classroom curriculum.
“Through this documentary,” says Carys, “I aim to shift the lens on deafness from being a loss or deficit to representing it as a journey. I wanted to emphasize that the journey is not linear and there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model when it comes to deafness.”
“As educators at Clarke, we provide our students with the LSL education and self-advocacy tools they’ll need to thrive in mainstream settings throughout their lives,” says Marian Hartblay, Clarke’s national director of early intervention and preschool and director of early childhood services at Clarke Northampton. “Watching Carys’s film — my former preschool student! — and seeing her thoughtful approach to honoring the many aspects of identity in the deaf and hard of hearing community was a thrill. With The Sky’s the Limit, we’re able to witness a Clarke alum on her journey, telling her story, advocating for herself and others, and affirming what a delight it is to see our students succeed.”
Carys also seeks to highlight the inherent joy in helping children live their lives to the fullest — especially for families and caregivers new to this community.
“For the families of newly diagnosed children [who are deaf or hard of hearing], I wanted [the film] to especially highlight how much one will gain through this new adventure,” adds Carys. “There is a whole world out there that they now get to be a part of, and this is a world that they should have no reluctance celebrating. Just because it may be different from what they know or experience, that doesn’t mean that it’s a world that won’t give their child a life that they can live to its fullest.”
As a student at Emerson College, Carys is pursuing a degree in communications studies, and she remains committed to her work in disability advocacy and accessibility. “I am also interested in filmmaking, creative projects and non-profit work,” Carys says, “and hope to incorporate those aspects into my passions with disability advocacy as well.”
Carys’s mother, Elaine, is featured in Carys’s film, The Sky’s the Limit, sharing what it’s like to parent a child who is deaf. (clip from The Sky’s the Limit)
*According to the AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the adjective Deaf, with a capital D, is used to describe “a group that views itself as having a separate culture and identity from mainstream hearing society.” This group often uses sign language or American Sign Language (ASL) and may not use technology that provides auditory access to the environment. Lowercase d deaf refers to the physical condition of deafness and can also describe individuals who use hearing technology to access sound and Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) to communicate. (For more information about the Deaf community, contact the National Association of the Deaf or the American Society for Deaf Children.)
**SEE is a sign language system that represents English words literally, sometimes using fingerspelling of English words, whereas ASL is a language separate from English with its own grammar and syntax. Learn more >