Awareness

D.J. Demers: Hearing Loss Awareness Through Comedy

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By Carol Stoll

After his first audition on America’s Got Talent, D.J. Demers was described as funny, original, and likable by the tough, at times brutally honest judge Simon Cowell. Demers performed a stand-up routine that included witty banter with the judges and had the audience in stitches. Demers is now an award-winning stand-up comedian and has appeared multiple times on the late-night talk show Conan. He also happens to have profound hearing loss.

As an infant, D.J. had many ear infections and when his parents noticed that he wasn’t hearing well, they took him to an audiologist. He was diagnosed with severe-profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and started wearing hearing aids in both ears at the age of four. Not wanting to be defined by his disability, D.J. turned to making others laugh. He dreamed of being a comedian since childhood, and finally gave stand-up a shot when he was 21. “I was instantly hooked. Best decision I ever made,” he explained.

D.J. Demers is not your typical cynical comedian; he always has a positive outlook and makes light of heavy situations. His goal is to make his audience feel “free from concern,” as put by his comedian idol Jim Carrey. Demers likes to frequently interact with the audience, but sometimes has difficulty hearing them from the stage. Instead of getting discouraged, he simply makes it a part of the show. “It’s never a negative experience because I never make it one,” Demers said. “An audience follows your lead and my aim is to always keep it positive.”

Demers has also found a perfect middle ground with regards to discussing his hearing loss during his comedy shows. His jokes cover a variety of everyday topics, but he doesn't shy away from proudly calling out his hearing aids and describing the unique, humorous situations that he faces because of his hearing loss. For example, he points out the quick transition between pillow talk with his girlfriend and silence when he takes out his hearing aids to go to sleep. He asks her for a “last call” on final thoughts for the day and then goes to sleep in silence. He brags about sleeping like a baby with no distracting noises and says in a sarcastic deadpan voice, “It really makes you wonder...who has the disability?”  

D.J., now 31 and residing in Los Angeles, has been recognized for his comedic talent with multiple awards. He won the 2013 Toronto Comedy Brawl and the 2014 Homegrown Comics Competition at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. He was named “Best Breakout Artist” at the 2015 Canadian Comedy Awards. He appeared on season 11 of America’s Got Talent in 2016, and he has performed a stand-up routine twice on Conan, in 2014 and 2017.

This past October and November, Demers performed across the country on the Here to Hear Comedy Tour. The tour, sponsored by Phonak, aimed to “shatter stigmas and raise awareness about hearing loss through the power of laughter.” Demers was grateful for the opportunity to connect with hard-of-hearing people and valued all of the conversations he had with those he met along the way.

Demer’s pointers for those who are just getting a hearing loss diagnosis include: figure out and implement the necessary tools needed to help you in your day-to-day life, surround yourself with positive people, and don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. For those with hearing loss who are passionate about comedy or any type of performing arts, Demer advises, “Just do it. That’s it. If it excites you, do it. Don’t impose any fictional limits on yourself.”

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Under Normal Circumstances

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By Morgan Leppla

March is Disability Awareness Month. In honor of this important awareness month, Hearing Health Foundation is raising awareness and celebrating all of our different abilities and doing our part to reduce the stigma of living with hearing loss and its associated disorders.

Whether we like it or not, people compare themselves to others. Maybe contemporary culture brings it out in us, or perhaps that impulse is rooted in Darwinism ideology of survival of the fittest, reminding us of competitive advantages. Who is taller, more intelligent, faster?

Possibly, it also has to do with how we conceptualize normalcy. In the mid-1800s, Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet introduced the idea of “l’homme moyen” (average man) when he realized that human traits are distributed over a bell curve. So the average man would have the mean of all human traits in a single abstract person.

“Normal” entered English vocabulary in 1840 and has since been used to describe bodies and behavior. However, before society focused on the “the norm” it concerned itself with “the ideal.” Take the most coveted parts of bodies and traits that exist and combine them, and that would be the ideal person.

So why is this distinction meaningful? Because every living person is non-ideal, since by definition it cannot exist in one person, whereas people (bodies and traits) can be “normal.” On the contrary, normalcy is attainable on an individual level. And society’s reactive effect to the creation of normal humans was the production of their dichotomous counterparts: the extremes or deviants at the tail ends of the bell curve, the abnormal.

However, a collision of the normal and the ideal occurred when English statistician Francis Galton decided to rank human traits, created quartiles on an intelligence bell curve, and ordered them one to four. One was lowest intelligence and least desirable while four was highest intelligence and most desirable. He reoriented the human ideal using the norm. And now, I would say, it is “normal” to want to be the smartest, most athletic, most attractive, etc.?

The latter half of the 19th century employed pseudo-empirical justifications for describing how bodies should be in fairly clear terms. And to focus on distribution of differences warps the way society approaches normalcy as a concept. It allows us to draw lines where perhaps they ought not exist.

Thus we arrive at the construction of disability. Anyone who does not physically look like others or does not act like others is perceived as deviant or abnormal because they are at the wrong end of the bell curve. Beyond the initial construction of the human normal, barriers that are literal, educational, communicational, and attitudinal further maintain “disability” since nonexistent or poor accommodations along with stigma exacerbate “disabling” differences.

Hearing Health Foundation is encouraging everyone to think about how “norms” have molded our preferences and attitudes and whether that translates to treating people differently. Life may be more arbitrary than you think, and more can be going on than what meets the eye.

HHF is committed to spreading awareness of hearing loss and its associated disorders as well as reducing the stigma attached to them. If you’d like to share your story and experiences with our community, please email us at info@hhf.org.

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Hearing Health Foundation Launches Public Service Campaign

For Immediate Release
Contact: Libby Schnee
Libby.Schnee@gmail.com
917.767.8282

Hearing Health Foundation Launches Public Service Campaign Featuring Iraq Veteran and Others on the Prevalence of Hearing Loss
-- Research Underway to Find a Biologic Cure --

NEW YORKMay 15, 2012 -- Today Hearing Health Foundation announced its long term initiative to raise awareness and funds for hearing and balance research through a national public service advertising campaign featuring real people who suffer a hearing loss.  Johns Hopkins reports that nearly 50 million Americans suffer a hearing loss.  That number is expected to double in 20 years.  Hearing loss affects a growing number of teens and 60 percent of returning military from Iraq and Afghanistan, who acquire hearing loss or tinnitus due to noise exposure during service.

The campaign launches at a time when the nation’s attention is focused on the service of military veterans (May 19 Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day Weekend) whose lives are forever altered by the visible and invisible wounds of war.  “I suffered hearing loss serving my country as an army specialist in Iraq. The damage I suffered in combat is making it even harder to fit back in as a civilian,” said Specialist Rebecca Nava.

Other personal stories featured in the campaign include Katherine Simpson, “I started to lose my hearing in college.  Social situations became awkward.  And even though I had no reason to be embarrassed, it was hard for me to tell my friends.” Sean and Samantha Brownlie, who are 9 and 7 respectively, noted, “Hearing aids have helped me and my sister for most of our lives, but they’re not a solution for everyone with hearing loss.”

The public service advertising campaign includes television and radio spots of real people sharing their experience living with this unwanted change in their lives and their hope for a cure.  Hearing Health Foundation funds a research consortium, The Hearing Restoration Project, with the goal of finding a biologic cure for hearing loss within the next decide through cell regeneration therapies.  The campaign calls for people to learn more about the issue and the search for a cure by visiting www.hearinghealthfoundation.org.

“Hearing Health Foundation has long been at the forefront of hearing and balance research, and we understand that it is important to invest in the next wave of hearing treatments,” said Andrea Boidman, Executive Director of Hearing Health Foundation.  “Hearing research is important to the future of a growing number of people, and they need to know that there are new treatments on the horizon that could really impact their lives.”  

 

Lt. Col. Mark Packer, MD., Executive Director for US Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence (HCE) understands what new treatments could mean for returning combat veterans. “In the military, hearing is critical for the instruction, teamwork and reporting that are necessary for mission accomplishment.  Hearing loss is truly a hidden disability and our aim is to address significant gaps in the military’s ability to prevent or mitigate and then treat this type of injury.”  The HCE is partnering with the Veterans Health Administration, Hearing Health Foundation and others to address this issue.

The campaign is timed with May’s Better Hearing and Speech Month and includes a new website community for consumers who are living with hearing loss to access helpful resources and information.  Hearing Health Foundation publishes Hearing Health Magazine, and award-winning publication that is free to those who subscribe.

About Hearing Health Foundation

Hearing Health Foundation is the largest private funder of hearing research, with a mission to prevent and cure hearing loss through groundbreaking research.  Since 1958 Hearing Health Foundation has given over $26.6 million to hearing and balance research, including work that led to cochlear implant technology.  In 2011 Hearing Health Foundation launched the Hearing Restoration Project (HRP), a consortium of scientists working on cell regeneration in the ear.  HRP's goal is a biologic cure for most types of acquired hearing loss. Hearing Health Foundation also publishes Hearing Health magazine, a free consumer resource on hearing loss and related technology, research, and products.  To learn more or support this work, visit www.hearinghealthfoundation.org.

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