What do CODA’s Oscar wins mean for the hearing loss community?

By Shari Eberts

Congratulations to 'CODA' on its historic wins at the 2022 Oscars! It is wonderful to see disability stories taking center stage in mainstream media and Deaf actors playing Deaf characters. Beyond this, the movie helps raise awareness about the Deaf experience and illuminates the communication challenges that can often separate the Deaf and hearing communities. 

'CODA' won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (Sian Heder), and Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur, who became the first Deaf male actor to win an Oscar.

But what do these wins mean for the hearing loss community? Do they help raise awareness about our needs, like captioning and hearing loops? Yes, but only if communities take the broader point and examine all types of communication needs when thinking about accessibility. 

A hearing loss movie worth watching 

I find most movies about hearing loss and deafness disappointing  'Sound of Metal' is a perfect example – because they contain inaccuracies or they portray the Deaf experience as representative of all people with hearing loss. The documentary I co-produced in 2021, 'We Hear You,' tries to offset this trend by focusing specifically on the hearing loss experience.

But 'CODA' was a pleasant surprise. I found the plot engaging and its portrayal of the communication challenges that Deaf families face in the hearing world to be eye-opening. It is a very specific story, yet it is also a universal one, mirroring the myriad sacrifices that we all make for those we love.

Plus, the movie is open-captioned, which means the captions are burned directly onto the film and cannot be turned off. Open captioning is a rare but welcome move towards making the movie accessible to all audiences: Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing too.

Societal support for communication is needed

A key message of 'CODA' – and one I hope is amplified by its Oscar wins – is the importance of a society that supports communication access, not just for Deaf people but for anyone who has difficulties with hearing or communication. 

In the movie, we see Ruby, the CODA (child of deaf adults), interpreting for her Deaf parents in business dealings, at the doctor, and during legal proceedings. We also see Ruby’s family at her daughter’s music concert, unable to understand the crowd’s enjoyment and disconnected from the experience. 

I hope 'CODA'’s wins inspire hospitals, entertainment venues, and other public places to revisit and expand how they make their spaces more hospitable for people with all types of communication needs – and to better advertise the accommodations they offer.

This means pledging to provide not only sign language interpreters for the Deaf community, but also captioning and alternative sound systems for the vast majority of us who are hard-of-hearing but do not sign.

Yet, as the film also shows, successful communication is a two-way street. Those of us who are Deaf or have hearing loss must also take responsibility, by self-identifying as a person with hearing difficulties and asking for the assistance we need.

I believe that 'CODA'’s Oscar wins could help trigger real change, but only if we all play our part.

At the time of writing, 'CODA' is available for viewing on Apple TV+. If you are not a subscriber, a free 7-day trial is available.

Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.