by Kira Yager
With The Canadian Hearing Society estimating that nearly 3.5 million Canadians are deaf or hard of hearing, it is no wonder that many famous deaf people have found mainstream success. That’s about 10% of the population! However, that’s not to say you’ll always realize these well-known famous deaf people and hard-of-hearing individuals are affected by hearing loss.
The names on this list are made up of hard of hearing or deaf actors, actresses, inventors, sports stars, political figures and more. They are a testament to the fact that the hard of hearing and deaf community can change the world despite their perceived disability. Making media accessible and advocating for the rights of the deaf community will open the doors so new generations of the deaf community can achieve similar success – in whatever they do!
Hard of Hearing and Deaf Famous People
These hard of hearing and famous deaf people are leaders in their field. They are prominent public figures who have inspired generations of people who are hard of hearing or not.
1. Marlee Matlin
Marlee Matlin is perhaps one of the most famous deaf actresses. She made a name for herself by appearing in high-profile television series and films including, Children of a Lesser God, Seinfeld, The West Wing, Reasonable Doubts, and more. The deaf actress attended the Academy Awards in 1987 and became the first legally deaf performer to win an Academy Award that same year. Later on, Marlee Matlin won a Globen Globe and went on to be nominated for several Emmys for her performances.
2. Stephen Colbert
Unbeknownst to many, Stephen Colbert is completely deaf in his left ear. As a child, he underwent surgery to fix a severely perforated eardrum but instead of fixing the ailment, the surgery left him deaf in one ear. At the time he wanted to be a marine biologist but the surgery made it impossible for him to scuba dive. As a result, he had to switch career paths and ended up becoming the comedy and talk show host we all love today.
3. Troy Kostur
Winner of the Best Supporting Actress at the 2022 Acadmey Awards for his role in CODA, Troy Kostur is an influential deaf actor who has been in the film and theatre industry for over 20 years. He is the second deaf actor to ever win an Academy Award, after Marlee Matlin. Like her, he gave his acceptance speech entirely in sign language which was shared with the audience via a translator.
4. William Shatner
William Shatner is one of the world’s most famous actors with a seven-decade-long career. He is not a completely deaf actor but suffers from severe tinnitus as a result of a pyrotechnics accident on the set of Star Trek. Today, he advocates for the American Tinnitus Association and is not shy about opening up about the effects of his condition, to urge others to seek treatment.
5. Derrick Coleman
Derrick Coleman became the first deaf person to become an offensive player in the NFL. He played college football before being signed with the Minnesota Vikings. He later went on to play with Atlanta, Arizona and Seattle where he became a Super Bowl Champion with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. He is a deaf activist and an inspiration to athletes who suffer from hearing loss.
6. Millie Bobby Brown
The famous Stranger Things actress is completely deaf in one ear. However, that hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of the most well-known actresses of our time. This partially deaf actress was featured in the Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people in 2018 and was the youngest person to ever be appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
7. Halle Berry
Halle Berry lost 80% of her hearing in one ear as a result of domestic violence from an abusive former partner. Since then she has been an advocate for victims of domestic abuse following this devastating assault. Halle Berry is an Oscar-winning actress, and most famous for her roles in comic book movies including Catwomen, X-Men and more.
8. Jane Lynch
Jane Lynch is a famous partially deaf actress and comedian. She was born with deafness in her right ear but did not know anything was amiss until 7 years old when her brother told her most people heard out of both ears. Despite this, Jane Lynch has gone on to win a Primetime Emmy Award for her role in Glee and star in many other very funny movies.
9. Nyle DiMarco
America’s Next Top Model winner and Dancing with the Stars contestant, Nyle DiMarco was born without hearing into a deaf family with deaf parents. However, he sees his condition as an asset rather than a limitation. Nyle DiMarco is an actor, model, producer and author. In 2018, he produced the Broadway production of Children of a Lesser God and became a collaborator on the American Sign Language App. Today, he works tirelessly as a deaf activist and has written a memoir that he says is a celebration of deaf culture.
10. Bill Clinton
Former United States President, Bill Clinton suffers from a high-frequency hearing deficiency. As a result, he was fitted with in-canal hearing aids while serving as president. This was after complaining of not being able to hear while in crowded rooms. He is not the first president to suffer from hearing loss either, Ronald Reagan and George. W. Bush also suffered from hearing loss and became hearing aid advocates.
11. Rob Lowe
Rob Lowe is completely deaf in his right ear and has been since he was a baby. The cause of his deafness was a case of an undiagnosed virus. Despite that, he has become a well-known partially deaf actor, director and producer. He started acting at just 15 years old and has gone on to play prominent roles in West Wing and Parks and Recreation.
12. Lance Allred
Lance Allred was the first legally deaf player in the NBA. He signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008 and then went on to play internationally. Today, he is an author and TEDx speaker. He speaks about persevering as an underdog. Born with 80% deafness, as a result of complications at birth, to a polygamist family. He was on his own at 13, when he decided to pick up basketball for the first time.
13. Lou Ferrigno
Lou Ferrigno is among the most famous deaf actors. Ear infections contributed to him losing over 80% of his hearing as a toddler. However, that didn’t stop him from achieving his dreams. He became an award-winning bodybuilder, 2x winner of Mr.Universe and actor starring in classics such as Original Incredible Hulk.
14. Linda Bove
Linda Bove held the longest-running role on television for a deaf person, when she appeared on Sesame Street. In her role, she was involved in deaf education. The famous deaf actress introduced her audience to American Sign Language and issues surrounding the deaf community. She also appeared in many soap operas and founded the Little Theatre of the Deaf.
15. Eric Clapton
Famous musician Eric Clapton has severe hearing loss as a result of tinnitus. He is one of the most influential musicians of our time and continues to tour. This condition is irreversible and is likely a result of extended periods of listening to music that is too loud. Many musicians suffer this fate including others like Grimes, Neil Diamond, Bono, and Sting. Many tinnitus champions advocate for protecting the hearing of others so the same doesn’t happen to more people.
16. Robert Redford
Academy Award nominee Robert Redford is a famous partially deaf actor and producer. However, he wasn’t born that way. In 2013, he lost 60% of his hearing when he developed an ear infection on the set of All is Lost. The ear infection contributed to this significant hearing loss. Despite this, he has gone on to produce and act in more movies and television series.
Famous Deaf People from History
No list of famous deaf people would be complete without these historical figures. They helped shape our modern world and paved the road for today’s generation of hard-of-hearing and famous deaf people.
1. Ludwig Van Beethoven
Beethoven is considered one of the most admired composers in history. His classical pieces are some of the most played today. He was a prodigy from a young age but started to experience difficulties hearing in his late twenties and went completely deaf in his forties. Despite this, he continued to compose until his death in his fifties.
2. Hellen Keller
Hellen Keller lost her sight and hearing at a young age but thrived throughout her life, becoming one of the most influential people in history. She became an inspiration to the deaf and blind community by overcoming her adversities. She was the first blind and deaf person to receive a bachelor’s degree and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Throughout her lifetime she wrote many books and was a resilient activist. Today she is a household name.
3. Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison is considered one of the greatest inventors of all time. He was responsible for inventing the modern light bulb, the phonograph and more. However, he was also hard of hearing. From a young age, the partially deaf inventor had no hearing in one ear and very little in the other. Luckily this never held him back from his inventions which have improved our quality of life today.
4. William “Dummy” Hoy
William Hoy was an incredibly talented baseball player who became deaf at the age of two. He later became the first deaf major league baseball player. He played for five MBA teams over the course of fifteen years and hit the first-ever grand-slam home run in the American baseball league in 1901. He was also responsible for creating the hand signals which are still used in baseball today. A true athletic hero.
5. Laura Redden Searing
Laura Redden Searing was an inspiration for the female, deaf community. She was the first deaf female professional journalist and wrote under the male pen name Howard Glyndon (to be more accepted by the masses at that time). Most notably, she was sent to cover the American Civil War by the St.Louis newspaper the Republican in 1860. Throughout her life, she led an existence that defied boundaries for both females and the deaf community.
The inspirational hard of hearing and famous deaf actors, actresses, athletes, musicians and public figures on this list demonstrate that anyone with this perceived disability can achieve the same things as people with full hearing capabilities. Through deaf awareness, these well-known deaf celebrities and hard-of-hearing individuals help to combat the stigma of hearing loss.
At CCS, we are committed to supporting deaf awareness. We are the trusted source for captioning and descriptive videos and we make it our mission to make media more accessible. We do this by helping our clients meet CRTC and AODA requirements and by staying current with best practises, and end-user community preferences.