Celebrating black disabled people past and present who have made their mark
This Black History Month, I’ve been learning about the black experience around the world.
Here are 10 black deaf and visually impaired people who’ve left their mark on culture and history.
Kevin Walker is also known as Signkid. He’s a London-based rapper and musician who became Deaf after contracting meningitis when he was young.
If you love Public Enemy and Chance the Rapper, you’ll see their influence in his work. Signkid uses vibrations to create his own beats which he then raps over in British Sign Language. Check out his song Listen with your eyes and see for yourself.
Hermon and Heroda
‘Being Deaf may be difficult but being scared is the real barrier’.
Hermon and Heroda run their own lifestyle and fashion blog called Being Her. Hermon is a professional actress and you might have seen Heroda in a TV advert. I love that they’re using their blog to expand their own horizons, and broaden everyone else’s too.
How many talents do you have? CJ Jones has more. He’s a director, producer, writer, musician, comedian and actor. And he communicates using American Sign Language.
That’s not enough? He’s also the CEO of Sign World Media, which brings hearing and deaf people together to develop ways to act and produce together in film. If you’ve heard of the International Sign Language Theatre Festival, that’s his work. If you haven’t, it’s a festival that’s hosted theatre artists from around the world. Inspiring stuff.
Now Harriet Tubman you may have heard of. She was an American abolitionist and political activist who was partially blind.
She was born into slavery and escaped the South. She helped black slaves escape by starting the Underground Railroad where slaves on the run could find protection. Historians estimate that she rescued more than 300 slaves.
Thomas Wiggins was blind at birth. He was sold into slavery as child. When he wasn’t able to do the work that they demanded of slaves on the plantation he lived on, they left him to play the piano. He became a musical prodigy.
He is thought to have played to his first public audience at three years old. He went on to be one of the best known African-American performers during the 19th century.
Marsha de Cordova
Marsha de Cordova says it’s part of her character to slog on. She says her mother warned her that she’d have to work twice as hard as everyone else.
Marsha was born with nystagmus, a condition that means your eyes move involuntarily. She’s registered blind.
She studied at London South Bank University, founded a charity and then entered politics. She’s been the Labour MP for Battersea since 2017. Plus, she served as Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities from April 2020 until 2021.
Claudia Gordon was the first deaf black female attorney in the United States. She went on to work for the US government, and even worked for the White House in another first.
She was born in Jamaica and faced discrimination for being deaf. When she moved to the US when she was 11, she enrolled at the Lexington School for the Deaf in New York. And she ended up at the top.
Curtis Pride was born 95% deaf from rubella. He’s used it to his advantage. He says his deafness has helped increase his focus and anticipation when he played Major League Baseball (MLB). In 1993, he became the first deaf player in the majors since 1945.
Then, in 2016, he became the MLB’s ambassador for inclusion. He uses his 5% residual hearing to help him speak and is a fluent lipreader.
Haben Girma lost her vision and hearing beginning in early childhood. She had an unknown progressive condition. She was also the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School. Now, she’s a disability rights activist.
Girma says that one of the reasons she became a lawyer was to give disabled people increased access to books and other digital information. She’s now intent on changing attitudes about disability around the world.
David Ellington first acted as part of the deaf festival at the Swan Theatre in 1997. He is profoundly deaf and uses British Sign Language to communicate. He’s received many accolades over the years, including the award for best actor at the Deaf Oscars for his role in DEF.
“I hope that young Deaf and disabled people can look up to us and follow our example to achieve their own goals.”
Don’t discriminate, celebrate
Black deaf and visually impaired people have been impacting culture and the course of history for many years.
Celebrating this short list is just a start in understanding how the black community has shaped the world we experience today.
Find out more about Black History Month at Sense.