“Coda” is about Deaf Culture. Can people with hearing loss relate? I did.

There’s a moment in the movie CODA that shocked me – after all these years – with the visceral understanding of how similar and yet how different the experience of deafness is to someone who is culturally Deaf and to someone like me who is functionally deaf and oral.

CODA, which stands for Child of Deaf Adult, is about a Deaf family who live in a small fishing town where everyone else is hearing. Father, mother and young adult son are Deaf. Ruby (Emilia Jones), their 17-year-old daughter, is hearing.

She gets up at 3 am to join her father and brother on their small commercial fishing boat, partly as part of the crew and partly as interpreter. She’s the only interpreter for her family and although there’s a reference to a Deaf community, there seem to be no other Deaf people in town. In one scene she is signing at a doctor’s office for her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur, who are both deaf, as is Daniel Durant, who plays her brother). The parents have a fairly intimate problem and her father is not the least shy about expressing it in the most graphic terms. Ruby gamely edits as she translates. It’s a hilarious scene, and also touching.

At school, Ruby is shunned and made fun of, both for her Deaf family and for smelling like fish. Her brother is mocked when he tries to join others in a bar. The family has only itself, until Ruby finds a way to connect, and brings the family with her. It’s a moving coming-of-age story, funny and sweet, but with the twist of providing an insight into what life might be like for a Deaf family living in an isolated area.

But back to that scene. Ruby loves to sing and joins the school choir (really a chorus, singing nonsectarian pop music). She’s encouraged by the teacher, who sees real talent. The choir holds a concert and Ruby has a solo. She has a beautiful voice and her singing is mesmerizing. But then the camera shifts to the parents – and the sound goes off. You are watching them watch her in dead silence. Instead of faking it, pretending they’re appreciating it, they start signing to each other about what to have for dinner.

If I were in that audience, I also would not be able to appreciate Ruby’s singing. But instead of silence I’d hear a cacophony of sound. Without the visual information, I might not even know it was music. Where her parents are encased in silence, I’d be turning my hearing aids down to spare myself the noise. In the end Ruby finds a way to share her singing with her parents. It’s a beautiful scene, which I don’t want to give away.  

The Deaf and hard of hearing (like me) share many accommodation needs and should be partners in advocacy. In the past, this hasn’t always happened, maybe because the Deaf are afraid that accommodations that work only for them, like sign-language interpreting, will be threatened by accommodations like looping that work only for people with hearing loss, not the Deaf. But we share a need for captions. Marlee Matlin was an early and influential advocate for television captions. In 1995 she testified before Congress on the need for captioning on television, with the result that we now all have captioning on TV. (Now we just need to get accurate captioning on TV.) She’s a spokeswoman for the National Captioning Institute as well as for the largest provider of television closed captions.

You don’t have to be Deaf or hard of hearing to love CODA. But you may relate to it in a different way from those who don’t give their hearing much thought.


For more about living with hearing loss, read my books “Smart Hearing: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better With Hearing Loss” and “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can’t Hear You.” Both are available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.com

17 thoughts on ““Coda” is about Deaf Culture. Can people with hearing loss relate? I did.

  1. I’m really looking forward to seeing CODA. I’m also interested to learn how those that don’t get hearing loss will relate. Being HOH I’ve had to advocate for myself if several different situations but it gets tiring trying to explain how I don’t hear and what I can. Maybe posts like yours and movies like CODA will help clarify some of the misunderstanding. Thanks for all you’ve done for us.


  2. As a single-sided deaf person, I was thrilled to find that a movie theater near us offered a theater with open captions for the newest movies. I am extremely sensitive to noise in my good ear, so I still had to wear an earplug covered by noise canceling headphones, but at least I did not have to deal with the closed caption apparatus necessary in the other theaters.


      • The New York City Council is considering adopting an ordinance to require cinemas to schedule some open-captioned showings of all movies on a regular basis. If you care to have open captions and live within the five boroughs, please ask your Council member to co-sponsor the bill, Int. 2020. If you reside outside NYC, please ask Council Speaker Corey Johnson to schedule a hearing on the bill asap.

        Join the over 28,000 people to sign the change.org petition in favor of open movie captioning, at https://www.change.org/p/open-captions-subtitles-are-healthier-for-everyone.

        Sure, some cinemas will show movies with open captions, but only on request and, in some cases, if what they consider “enough” people will attend.

        Here’s a list of some in the NY Area, compiled by D.E.A.F., which for several years has sought open captioning from cinemas voluntarily:

        • UA Staten Island Stadium 16 & RPX – Staten Island
        • AMC DINE-IN Staten Island 11 – Staten Island
        • UA Court Street Stadium 12 & RPX – Brooklyn
        • United Artists Kaufman Astoria 14 – Queens
        • Regal’s Union Square 14 – Manhattan
        • AMC Kips Bay 15 – Manhattan
        • Regal Battery Park Stadium 11 – Manhattan
        • AMC Empire 25 – Manhattan
        • Regal E-Walk Stadium 13 & RPX – Manhattan
        • AMC Bay Plaza Cinema 13 – Bronx

        Long Island
        • Regal Deer Park Stadium 16 IMAX & RPX – Suffolk County
        • AMC Stony Brook 18 – Suffolk County
        • AMC Raceway 10 – Westbury, Nassau County
        • Regal Lynbrook 13 & RPX – Nassau County

        Westchester/Rockland County
        • New Roc City 18 IMAX & RPX – New Rochelle
        • Alamo Drafthouse – Yonkers
        • Regal Nanuet Stadium 12 & RPX – Rockland County
        • City Center 15: Cinema de Lux – Westchester County


      • It’s Regal Theaters, and the manager told me that it is a corporate thing. It’s a small theater, maybe 50 seats max, and they show the top 3 or 4 current movies. The times vary, but I’m willing to be flexible!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice post and I can fully relate to it. I am looking forward to hopefully see the movie. A side note, this movie seems to be a remake of the French movie ” La famille Bélier” or “The Bélier family”. Highly recommendable too…


  4. Thanks, Katherine.
    I especially appreciated your statement that what you hear, instead of music, is a cacophony. I’ve only ‘heard’ one other person acknowledge my reality: that music and musicians I used to enjoy now sound horrible. I even took a class, a research project, that was supposed to teach/help us sing in a chorus. It was for both CI and hearing aid users. I think the CI folks were able to learn some of the sound. Me? It was a torment. Bad enough what I hear, but worse the implication that if I just tried hardER I could get music back. I did, finally, find a counselor who insists that trying harder to hear is a waste of time and energy. I wish I could have the time and energy back that I’ve spent sitting in music events with friends trying desperately to enjoy the music! So I really appreciate your naming our reality.


    • There are ways I can enjoy music. But rarely live music. If I am watching a captioned video and there’s music, I feel as if I’m hearing it, especially if it’s music I know. . I’m probably not, but who cares? If the brain thinks I’m hearing it, that’s all I need.


  5. Look forward to seeing the movie, and enjoyed your post Katherine. I also like the way you phrase your situation (and for so many of us, since roughly 95% of deaf and hard of hearing people do not use sign language) as “someone like me who is functionally deaf and oral.”

    For we mega-millions, wouldn’t it be great (though it may never happen) if a film would depict a family (like us) who depend on Quality Captioning in so many places from videos to schools to consultations and more. How to dramatize this seems too complex (?), or not “sexy” enough (compared to sign language) for lack of a better term. This overlaps, as you know, with the inattention to real needs for quality captioning. Most often, we have to ask, ask again, and then again, to have captioning provided.


    • I watched the movie with captions, because my TV is set permanently to captions. But I think I read that the movie is open captioned throughout. That would give hearing audiences a chance to see what open captioning is like. Movie theater owners think audiences are against open captioning. I’m not sure what the source of this is. I wonder if it’s even true.


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