Exploring what it means to be Deaf through an unfiltered medium is how “What the Deaf?!” podcast hosts Carly Weyers and Sarah Tubert are making a difference in the media world and beyond.
Weyers hails from Lincoln, NE, and now resides in Burbank. She grew up in a predominantly Deaf household and attended education systems in her upbringing which addressed the needs of the Deaf community. This gave Weyers strong insights into the areas where the hearing community is lacking in relation to their knowledge on Deaf culture.
“When I’m out of the Deaf world, I recognize the difference of what is not represented in the space I am in,” Weyers said. “Oftentimes, even when there are a lot of diverse groups of people in society, it falls on me to educate others about the oppressions and communication barriers I face in the hearing world.”
Weyers had many Deaf role models growing up, namely her parents, who instilled in her the notions of getting out of her comfort zone and challenging herself in order to accomplish her goals. While many in her childhood suggested a career in law would be a good fit for Weyers, her natural ability for advocacy led to studying communication and media in her college years.
“I happened to be gifted with a lot of valuable expertise to work with people, especially in an advocacy role and to build relationships,” Weyers said. “As a Deaf kid in the hearing world, I learned how to advocate for myself and understand my needs as a Deaf person…[The] majors [I studied] gave me the best of both skills, how to work with people by communicating and understanding where they come.”
Contrarily, Tubert, now an Encino resident, grew up in Burbank amongst a hearing family. Although born with full hearing capabilities, at age three a doctor misdiagnosed Tubert and performed a surgery in which her facial nerve was accidentally severed, paralyzing the right side of her face and resulting in a loss of her hearing. Early in her upbringing, Tubert confided in her mother for an explanation as to why her circumstances played out as such, which resulted in an offering of life-changing advice.
“My mom said, ‘Sarah I don’t know why you have a crooked smile or wear a hearing aid, but this is your journey[,] let’s see what we can do with it,’” Tubert recalled. “And with that I never wanted to pity myself or feel sorry for what happened, instead I wanted to achieve anything I set my mind to. I believe everything happens for a reason, [and] I am so grateful for the person I’ve become and continue to be.”
Tubert’s family made the move to Burbank when she was in second grade. Her mother, a researcher, discovered that Washington Elementary School had a TRIPOD program, which included teachers who used American Sign Language, or ASL. Furthermore, Washington had arrangements for their Deaf and Hard of Hearing students, whereas Tubert’s previous education system didn’t have any setup in place for Deaf needs.
“When I attended a private school with no access, I felt like I was the dumbest one in class and an outcast because I couldn’t understand the teacher,” Tubert said. “The school didn’t really make necessary accommodations for me to lead me to be successful in the classroom. So when I transferred to Washington Elementary, I went from feeling like I was the dumbest one in class to becoming a leader in the classroom. I felt like I wasn’t alone.”
Weyers and Tubert first met as students in Washington, D.C., at Gallaudet University, the only university in the world which consists of programs specifically designed for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. They quickly became close friends as they finished their studies and pursued individual occupational endeavors.
Weyers has held numerous advocacy roles in her professional career, including work as a behavioral health coordinator for the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The position allowed her to give presentations to various professionals and educate them on the most effective measures in providing services to Deaf and Hard of Hearing clients.
“I remember when I was giving training to law enforcement…it felt like I had to prove to them why they should take my training when they are the ones with badges and more power than I do,” Weyers recalled. “I learned that I know the needs for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community and their accessibility. That is what gave me the strength to stand for what is right and fight for our accessibility. And how to do it in the right way, which is to build a bridge with the hearing community rather than destroy it by screaming for our needs.”
Leadership and advocacy roles have likewise played a role for Tubert, who is able to represent for both the Deaf community and first-generation Americans, as her father immigrated to the United States from Argentina. Tubert has worked as an actress, signer of songs, and motivational speaker. Opportunities from these functions include signing popular Disney songs and acting jobs for shows such as Freeform’s “Switched at Birth” and TNT’s “Claws.” Participating in sports has also been imperative for Tubert, who played on her volleyball team for Burbank High School and is now Captain of the USA National Deaf Women’s Volleyball team.
“My goal in life is to inspire others, and… [being a] leader in sports and…a motivational speaker allows me to show that despite any obstacles people face, you can truly achieve anything you set your mind to,” Tubert said. “I’m always grateful to have the opportunity to tell my story in the hopes to inspire others. If I can make a difference in one person’s life, that’s what makes my heart soar.”
Weyers and Tubert decided to embark on their “What the Deaf?!” podcast following a joint trip to Europe, where they encountered an extensive amount of curious questions about the Deaf community from people they met along their travels. This not only gave them the idea for starting their podcast, but also prompted the show’s format, which consists of Weyers and Tubert sharing their experiences while answering questions from emails sent in by inquisitive spectators.
Season 1 of the podcast began in January of 2021 and ended in February with the 11th finale episode of the season. Episodes include “Dating in the Deaf and Hearing Worlds,” “Elitism,” and “Is there a right way to be Deaf?” No questions are off limits, and all episodes address Weyers’ and Tubert’s individual experiences as Deaf community members while reminding their audience that there is no “one way” that Deaf people experience the world around them. Rather, the Deaf community is as diverse and layered as the hearing community, and the characteristic of being a Deaf individual doesn’t define a person, just as being a hearing individual isn’t amongst a person’s defining characteristics.
“There is no right way to be Deaf,” Weyers said. “We are two Deaf women with different backgrounds and we are a part of a larger community that has so many beautiful layers to it.”
Unlike most podcasts, “What the Deaf?!” caters to both hearing and Deaf audiences in their viewing formats. The show is available for listening on all podcast platforms, as well as ASL viewing through the show’s site, Apple Podcasts, and Youtube. Tubert voices herself for listeners of the show, and Weyers is voiced by interpreter Jenny Corum.
Despite the fact that Weyers and Tubert are using the podcast to share their stories and educate their audience, the first installment of episodes has proven to be just as informative for them as they explore their own identities within the Deaf community.
“Before we started doing a podcast, we thought we would be the ones who educate the listeners about the Deaf community,” Tubert said. “We found ourselves learning so much more about ourselves and unpacking our identities as Deaf women in this world too.”
Weyers and Tubert hope to release season two by June 1 of 2021, in which the podcast will evolve to include interviews with a variety of guests. While currently organizing the details for their next season, they’ve also expanded their brand by creating What the Deaf Productions, with collective hopes to “continue the conversation within the entertainment industry and within companies to become the go-to place for people to build a bridge with the Deaf community.”
This goal of including Deaf representation in entertainment pertains to various forms of media, both in front of and behind the camera. Weyers and Tubert hold this mission with aspirations to ensure that the Deaf community is depicted as accurately as possible in media culture.
“It is amazing that more opportunities are arising for Deaf people within media platforms. I hope it continues and I would love to see more Deaf representation behind the scenes as well,” Weyers said. “In the writer’s room, in casting directors rooms, as ASL masters, consultants, whenever there is a Deaf character on screen there should be Deaf people working behind the scenes to make sure the representation is authentic to what we see on the screen.”
“What the Deaf?!” Is available on www.whatthedeaf.com or wherever you get your podcasts.