Why the movie CODA provides long overdue insight into deaf community

This column is an opinion by the Manitoba Deaf Association’s Shawna Joynt, a deaf mother of four, who are all hearing CODAs (children of deaf adults). For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

How did the movie CODA resonate with you?

CODA stands for children of deaf adults, and the movie, therefore, resonated with me.

Being the only hard of hearing child in the family, I had to face a lot of challenges and ordeals to get to where I am today.

My immediate family had no clue what to do to help me, but they did do their best. 

In order to hear, I was provided with hearing aids. The teacher wore a microphone so I could hear her through the hearing aids, and I really relied on everyone to look at me when they were speaking, so I could read their lips.

CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) the movie

17 hours ago

Duration 5:50

Shawna Joynt, of the Manitoba Deaf Association, on what it was like to watch CODA, a mainstream movie featuring deaf actors. 5:50

I saw a speech therapist several times a week to learn how to pronounce words. I eventually disliked going to these sessions. I would be difficult and just sit there, making the speech therapist very frustrated.

It was my way to show my emotions and clearly try to tell people this is not who I am or what I want.

Inside, I was feeling something was missing but couldn’t figure it out.

When I was 12, a lady came to visit me at the school. She was a very laid back, nice, patient lady and she showed me a sign in American Sign Language (ASL).

My eyes glowed and my heart started to feel excitement. I would speak and ask her to show me again. I was so proud that I showed other teachers, the principal and my friends. 

CODA families can make it through any challenges they face.– Shawna Joynt

I did a big presentation on how the ear works when you are hearing, hard of hearing and deaf. It got the people in my surrounding environment to understand why I really wanted to go to a school with others like me.

This was a big discussion, because my foster family wasn’t sure if it was right for me. I begged to go.

In the fall of 1993, my world changed as I felt that I belonged and I felt more connected. I went to school at the Manitoba School for the Deaf (MSD). My knowledge of ASL grew tremendously through the years, and I graduated in 1999.

Now a few years have passed, and I have become a mom to four boys who are all hearing CODAs.

One disappointing thing is that I let myself and my boys down by not making sure they are strongly fluent in ASL. (They do have some knowledge of ASL and can communicate using several signs.)

I tell them my regret and that I wish they would try to sign more. I’ll say, “On your phone, riding in a vehicle, you can still move your hands and practice signing the alphabet, lol.”

My boys do have frustrations when my hearing aid acts up and doesn’t work, and I can’t hear them completely. 

I tell them to be patient with me and to please repeat what they said. I tell them that “I do understand you’re frustrated, but so am I. This is why I encourage you to know more ASL.”

Shawna Joynt (centre) talks with CBC Manitoba anchor Janet Stewart (left) about the impact of the film CODA, with support from ASL interpreter Mar Koskie (right). (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

I want our communications to be clear and without misunderstandings. They know I am right, and I just keep encouraging them to learn ASL.

Today, my boys support me in any project I do for the deaf communities that I’m involved in locally and nationally. They love to see their mom smiling and glowing and doing something she loves to do.

“Mom, you have been there for us through everything, and it’s time for us to support and be there for you … plus we are improving in ASL day by day,” my one son said.

My eyes lit up with happy tears, and my heart was glowing with how proud I am of them.

Being respected and acknowledged by my boys means a lot to me. I raised them to be kind, respectful, supportive and independent gentlemen. I know they would treat a deaf or hard-of-hearing partner the same way.

CODA families can make it through any challenges they face. Everyone must have patience, be understanding, be open-minded, be supportive, compromise with each other, communicate and most of all respect and listen to each other.

The CODA movie will be beneficial for everyone to watch to get a better understanding of the deaf and CODA worlds.

I believe seeing the story told in our visual language is a better way for people to understand the big picture.

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