From a young age, Derrick Coleman was told that he would never be able to achieve his dream. “But I’ve been deaf since I was three,” he explained in a recent advertisement, “so I didn’t listen.”

Now Coleman has achieved his dream and more. He had always wanted to be a professional sportsman – in particular, an American footballer. Despite initially being passed over for a professional career, Coleman persevered and worked hard. He ended up being signed to the Seattle Seahawks and is believed to be the National Football League’s first deaf offensive player. He, along with his team, is now headed to the Super Bowl on 2 February – the pinnacle of achievement for anyone in the sport.

His colleagues have praised him for his talents and motivation on and off the field. Speaking to the Bleacher Report website, fellow Seahawk Zach Miller said: “Physically, he’s a star, straight up. Beyond that, he’s a lot more. He's a hero to a lot of people.”

Another Seattle player, Richard Sherman, added: “He's a humble guy who works hard and has never made an excuse. He’s an inspiration.”

Coleman is just the latest in a line of people who have refused to allow their hearing impairment stop them from making their mark on society. Other notable hearing-impaired individuals include Academy Award winners Marlee Matlin and Halle Berry, Glee star Jane Lynch, former US president Bill Clinton, inventor Thomas Edison and composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

Evidence of the inspiration that Coleman is providing for young deaf people surfaced on Twitter last week, with a letter sent by a nine-year-old girl.

A letter to Seattle Seahawk Derrick Coleman

Coleman took the time to respond to her with another letter, encouraging his correspondent and her sister by telling them: “Even though we wear hearing aids, we can still accomplish our goals and dreams.”

Derrick Coleman's response to a deaf fan's letter

The exchange has gone viral and the twin girls – Riley and Erin Kovalcik – have been subject to much media attention.

In one interview for the television show Good Morning America, the girls were asked what they would say to their inspiration. Before they had a chance to answer, Coleman himself appeared, to the delight of the two girls. But that wasn't all: proving that dreams really can come true, Coleman gave the Kovalcik family tickets to the Super Bowl so that they could share the experience with him. 

 

 

Questions for debate and discussion

  1. What effect might Derrick Coleman’s letter have on young deaf people?
  2. How can we make our communities less disabling for deaf and hearing-impaired people?
  3. Many people view deafness as a cultural experience rather than a disability. Why might this be?
  4. Did you know that there are many different types of sign language? Find out five facts about one type of sign language.

Relevant resources

Deafbooks
These resources are designed to support learning and communication for deaf and hearing-impaired people in the classroom.

Deaf awareness lesson plans
Raise awareness of the needs of deaf members of the community with these ready-to-use lesson plans.

Susan’s story
Watch this video in which a young woman talks about how attitudes to deafness are changing in recent times.

Types of deafness and how to help
This visual PowerPoint presentation introduces reasons for deafness and hearing impairment and shows children how they can help to make an environment more friendly to their deaf classmates.