"No one can depict an impaired person's role better than someone who is impaired"

"I have the worst in both worlds, but I do have the best in both, as well."

This reflection on life was made by actress Deanne Bray. She can be seen on Hallmark in its new series Sue Thomas : F.B Eye every Monday at 8:30 pm. Bray plays Sue Thomas, who although completely deaf from the age of 18 months, overcame significant obstacles to work surveillance for the FBI.

Bray like her onscreen character is also severely deaf and was strongly encouraged by her parents to speak and read lips. Bray has also appeared in episodes of CSI Crime Scene Investigation and Ellen among others.

Bray teaches deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students during the school year. Through an email questionnaire sent by indiantelevision.com's correspondent Ashwin Pinto, Bray speaks about her character, opportunities in film and television for people who are hard of hearing, as well as the similarity between acting and teaching.


What drew you to the role of Sue Thomas?

F.B.Eye, is the true life story of Sue Thomas. When I read the script, it was like my life's story glaring at my face. There are just too many things that overlap. I could actually relate to the challenges that she faced and I knew the actor in me would do justice to the role. I screen-tested for the role with other actors - hearing and non hearing… and was selected.

The series becomes even more relevant when I know that besides the usual 'hearing audiences', the story can well be followed and understood by those with hearing impairment. Besides, never before has there been a television show about the real life experiences and career of a deaf person - who is also portrayed by an actor with a hearing impairment.


What did you learn from Sue Thomas?

Sue is like a sister to me! She has been instrumental in my life and has taught me a great deal - I can't even start to put all of those learning's into words. She taught me about the challenges that we will face throughout our lives, and how we will have to keep proving ourselves, time and again to be accepted in the hearing world.

Sometimes you know, we feel like we belong to another world, like this world is not for us. In such an environment, we need be honest and give it all we have to be the best in our work and prove ourselves to the world.


Today, are there more opportunities for actors with hearing impairment?

Sure, there are more opportunities today than ever before. Producers and filmmakers are more open to ideas, they want to carve a niche for themselves, do things differently and do something that will get people talking about their role. They are always on the lookout for something different and someone who can deliver.

No one can depict an impaired person's role better than a person who is impaired. I think that is what more and more programme makers have understood today. I think at the end of the day, if you have the talent, and you stand above the rest, there is nothing in the world that can stop you.


Do you think that your role in the show will give the audience a better understanding of people with hearing problems?

That's what we all set out to achieve. There will be nothing better than this for the hearing impaired. In fact its something really close to Sue's heart. Its her story and she has worked real hard to bring it to the fore.

She has gone through a lot to convince people; and has tried to change the way people look at the impaired. More than for anyone else, I want people to understand the message in the story for Sue's sake. I want them to understand the challenges that the impaired go through every single day of their life.


"'F.B Eye' becomes more relevant to me because besides the usual 'hearing audiences', the story can be followed and understood by those with hearing impairment"


Were there any obstacles to the way in which you interacted with the other cast members and directors while filming a scene? How did you work around them?

The cast and crew were extremely supportive. It was a challenge for me, larger than the usual challenges I face everyday. I had to not only be one of them… I had to also deliver as an actress. They chose me after a screen test since I met with their requirements.

They understood very well my requirements and the help that I needed when working. I too learnt how to adapt to my surroundings and was not too fussy. I think we worked excellently as a team and supported each other. In fact we'd sit together at the end of the day and give feedback to each other on the performance, what required improvement and so on.


Could you elaborate on what a hearing dog is and the role it plays?

A hearing dog is used by a person suffering from any hearing impediment. The dogs are trained normally when they are puppies, ranging from six months to a year in age, with good health and energetic personalities.

Most often, we get to choose from the dogs who have already been trained. Sometimes, you can take your own dog and get it trained to meet requirements.

A thorough medical examination of the dogs - including blood tests and necessary vaccinations are given - to ensure a longer and healthier life. The training schedule of the dogs is vigorous - they are taught to respond to sounds such as the door bell, the alarm clock, footsteps, telephone, burglar alarm, babies cries, among other things. They are also taught to follow trails and the scent of a person.

The training could range from six months to a year. The outcome, at the end of it all, is a blessing.


In what way is teaching similar to acting and which do you prefer?

When acting, I am required to understand the requirements of the character and deliver as per the requirements of the film maker.

When teaching, I am tapping areas of my expertise and imparting the knowledge that I have. I am merely passing it on to those who can gain from me.

Literally speaking, both of them are different. I think the only thing that is common, is that you have a role to play and you have to do it to the best of your ability since there are people watching and listening to you closely.


While starting out in you profession, what did you have to do in order to be accepted by the hearing world?

My parents encouraged me from a very early age to blend with 'hearing people'. They encouraged me a great deal and taught me to face the challenges. I learnt young and have incorporated a lot of my childhood learnings into my lifestyle.

Even if people accept you, living every single day as a hearing impaired is a challenge - a challenge that I have now grown to love.

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