Austin mother works to bring deaf community together

Viral video sends message of equality

AUSTIN - Editor's Note: All of the quotes in this story came from a sign language interpreter.

Austin is made up of one of the largest deaf communities in the nation. Recently, one mother of two created a video that has gone viral and touched many with its message. 

Sheena McFeely was originally born in Hong Kong to two hearing parents.

"They had a child that was born deaf," McFeely said. "That was the first time they had met a deaf person. They had no knowledge and no access to information."

McFeely said around the time she was born, the Asian culture looked down upon anyone with a disability. This oppression pushed her family out of Hong Kong and over to Ireland. They eventually traveled to California and settled down in the United States.

McFeely started out going to oral schools for the first 10 years of her education, which provided plenty of obstacles.

"I was just missing so much information, and as I got older and classes became more advanced, I was losing so much information."

McFeely eventually started going to a school that taught by means of American Sign Language (ASL) which she said changed her entire perspective on learning.

"From that moment, I felt like I had bloomed," McFeely said. "I felt like I finally got what was going on in the world."

She eventually met her husband, who is also deaf, while in college. Once she had her first daughter, her world was changed again.

"When I had a deaf daughter, that really changed my life," McFeely said. "I wanted to help people learn our language and not have people look down on our language anymore."

Jacylin Vincent was born deaf and teaches ASL here in Austin. She also has a deaf daughter, who became the motivation for where Vincent was going to live.

"Education is important," Vincent said. "Sometimes you have to pick up and move to find a quality education."

While Vincent mentioned she sometimes hears about parents grieving when they find out their child is deaf, she along with McFeely are trying to establish a welcoming community with other deaf people in Austin.

"We're the other side of the community that is saying, 'Hey, it's OK. We're fine,'" Vincent said.

"You don't have to speak the same language to be equal," McFeely said. "We have our own culture. We have our own community. We have our own language."

McFeely said she and her husband picked Austin for a reason when deciding where they were going to raise their family.

"Here is Austin, there is a big deaf community," McFeely said. "You're able to see and get a lot of exposure. There's a lot of positivity. We kind of uplift one another."

McFeely said her ASL language allows deaf people to be expressive with what they are saying by using nonmanual signals -- NMS.

"It's all about body movement and facial expressions," McFeely said. "Hearing people have voice inflection. It's the same idea. The facial expression is essentially inflection."

However, McFeely said ASL is a language some still don't accept because others think it might delay someone's English skills.

"In ASL, it's 3D," McFeely said. "It's almost like being in a cinema watching a 3D movie. Being a deaf person, society wants to fix us somehow."

So McFeely created ASL Nook -- a website where she creates videos where she, her husband and two daughters teach ASL through everyday activities.

"I wanted people to be able to watch our family in our natural environment," McFeely said. "It's just two kids, two adults interacting in our home environment."

That's only a part of McFeely's message, though, which is why she created a video with deaf Austin kids that have reached more than three million views. McFeely said she feels the need to expose Austin and our society to her community.

"How do we take away these biases and those judgments and those prejudices if we don't get out there and interact and expose them to the richness?" McFeely said.

McFeely knows she can't change society all on her own, but she said she hopes to get your attention with simple videos.

"If we don't get out there, people are never going to learn about us," McFeely said.

No matter what happens, McFeely said her outlook on life remains firm.

"Honestly, if I could go back in time and become a hearing person as a baby, I would say, 'Hell no,'" McFeely said. "I am happy being deaf. I am happy with who I am today."

McFeely has a hope to eventually see a balance for the deaf community. She wants to see the ability to be looked at and accepted as everyone else while still having the right outlets for deaf children to grow and learn in healthy atmospheres.

To learn more about ASL Nook, go here.

(© 2016 KVUE)


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