Markus de Domenico with his wife Amy and daughters Lauren, left, and Ava. Photo courtesy de Domenico family

Listening to voice of the hearing impaired

  • March 21, 2021

As the father of two hearing-impaired daughters, musician and Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee Markus de Domenico wants to make sure children of all hearing abilities can appreciate the beauty of song.

It’s his experience performing for hearing-challenged families and advocating for his own children within the school system that brought him into public service in the first place and fuels his drive to push for equity.

“I had a lot of personal experience,” said de Domenico. “Why run for trustee if you don’t want to make change? I don’t want to be premier of Ontario (or) go to Ottawa. I’m here to build schools, buy books and make the playing field level so that we have equity and accessibility and inclusion of all students.”

One of de Domenico’s recent motions, which was passed in 2020, allows for board meetings to be close-captioned and have a sign language interpreter available. 

As a children’s musician, he has been nominated for a Juno award for Best Children’s Album, received The Ontario Best Children’s Song Award, U.S. Parent’s Choice Award and The Early Childhood Educators Gold Pin Award. For decades in family entertainment and working on children’s shows like Mr. Dressup, Fred Penner and Bob the Builder, de Domenico — who has written 10 albums and performed countless concerts — has pushed for equity. Even before having his own children with hearing impairment, he was one of the first Canadian artists to incorporate a sign language interpreter into his live concerts.

De Domenico and his wife Amy, who was also born with moderate to severe hearing loss, share a blended family of seven children. They have two children together, Lauren, 16, who was born with a similar condition as her mother and wears hearing aids, and youngest Ava, now 12, who was born profoundly deaf. At nine months old, Ava became one of the first to receive a cochlear implant. 

Though the family has found the school system to be extremely supportive of the girls’ condition over the years, they also found a great lack of awareness of the nuance of hearing loss. They went through a process with their daughters’ teachers, who were very empathetic, to help them understand the accommodations necessary to help their daughters. That meant introducing educators to a personal FM system which uses radio waves to deliver speech signals directly from the speaker’s mouth to the listener’s ear. Without this, if a speaker turns away, or if there is a lot of background noise a student with a listening aid will have a hard time hearing.

Unlike other disabilities, hearing impairment is usually invisible to the general public, causing many, especially children who might not yet have the skills to advocate for themselves, to suffer in silence. Kids have a natural desire to fit in, especially as they get older, and often feel uncomfortable repeatedly letting an educator know that they can’t hear. This is why de Domenico says support for students with hearing loss is so important and making sure there is no embarrassment in asking for help.

“Our kids have learned very early on to be advocates for themselves,” said de Domenico. “They are as God made them. It’s not a deficiency. They have a right to be educated. They have a right to be facilitated, to have the proper equipment and the proper training for staff and so on.”

When looking for inspiration, de Domenico is proud to say his girls only need to look to their mother. Amy was diagnosed with hearing impairment as a child and has made it a point to show them and other children they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. She has competed internationally as a triathlete, was a contestant on the Amazing Race Canada and worked as a law clerk.

De Domenico hopes a new film by co-executive producers Roxana Rotundo and Holly Cohen, We Hear You, will help shed light on the condition. The one-hour documentary highlights the invisible disability that impacts 466 million people worldwide. Rotundo, like de Domenico, hopes to bring awareness to the wider population through the film. She also hopes to show adults, children and families impacted that they are not alone.

“When I started to lose my hearing in my 30s it was very hard for me to find any information about hearing loss, there is so many people completely lost about this,” said Rotundo. “When I finally started to find people and connect with hearing loss friends, I learned so much and was brave to make decisions like my cochlear implants. This (film) is a way for me to ‘give back’ to the world. Many people do not know there are solutions there available for them.”

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