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It’s Disability Pride Month at Museum of Science

Programming includes ASL Sundays and new hearing loss exhibit

Mandile Mpofu
It’s Disability Pride Month at Museum of Science
Andre Robinson, also known as DJ Deaf Tunez, was inspired by two deaf DJs to pursue a music career. PHOTO: YURI VAYSGANT

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During family gatherings, Andre Robinson used to observe as his cousin embodied the role of DJ, placing the needle on the records as he stood behind the tables. At about 3 years old, Robinson had begun losing his hearing, but the music at the get-togethers was always just loud enough for him to perceive it. He was captivated but unsure if he could pursue music, given his deafness.

Years later, when the Boston native went to New York, he was introduced to two deaf DJs: DJ Hear No Evil and DJ Nico. The two artists made Robinson’s dream feel within reach, so he began deejaying at college parties, invested in his own equipment and soon kicked off his career as DJ Deaf Tunez.

Using social media, he expanded his reach, promoting his work as both a deaf DJ and a comedian. His artistry attracted the attention of the Museum of Science, which reached out to Robinson to be a part of its Disability Pride Month programming. When he got the invitation, he could hardly believe it.

“It’s a big deal to me, because the way I was brought up and raised here, in the Boston area … it just never occurred to me that these opportunities for this exposure [could happen] — the deaf community getting raised up,” he said.

Robinson is one of a handful of deaf and hard of hearing people who shared stories about their experiences for the museum’s programming ahead of and during Disability Pride Month.

This year, the museum piloted its ASL Sundays program, held on one Sunday each in May and June and the last one slated for July 14. The programming, wherein the museum offers American Sign Language interpretation for some of its shows, is the brainchild of Sylvie Rosenkalt, the museum’s accessibility coordinator, who wanted to create more programming for the disability community and foster a sense of belonging.

Visitors to the Museum of Science interact with the new, permanent hearing loss exhibit. PHOTO: ASHLEY MCCABE

“This year, I’ve been focusing a lot on the deaf and hard of hearing community because we have this exhibit on hearing loss opening,” Rosenkalt said. “And so we have this opportunity to really do a meaningful collaboration with people with lived experience, and go deeper into that community.”

The exhibit Rosenkalt referred to debuted in June in the museum’s Hall of Human Life section, past the live animal containers and a showcase on healthy eating. The permanent display walks visitors through aspects of hearing loss in a series of four interactive exercises detailing how it occurs, the technologies used to manage it, how to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people, and hearing safety.

Steps away from the exhibit is a small theater where, at the click of a button, visitors can watch a short, animated video centering on the experience of one of four deaf or hard of hearing people. In one video, stylized in red, Jonathan Ozek shares the story of the isolation he felt during a middle-school field trip because of his hearing loss.

“It was a message … that allows people to have a better understanding of what’s it like to be deaf or hard of hearing,” Ozek said of the video. “And so next time when people are interacting with somebody like me, they were able to learn from that experience of coming here.”

For the ASL and hearing-loss programming, Robinson — DJ Deaf Tunez — worked with the museum’s digital team to produce a mini-documentary about his life with hearing loss. The aim of the video, which will be released ahead of this month’s ASL Sundays event, was to show that “deaf and hard of hearing people are people,” he said.

Robinson said he hopes the museum’s work will raise awareness about the need for better accessibility, sign language interpreters, closed captioning and ASL education.

“It’s a great experience for people who are not deaf — hearing people — to understand Deaf culture, Deaf community, to really know what the struggles have been,” he said. “And to know what kind of access we need in order to be able to achieve our goals, to be a part of the community.”

ASL Sundays, deaf community, Disability Pride Month, DJ Deaf Tunez, Museum of Science