BYU student Dale Link lost an eye to cancer as a baby, and he theorizes the aggressive treatment used to battle the disease may have also damaged his hearing, because he gradually became deaf in childhood.
Yet the linguistics major, scheduled for graduation this month, rejects any suggestion that he might have handicaps as he works his way through BYU by teaching sign language classes and follows his love of theater with occasional acting stints."I'm simply a deaf bi-lingual," he said. "I know some people consider losing sound a tragedy, but the deaf culture doesn't place a high value on sound. It values language." He is aware that it is probably "politically correct to use the term hearing-impaired." However, he added, "I have no reservations letting people know I'm deaf, simply deaf. I just don't see it as a big problem."
A member of the Utah Valley Deaf Ward, Provo Utah South Stake, he starred earlier this semester in a play at BYU.
The experience is part of his continuing interest in theater that began in high school and included film history classes, technical theater and some work on movie sets in California.
In the BYU production, he starred in a leading role as a deaf person. "The playwright said using a deaf person in a leading role would be more challenging than using someone who could hear but advised that the play would be more rewarding by casting a deaf person," explained David Morgan, BYU faculty drama director.
"She was right," he added. "I do not see how a hearing person could portray what it means to be deaf with the same accuracy as a deaf person. My challenge was to overcome my own perceptions about what a deaf person is. Dale is wonderful and intelligent. He is not defensive at all about not being able to hear. He is funny, and we all have enjoyed working with him."
That does not mean, however, that the experience has been easy. Brother Morgan said he had to learn to speak directly at Dale so that he could read his lips.
The director and technical staff also learned that verbal cues to get on and off stage don't work - particularly when the scene is in the dark and visual signals are limited. They rigged a series of lights flashed to give the actor his cues. He also had his own stage manager to help him know when to make entrances and exits.
These accommodations are not unusual to him. He routinely makes accommodations to live among those who can detect sound.
"I find ways all the time to have people step into my world, and it is quite possible for them to do it," he said. "I try to relieve people's anxieties by having them see me as a real person.
"I work very hard to get people to understand who I am. . . . What I am is a child of God, and I am neither better nor less than anyone else. I'm equal; I'm all right."
Dale was introduced to the Church while a student at Gallaudet University (a school with about 2,200 deaf students) in Washington, D.C. He joined the Church in 1981 and credits both his studies at Gallaudet and his religious faith as changing his life and increasing his self-esteem.
He later served in the California Oakland (Deaf) Mission from 1983-85.