Hear Our Voices by Delanie Harrington

Feel the Beat: Connecting through Music and Advocating for CART

By Delanie Harrington

Harringon 1

Delanie fooling around with the piano at the
2013 AG Bell Leadership Opportunities for Teens program.
Credit: Matthew Browne

Being a musician who is deaf sounds like an oxymoron, yet Beethoven is credited with having said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” This is the answer I often give people who ask how I can play music and be deaf, like the well-meaning music student who asked me one day as I was leaving band class why I was in music. I gave him my answer and returned the question. I suppose he was surprised that I took the question so lightly and with complete disregard to my hearing loss, and so he proceeded to ignore it as well. He later came to see me as an average person and friend. My hearing loss—this little thing that has followed me around my entire life—does not, and will not, ever define my abilities or me. 

Music has been a large part of my life for many years. My earliest memory of musical enjoyment was when I was 7 years old. Every Sunday I’d sit in the second row of my church congregation, right in front of the piano. Every Sunday I’d watch the pianist play. By the time I was 9, I knew the words to every lyric in the songbook.

When I was 11 years old, I began playing the piano myself. The piano is predictable. If I hit the right key, it will play the same note every time, and if I play a song correctly, there will always be harmony. Life is unpredictable and always changing, and the piano is my safe haven. It is my happy place. Life will happen as it may, but the piano will always be there for me. Music has impacted my life for the better.

 Harrington 4
Delanie facilitating a drum circle at a mainstreamed
kindergarten class at Garden Road Elementary School.
Credit: Terri Gosen

Although everyone has different experiences and backgrounds, music is a language we all can share. It is one of the few experiences that connect us human beings. I have been a musician since I was 11 years old, and now at 18, I hope to never stop playing music. The experience of being a part of music in my youth church choir, recitals and high school marching band has taught me how to work with other people in a unified goal of either performing or sharing our faith. Musical group performance allows me to blend in, when I have spent much of my life standing out. Music transcends cultural differences, race or ability. Because of music, I belong somewhere.

For my Girl Scout Gold Award this year, I observed music therapists and facilitated drum circles with various groups in the community, but especially with very young children who are deaf and hard of hearing. It was inspiring seeing these kids have so much enthusiasm for an activity many think they cannot do. I loved working with and teaching them about breaking stereotypes through music. My goal was to build these children’s confidence in their own abilities, so they can work to achieve whatever passion they have beyond what is expected of them. Music puts into words what we ourselves are often unable to. This project also gave me much insight into career possibilities. 

As a result of my passion for music, I am exploring the field of music therapy as a profession. That’s what I believe in and hope to do: connect with people.  I will be attending the University of Dayton and hope to receive my bachelor’s degree in music therapy, so that I can spread my own sanctuary to others.


Barriers Bring Advocacy Opportunities


Harrington STED

Having limits set on you by other people is incredibly frustrating, especially when you and those close to you understand that you are completely capable of anything but hearing like everyone else. Anyone who has grown up deaf or hard of hearing understands exactly what I am talking about. It is also frustrating when, after years of accepting that it is okay to ask for help and receive accommodations, you are all of a sudden denied.

When I was in middle school, my family requested CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) on my behalf as an accommodation from the Poway Unified School District. It quickly became clear that it would be something I would have to fight for and my family and I initiated a lawsuit against the school district. I believe they overlooked my disability and right to education despite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). During this time, I was also taking honors and AP classes without any form of transcription.

After four years with no result, I’d had enough.  I decided to put my frustration to productive and positive use. I drafted a petition that collected over 1,900 signatures from around the world with the support of various organizations and news outlets, and presented them at the School District Board meeting. During the second semester my senior year in high school, I won an injunction at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to receive CART during the District’s appeal, and succeeded in fighting for my right to equal education.

The outcome of my case, deemed a violation of the ADA by the federal court, will make it very difficult for any school district to deny future requests for CART. I am glad that, as a result of my efforts, students who are deaf and hard of hearing will not have to fight as I did for equal access to education.

My whole life I was taught to advocate for myself, but it was not until these past few years that I learned what advocacy really means and how necessary it is. Whether it is asking for caption glasses at the movie theater, asking for the play script so that you can follow along, or standing up for what you believe is right, always know that even though your ears don’t “work,” your brain and your heart do.

Source: Volta Voices (2014); Volume 21, Issue 4