“Nothing is off-limits,” Sarah Tubert signs in the first episode of her podcast. “We’ve heard everything.”
Then she corrects herself with a hint of humor: “No, we’ve seen everything.”
The moment appeared to set the tone of the “What the Deaf?!” podcast. Tubert, a 2011 graduate of Burbank High School, and local resident Carly Weyers host the series, whose first season ran from the beginning of the year until late February.
As indicated by Tubert’s comment, the pair hope the podcast provides an avenue for people who aren’t Deaf to ask questions. But Weyers and Tubert are also quick to emphasize that they don’t represent the entire Deaf community, pointing out that even between themselves, their experiences vary greatly.
Tubert became Deaf when she was 3 years old, after a surgeon severed her facial nerve during an operation, paralyzing the right side of her face and taking most of her hearing.
“I think the biggest thing is that there’s not one right way to be Deaf,” Tubert said in an interview. “There’s no right answers for anything, so all our podcast wants to be is a safe space for all to be able to ask their questions, to just sit back and listen to two friends having a conversation about life and the journey of being Deaf in this world.”
Weyers and her family are Deaf, with the exception of her sister Jenny Corum, who provides the voice-over for Weyer’s American Sign Language in the podcast — Tubert records her own. Weyers explained the pandemic gave the team of friends and family the opportunity to launch the project, which they have been planning for some time.
“I learned more about noise and sound … through the podcast because I’m completely Deaf; I have no capability of hearing,” Weyers said in ASL, with Corum interpreting.
Tubert and Weyers met at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and quickly became close friends. Though she planned to study teaching, Tubert explained in one of the podcast episodes, she instead entered the entertainment industry after getting a small acting role.
She has appeared in television shows “Claws” and “Switched at Birth,” and her skill in volleyball — which she played at BHS — remains on display in her role as the USA National Deaf Women’s Volleyball Team captain.
Weyers has also worked in entertainment, though her entrance into the field is relatively recent. She moved to Burbank from Nebraska last August after working as a behavioral health counselor and successfully pushing for a bill to recognize ASL as an official language there.
Weyers chose Burbank because of the presence of a Deaf community in the area, she explained, and because she knew Tubert was born and raised there. Tubert, who recalls her time in the city fondly, was happy to show her best friend around.
“Burbank has always had a special place in my heart,” Tubert said. “Burbank is where I grew up; Burbank is where my life changed. I went from being the ‘dumbest one’ in class at a private school to moving to Burbank and becoming a leader in my classroom.”
Now living in that city, Weyers has worked ASL consultant jobs in the entertainment industry, advocating for better accessibility for Deaf workers. She and Tubert both said they’re very passionate about influencing the industry to have Deaf people both on-screen and behind the scenes to ensure the community is being properly represented.
“The entertainment industry, usually they have one Deaf person, and it’s one side: their story, their journey, their identity — but it’s only one,” Weyers said. “There’s really tons of different sides and we have two different journeys [in the podcast] and we open that up, and we have some tough issues.”
ASK, DON’T ASSUME
The pair invites those with questions about their experiences to email their podcast, which is available at whatthedeaf.com. They hope to start the next season on June 1, though they said there are some technical aspects they need to work on before they can launch it.
Weyers and Tubert emphasized, again, that every Deaf individual might have different responses to questions. For them, however, it’s always much more preferable to ask a Deaf person what their needs or experiences are rather than assuming them.
And “What the Deaf?!” appears to offer a learning opportunity not simply to viewers and listeners, but also to the hosts themselves. Tubert said her own insecurity was on display in the early episodes, but she gradually became more comfortable in her identity as a Deaf person; Weyers said hosting made her more aware of the diverse experiences of the Deaf community.
That education — whether of those with little knowledge of the Deaf community or Deaf individuals who want to know others’ experiences — remains a central part of what the two women want their podcast to offer. All it takes, Weyers said, is listening.
“I just hope that our audience is able to listen to our podcast … and understand that we’re all human beings and we’re capable of working together if you allow it to happen,” she said. “We live in a very sensitive time today, and to be able to listen to other people with an open mind and an open heart is what makes everybody a beautiful person.”