Sheena McFeely visited FSDB on October 26, 2017 as the second Author Visit for the year. Smiling and energetic, McFeely wove glimpses of her childhood into the visit to provide context for her many creative projects.
Born Deaf in Hong Kong, to a Chinese mother and Irish father, McFeely was the first Deaf child in both families. The Chinese (at that time) looked down on disabilities and even claimed that McFeely was retarded in addition to being Deaf. Her parents moved the family to Ireland in hopes of a better educational life for her but were not able to find jobs, so they moved back to China. Still unable to find a good school for their daughter, relatives persuaded the family to move to California. Deaf family friends paved the way for her to enter an educational program called Tripod, the acronym for Toward Rehabilitation Involvement by Parents of the Deaf.
At Tripod, McFeely flourished (her first exposure to ASL) and she took advantage of opportunities to act in school stage plays. Eventually McFeely and her friends formed an ASL Club that had both Deaf and hearing members.
After graduating, McFeely became an event planner and then a mother. She wanted to use her creative skills to do something about perceptions of the Deaf. She decided that social media would be an ideal medium because “social media is a place to shatter stereotypes by breaking rules.” She created the ASL teaching website ASL Nook, which she describes as “a nook like no others …words, pictures, and stories come to life with the magic of American Sign Language. We welcome anyone who wants to learn ASL.”
In 2016, she created a video for ASL Nook called “10 Deaf Children, 1 Powerful Message” which went viral. Afterward McFeely received network news invites and an offer from Disney to participate in a groundbreaking commercial as a Deaf family attending the theme park.
Not content to rest on these significant creative laurels, her next project was based on Oprah’s “Legends” honoring prominent African American women in various creative and social activist fields. McFeely called her adaptation “Pearls” and invited exclusively Deaf women from different fields to be part of celebratory events in six categories. She conceives of these professional women as gleaming strings of pearls, with different generations represented by each.
McFeely concluded her presentation by discussing the book she wrote to address what she felt is a lack of career options for girls in fairy tales, called Shay & Ivy Beyond the Kingdom. Not all girls want to be princesses! McFeely read her book during the Deaf Elementary School student presentation, and asked students thought-provoking questions. It was evident that DES students loved the book and its author, excitedly running up afterward to surround her.
Students were attentive during her presentation, a blend of autobiography, culture, contemporary technology/social media, Deaf activism, and literary arts. McFeely encouraged them to follow their dreams, overcome roadblocks, be self-motivated, and write as much as possible. FSDB ASL Specialist Lenore Boerner coordinated this successful author visit.
By Christi Boortz, Instructional Services
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) is a fully accredited state public school and outreach center available tuition-free to eligible Pre-K and K-12 deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired students. Comprehensive educational services at FSDB are individualized, specific to the unique communication and accessibility needs of each student for independence and lifelong success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To visit the school or to learn more about eligibility for enrollment, contact 1-800-344-3732. For more information, visit www.fsdb.k12.fl.us.