My mission: To get the deaf to raise their voices
Tracy Duncan is determined to build confidence among the deaf, and to make signing SA’s 12th official language
Tracy Duncan’s world might not be loud, but it’s definitely proud.
“Wear your hearing aid. Be proud of your deaf accent. And teach [the hearing] sign language and deaf culture,” the new Mrs Deaf South Africa tells children when she visits schools for the deaf.
Deaf children often ask Duncan if she ever was teased for her disability.
“Kids did make fun of the way I spoke and my hearing aid,” said the 33-year-old, from Goodwood in Cape Town.
Duncan won the overall title at last month’s Pretoria pageant as well as the Mrs Deaf Charity and Mrs Deaf Personality titles. Her drumstick workout won her second placed in the talent portion of the competition. Duncan loves a good workout.
She is also an avid hiker, obstacle course runner and climber. She’s been married for four years to her best friend, Warren. And she’s a digital designer at online retailer HomeChoice.
At three months old, Duncan was diagnosed as deaf. It came as a shock to her parents, as neither they nor her two older siblings were deaf.
Her doctor told her mother to choose how her daughter would learn language: would she learn to sign or speak? Her mother chose speaking.
Duncan began lipreading when she was two and speaking a year later.
“My mom would put me in front of the mirror every day for one hour to learn to lip read,” she recalled. “I wanted to play but mom would try to explain to me that I need to learn language.”
While Duncan grew up speaking, she has always identified with the deaf community. She went to schools for the deaf, so she had many friends who were deaf.
However, it was only a few months ago that she picked up sign language. Now she hopes to help make it SA’s 12th official language. And as Mrs Deaf South Africa, Duncan might just be able to pull it off.
“I want to speak to all 46 of the deaf schools in SA,” she said, explaining plans for her “Deaf Confidence” campaign.
“My platform’s about how you present yourself, whether you speak or sign, not to be afraid to go for what you want, and to ask for what you want. A lot of the deaf have so many great ideas but they don’t believe that they can make them happen. I want to change that.”
A way Duncan hopes to empower deaf children is through physical fitness, which she credits for boosting her confidence and self-esteem.
She visited her former schools – Mary Kihn in Observatory and Dominican Grimley in Hout Bay – a couple of weeks ago to teach pupils a simple kettlebell workout as they prepared for exams. At each school, she picked two pupils to join her at Runstacle, an obstacle course near the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch.
Duncan is also determined to bring her platform to deaf married women like herself, who are usually busy with work and family.
“I want them to take care of themselves, because if you take care of yourself you can take care of others,” she said.
She hopes the simple healthy cooking e-book she is preparing will come in handy.
Duncan is not alone as she prepares for a busy title year. She is working with a four-person team and seeking more sponsors, especially for deaf schools.
“Hearing aid batteries are very expensive,” she said.
The batteries cost about R60 and last five days. Cochlear implant batteries last only two days. Duncan knows this because she had a hearing aid before getting a cochlear implant three years ago. Without her batteries, she can’t hear anything.
“We want the deaf pageant to be on the same level as Miss South Africa and Mrs South Africa because at the moment no one knows about [us],” Duncan said.
“This is our moment to educate people about the deaf – that we can do anything but hear.”