United by Language

UNITED BY LANGUAGE is a documentary about the Deaf community told through the lives of Betty Ann and Ron, a couple, both deaf, but with different approaches to honoring Deafhood. Many within the Deaf community, a vibrant yet largely unknown subculture within the United States, do not view their inability to hear as a form of disability, but rather as an alternate human experience. Cochlear implants are a relatively recent and controversial technological advancement that provide a limited sense of sound to those that are profoundly deaf. While many in the hearing world view this as an obvious remedy to a disability, the Deaf Community is widely split on the matter. Some are in favor of the implants as a tool to improve their quality of life and to aid in acculturation within mainstream society, others find the surgery to be a forced attempt to fix a problem that they do not feel exists. Journey into Deaf Culture through an intimate portrait of a couple balancing the advancement in medical technology while honoring and celebrating Deafhood. 



Discussion Guide*

UNITED BY LANGUAGE is a documentary film created to raise awareness not only about the implants, but about the Deaf Community as a whole. We encourage your use of this film for the preservation of Deaf Culture and to open dialogue about the issues surrounding cochlear implants and how they affect deaf culture.


  • Celebration of deaf culture
  • The impact of cochlear implants in the deaf community
  • Finding a balance between the hearing and deaf worlds  

Discussion Questions

  • What stood out the most for you in UNITED BY LANGUAGE?
  • Describe the different parts of the cochlear implant and how it works.
  • Does a cochlear implant make a person fully hearing?

Betty Anne was surprised when hearing people thought that she couldn't cook or drive.

  • What are some common misconceptions about deaf people?
  • What have you learned about deaf culture?
  • How have the cochlear implants impacted Ron's life? Do you think they have made it easier or more difficult?
  • How has Ron and Betty Ann's story impacted your view about cochlear implants?
  • How has watching this film changed your perception regarding deaf people?
  • If you had a child who was born deaf, how would you decide whether or not to get cochlear implants? Who would be involved in this discussion?
  • Jim suggested hearing people should take ASL classes and not be afraid to communicate with deaf people. After watching this film, what can you do to bridge the gap between the hearing world and the deaf world?


Facts and Resources 


  • 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents.
  • Cochlear Implants involve brain surgery.
  • The average cost of a Cochlear Implant is $60,000 for one implant; bilateral implants are approximately $120,000.
  • The minimum age for a child to receive a Cochlear Implant is about twelve months.
  • It is a common misconception that sign language is universal. Many countries have their own unique form of sign language and American Sign Language (ASL) is just one of the many variations.
  • Gallaudet University is the only university in the world with a total bilingual curriculum that includes both ASL and English.
  • The quarterback of the football team at Gallaudet University invented the huddle because he was worried that the opposing team would be able to see his hand signals.
  • These are a few things to note about cochlear implants:
    • The patient must be profoundly deaf in both ears and receive little to no improvements with hearing aids.
    • The patient needs to have reasonable expectations for what will occur after surgery. The device does not restore or create "normal" hearing.
    • Children need to be enrolled in programs that help them learn how to process sound.
    • In order to determine if a patient is a candidate for a cochlear implant, the patient must have a medical evaluation by an ear, nose, and throat doctor (otolaryngologist). This evaluation may include a CT scan or a MRI scan of the brain and the middle and inner ear.
    • Patients (especially children) may need to go through a psychological evaluation to determine if they are good candidates


Deaf Counseling, Advocacy & Referral Agency (DCARA)

  • "DCARA's mission is to promote self-determination, independence, and celebration of American Sign Language among a diverse Deaf community, regardless of their communication background, through its services and programs."

Deaf Media

  • "Established in 1974, DEAF Media, Inc., is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to advocating for Deaf arts and to developing cultural, educational, and professional opportunities for the Deaf community."

California School for the Deaf

  • "The mission of the California School for the Deaf is to provide comprehensive educational programs which create a strong foundation for future learning among graduates in an accessible learning environment that recognizes Deaf students and adults as culturally and linguistically distinct. The school will ensure that students receive a quality education with emphasis on full communication access through fluency in both American Sign Language and English. This will enable students to reach their maximum potential while preparing them to function effectively in a diverse technologically-evolving world."

Kaiser Permanente

  • (list of audiologists in Northern California)

Gallaudet University

  • "Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world."

San Francisco State University Disabled Persons Resource Center (DPRC)

  • "The Disability Programs and Resource Center (DPRC) is committed to ensuring Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students' full and equal access to all of the University's programs, activities, and services."

SFSU Department of Special Education

Meet the Filmmakers


HANNAH CHOE: A Bay Area native, graduated from San Francisco State University with a minor in Asian American Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema with a focus on post-production. She strongly believes in the art of cinema as a powerful and potent tool for communicating personal stories and for inspiring social change. Hannah has crewed and collaborated on various independent short and feature length films and greatly looks forward to working on future projects.


CHRISTA DI FALCO is a graduate from San Francisco State University with a major in Cinema Production and a minor in Humanities. Her passion for film and culture has lead her to explore visual anthropology through her contribution in her first fifteen minute documentary about the deaf culture. As she pursues a career in filmmaking, she hopes to promote and engage communities in social change through her participation in future documentaries.


MATT GRENEWETZKI: From an early age, Matt Grenewetzki had a creative drive that compelled him to pursue a number of different paths. He grew up playing piano, trumpet, and guitar and has performed many genres of music in a wide variety of venues ranging from halftime at UC Berkeley to opening for the Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh at Slim's in San Francisco. His interest in filmmaking began with skateboarding films and short narrative pieces made with friends. Grenewetzki has worked in many fields of media. In high school, he worked at the local NPR affiliate on the youth-run radio show "Voice of Youth" and helped created their presence on the Internet. He also interned for the most popular podcast on iTunes, TWiT (This Week in Tech), organizing and recording their live shows in downtown San Francisco, the first of its kind. In the summer of 2009, he interned in the design department at Boston's Irrational Games, the video game studio behind the critically acclaimed "BioShock." He graduated from San Francisco State in Spring of 2010 and hopes to work in a creative field that will allow him create media that will send shivers down the spines off all who experience it.


    MICHAEL MAHAFFIE is a graduate of SFSU with a B.A. in Cinema. Michael created this film for his love of Deaf Culture. He hopes that it will help hearing people to understand that Deaf people are not disabled but, that they are apart of a language minority. He is an ASL student and a son of an audiologist. Michael hopes to continue to work on documentaries in the future. Michael wants to thank Jim, Christine and Michelle for their time. Also he wants to thank Betty Ann and Ron for being an amazing portal into their rich culture.


    GREG PROMANI graduated from San Francisco State University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema. He is also in a local band called no_fires. Their music can be described as forever trying to capture the feeling of realizing that all your friends and loved ones left the space station in the last escape pod and you have nothing left to do but stare at the Earth and Sun until your spacecraft self-destructs. You can listen to their music at MySpace, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter



    *The information on these pages is provided by the student film makers and does not represent an endorsement or verification of statements from the Health Equity Institute