Growing up, D.J. Demers refrained from bringing attention to his hearing aids. Now an award-winning stand-up comedian, Demers embraces them and uses his platform to advocate for those who are similarly affected by hearing los s.
“The thing is, I’ve had hearing aids since I was four,” said Demers. “I don’t even remember life without them. I’ve only started to think about [them] later, as I get older, and the fact that it’s something that makes me different.”
In honor of National Disability Awareness Month, Demers is headlining the “Here to Hear Comedy Tour.” The goal of the tour is to destigmatize hearing loss and raise awareness for the University services available for students affected by hearing loss.
“We know there’s University students who are feeling uncomfortable about their hearing loss,” said Jill von Bueren, the manager of the tour. “When they are younger they have more support from their schools, but once they get to University age, they have to start advocating for themselves.”
As a former student himself, Demers has personal experience with the stigma of hearing loss. He would have to sit in the front of the class in order to hear his instructors better. He would miss out on information if instructors spoke with their back turned.
“I’d definitely say in high school I was a little bit embarrassed,” said Demers. “I would rather sit a little further back and miss out on stuff.”
Originally from Toronto, Demers dreamed of becoming a comedian since he was a kid. Demers doesn’t shy away from joking about his hearing aids. That being said, his comedy material isn’t defined by deaf jokes.
“If I didn’t talk about my hearing aids, people would be wondering why I’m not talking about them,” said Demers. “I’m not ashamed of them — doing comedy has help me get over any shame or embarrassment I had.”
Demers has been featured on shows such as “America’s Got Talent”, “Conan” and NBC’s “Stand-up For Diversity.”
“It’s all pretty surreal just being a guy from Canada who wanted to be a stand-up comedian,” said Demers.
The show on Wednesday at SF State was the second stop of the tour. Several audience members revealed that they used hearing aids after Demers asked if anyone used them. Computer-aided real-time transcription, or CART, was available courtesy of SF State’s Disability Programs and Resources Center. As Demers performed, a CART reporter transcribed what he was saying onto a TV screen next to the stage.
SF State’s DPRC provides various services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“The most common services for these students are sign language and assistive learning devices,” said Karan Jaswal, who works at the DPRC front desk.
“Every school, and I know this school for sure, they have a department that’s there to help you you with your accessibility needs,” said Demers. “Don’t be too shy or embarrassed. You can get stuff from them, don’t be afraid to do that.”