Estefani and Oscar Arevalo have a small family in Kern County where they work, thrive, and educate the community about what it means to be deaf or hard of hearing.
On their social media pages, Estefani and Oscar openly share their experiences of living as a proud deaf family. They advocate for families with children experiencing hearing loss to learn American Sign Language (ASL) or whichever sign language they offer for your region as early as possible.
The Arevalo family goes by ThatDeafamily on Instagram, Youtube, TikTok, and Facebook. They represent Kern County with over 166,000 followers on Instagram, 1,180 subscribers on Youtube, over 170,000 followers on TikTok, and 1,200 followers on Facebook.
According to Orange County Deaf Equal Access Foundation: “The Office of Deaf Access estimates three million deaf and hard of hearing persons reside in California alone. Greater Los Angeles and surrounding counties is home to over 800,000 deaf and hard of hearing people.”
Statistics from the National Deaf Children’s Society show that 90 percent of deaf newborns belong to hearing families. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that one in four individuals might experience hearing loss by 2050, which shows an increase of more than 50 percent from current rates.
As for Estefani and Oscar, they state that they are welcoming any diagnosis their kids might have, including being deaf and hard of hearing. They can relate to their children, and provide any necessary resources so their deafness does not hinder their goals or success.
The Arevalo family’s positive perspective on life is one of the many reasons individuals become fans and connect deeply over social media. Some of the most impactful moments shared online are when 9-month-old Jabez signed ‘milk’ for the first time, Oscar had surgery for a second cochlear implant, they had holidays with hearing family, Everlyn participated in sports with hearing and deaf or hard of hearing kids, and the family documented their trip to Disneyland.
Being a part of the Deaf community is very important to the Arevalos. They feel a sense of belonging, culture, and mutual understanding. However, the world is mostly hearing which poses many challenges for the Arevalos.
“Now in the hearing world, we do feel a little bit different. Sometimes we have to think of various communication methods. Some people may have never heard of sign language before, or they don’t know what it’s like being deaf, don’t know how to communicate with someone deaf, or don’t have a lot of awareness about our community, our education, and our culture,” said Estefani. “We tell people it’s just like French, Spanish, or any other language; it comes with its own cultural nuances, and we have that as well. Also, lip reading can be a struggle. People assume just because you’re deaf you know how to lip read, and that’s not always the case. So we may have to write back and forth, or we have to communicate with someone who knows just basic ASL.”
The difficulties to communicate with hearing people who don’t know sign language is displayed when Estefani and Oscar shared their experiences with pregnancy. The couple documented waiting all night for a Video Remote Interpretation (VRI) during one emergency room visit due to intense contractions, however, the technology was not available and other methods like note writing had to be used in order to communicate with the doctors.
The Arevalo family went on to explain their surprise when the doctors diagnosed both children as deaf and hard of hearing.
“Once we found out our daughter was deaf we were both very surprised because we didn’t have any other deaf members in our family that we were aware of. We didn’t think we had the ‘deaf gene.’ I actually have two deaf brothers but that just happened, [my parents] happened to have three deaf kids. My husband was born hearing then became deaf by the age of five. So obviously [deafness] wasn’t generational on his side either. We didn’t expect to have deaf children when we got together,” said Estefani.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the term ‘deaf gene’ refers to the mutation that occurs in genes and proteins that make the cochlea, a part of the inner ear, function properly so sounds are interpreted correctly. Deafness is passed through genetics for more than 50 percent of those experiencing hearing loss.
“We went through the experience of getting the medical professionals’ idea of what needed to happen, like making sure she gets a cochlear implant, making sure she goes to speech classes; they [the doctors] discouraged the use of sign language. And we thought ‘no, ASL is a language.’ We use ASL ourselves, and it helped [our daughter] express herself early,” Estefani stated.
Doctors didn’t help the Arevalos feel supported initially because they were not recommending ASL but instead were offered testing and treatments like implants. However the Arevalo’s taught both of their kids ASL early to ensure strong communication skills, and also to reaffirm that being a part of the Deaf community is a positive thing.
“So we decided to show that on social media. We wanted to show we were proud to have a deaf daughter. Whether she was deaf or hearing, it didn’t matter to us, we were going to teach her our language and our culture. That’s how [our social media] originated,” continued Estefani.
Estefani shared that with both pregnancies it was important to focus on just having a healthy and happy baby.
“We already had things in place to invest in their success. Our language, our culture, and our advocacy were already a part of our lives and so we wanted to show that even though you have deaf children you can be successful. Sign language is very valuable, and if you don’t focus on the language the child grows up not having a sense of identity,” Estefani said.
Oscar stated that he did not expect to go viral, but uses the popular platform for positivity.
“We wanted to showcase this, that we found out our daughter was deaf, and we wanted it to be a positive thing. Why don’t we educate people about what this means? That it’s okay to have deaf children, and also to expose them to the American Sign Language way of communicating. That it is a full language, and our daughter can grow up to have a full and enriching life. 90 percent of parents that have deaf children are hearing. So a lot of people don’t know about the Deaf culture, and only 10 percent learn ASL at a young age. So that 10 percent needs to be increased,” Oscar stated.
Estefani explained that the agency her family works with is very helpful with managing ASL interpreters, they also have friends who know sign language, and any children of deaf or hard of hearing adults (CODA) are very supportive of their community.
In 2022, the Arevalos shared on their social media that they participated in youth sports with hearing kids and families. Videos showed an enthusiastic interpreter playing alongside Everlyn while signing in ASL directions from the coach or comments from the teammates. It was important for Estefani and Oscar to expose themselves to sports with hearing individuals first before joining the exclusive deaf and hard-of-hearing team.
Ciera Miller, a Bakersfield Area Manager for the Skyhawks and SuperTots Sports Academy described being privileged to work with the Arevalo family.
“Working with the Arevalo family has been such a phenomenal experience. Skyhawks (SuperTots) has always been an inclusive youth sports provider but, to open a door for children who are deaf or hard of hearing has been such an amazing opportunity. I am grateful to be able to provide for these families who are looking for athletics for their children,” Miller stated.
The Arevalos explained that there is a lack of resources here in Kern County for anyone living with deafness.
“I think all schools should provide ASL classes as a foreign language. They provide Spanish classes, and French, so why not sign language classes? I think it would be very beneficial not only to the deaf students but also for the hearing students,” the couple stated.
Ways Kern residents can engage and communicate with the Deaf community are by starting with following ASL influencers who freely share their expertise and genetic testing for early preparations. Language assistance and facts about access to free interpreters can be found on the Department of Managed Healthcare website.
“In 2023 everyone should have the goal to learn a little sign language. Especially parents who have deaf children. I would tell them ‘It’s okay, your baby is going to be fine, you’re going to be fine. You have the Deaf community, culture, and sign language. So be open-minded to the Deaf community, don’t just listen to the medical side, listen to the humanistic side of the Deaf culture. Deaf people will be fine. We live rich and satisfying lives, and your child will be successful,” Estefani stated.