By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Southborough – Mary Silvestri Simmons leads a busy life in Southborough as a wife, mother, artist, member of the Southborough Cultural Arts Council (SCAC), and owner -along with her husband Justin – of a new business, Expressions Art Bar.
Although both she and her husband are deaf, it has not prevented them from doing what they love and being a force in the community.
Justin, an accountant, lost his hearing at 18 months from meningitis. She has condition called delayed progressive sensorineural deafness, as does her mother, sister and brother. Simmons said that her hearing is now 95 decibels (dB), on a scale of 0 dB to 120 dB, with 120 dB meaning complete hearing loss.
Recently, Simmons learned that her 4-year-old son has progressive hearing loss as well.
“First I grieved when I found out that my son was hearing, and then I grieved again when he failed his hearing test,” Simmons recalled. “My mom made me feel comfortable being deaf
and I hope to do the same for him. To me it was completely normal since my mother is deaf.”
Simmons also has a 1-year-old son, whose future hearing status is unknown.
Simmons said that she is able to speak well due to early auditory memory and a lot of speech training. She can read lips in a one-on-one situation. Growing up, she used sign language with her mom and siblings, and spoke to her dad who is hearing.
She was mainstreamed throughout her school years, with the help of interpreters. She attended a camp for the deaf. She and her siblings enjoyed sports, which helped them connect with peers.
Influenced by her mother’s passion for art, and her own talent, Simmons chose to study art education at Boston University (B.U.). She said that the school has excellent services for the deaf. In class, she either had one or two interpreters, or a Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) devise that provides captioning.
At B.U., Simmons said she “… wanted to meet people outside the art department, so I joined a sorority with a friend from a gym class who knew American Sign Language. One of my friends from BU’s deaf studies program joined as well.”
She also played soccer.
Simmons connected with the Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham through an internship while at B.U. After graduating, Simmons spent a year at Gallaudet University studying deaf education. She went back to Connecticut and taught art at an after school program until a full-time art teacher job opened up in Framingham in 2014.
Recently, Simmons left her job to take care of her sons, and pursue her new business.
“A deaf person does not have a lot of job opportunities,” she said. “One of the easiest solutions is to be your own boss, to create an environment in which I can ensure that I have communication.”
Having taught many paint parties to both deaf and hearing groups, Simmons felt that this type of business merited research. She and her husband recently spent their fifth anniversary in Maui, Hawaii, at a boot camp, Island Art Party. Simmons is excited about her new venture, and hopes to have a retail space in Southborough in the near future.
Simmons will lead a paint party to recruit new members for the SCAC Thursday, Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Southborough House of Pizza, 5 Main St. Guests can paint, mingle and learn about the SCAC. Pizza, wine and beer will be available for purchase. To RSVP or for more information, email [email protected]orougharts.org.