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Project Runway Blog

Season 12 Q&A: Justin LeBlanc Embraces His Strengths

By kim_messina 09/04/2013 03:20PM GMT

Justin LeBlanc

Justin LeBlanc made history not only as the first designer to ever receive Tim Gunn's Save in Episode 6, but he's also the first deaf designer to compete on the show. To learn more about Justin's hearing loss and how he didn't let his disability affect his performance in the competition, read our Q&A below:

Q: Justin, would you please tell us a little about your history as far as your hearing loss?
Justin: When I was around 1 year old, my parents became concerned that I wasn't responding to sound. They took me to my pediatrician. According to my parents, after a general exam, he looked at me and said, "Where's your dad?" I smiled and poked my father in the stomach. What that, the pediatrician said, "There’s nothing wrong with his hearing." My parents weren’t convinced. They took me to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. There they did some sophisticated tested that involved measuring my brains response to sound. The tests revealed that I was deaf.

I was raised in an environment of "total communication." My parents hired a sign language teacher to teach us all sign language. They also provided me a speech therapist through most of my pre-college years. As a young child, I relied more on sign language, but as I got older, and interacted more with the hearing world, I relied more and more on speech. I have many deaf friends, so sign language is still an important means of communication for me. Throughout school, I’ve been mainstreamed in regular classes with the help of a sign language interpreter.

I always saw this as an opportunity to educate people about that aspect of myself. There were discouraging times, many in fact. But I am a VERY positive person. I am proud to be a deaf person. It is who I am, and I embrace it.

Q: What are your thoughts around cochlear implants?
Justin: I can only speak to my experience. This is not the best option for everyone. Each person needs to decide what best fulfills their goals and lifestyle. It provided me with greater access to the hearing world and the possibility to further my education and meet my personal dreams for the future. But that is a personal choice. I received my cochlear implant when I was 18 years old, I made the decision for myself.

Q: Can you share some of your reflections on being on "Project Runway"?
Justin:It’s been a truly life-enhancing experience. I’ve pushed myself to the limit physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my peers and I’ve established friendships that I hope will be life-long. And believe it or not, it was a lot of fun!

Q: Has your hearing loss ever been a barrier or kept you from achieving a goal?
Justin: Never. If anything, being deaf gave me more incentive to achieve my goals. A deaf person can achieve anything that they choose.

I remember my parents telling me that that when I was little, a couple who had just learned that their child was deaf, came up to us to say that they were terrified at the prospect of having a deaf child. But after seeing me, they were put at ease because I was so happy, outgoing, communicative, and well adjusted. I hope that, as an adult, I can get the same message across. I don’t view deafness as a disability or a handicap. It’s part of who I am and I am proud to be deaf.

Q: What advice would you give to young people who are deaf and would love to follow in your footstep?
Justin: Work hard, really really hard. Pursue your educational goals with whatever resources you can find. Don’t use your deafness as a crutch. Demand equal treatment and access to educational resources. Experiment with art in all of its forms. Do not sell yourself short. And find something that you are passionate about.