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Breaking Barriers and Feeling Through: Meet the First Deafblind Actor to Star in a Film’s Lead Role

Robert Tarango was born deaf and later lost his vision, but always dreamed of acting. Now, the deafblind actor is the star of Oscar nominee Feeling Through.

Deafblind actor Robert Tarango, star of Oscar-nominated Feeling Through, wearing a suit and tie, smiles broadly for the camera in a close-up photo

I was born deaf, but with 20/20 vision.

I’ve always wanted to be an actor. My favorite actors were John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Jon Voight, Robert Mitchum, Doug McClure, and Kirk Douglas.

When I was a kid, I played sports like football, basketball, and track. When I was at the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind, I was a good player, but I kept thinking about wanting to act!

I went to a community college for a while in Arizona. I made the honor roll one time. I started having problems with my eyes. After that, my grades were not good. I left school.

I went to an eye doctor with my mom to find out what was wrong with my eyes. I found out I had Usher syndrome. My family was sad, and I didn’t accept it.

Vocational rehabilitation helped by sending me to the Helen Keller National Center in New York in 1996 for training. I was a student at Helen Keller until 1997. I decided to stay and live in New York. I got a job working in the Helen Keller cafeteria, but I still thought about acting.

The big break

One day in 2018 at Helen Keller, they were interviewing people for a movie. My friend Kathy told some people I might be interested. I went to the meeting room. Wow! There were a lot of people in there. I didn’t know what to expect.

I met Doug, the director. I had an interpreter. They told me they were looking for a deafblind man for a movie called Feeling Through. The group asked me questions about my life. A couple weeks later, I was working in the cafeteria when my boss, Dan, tapped me on the shoulder. He had gotten a phone call, and said they picked me! I was shocked.

Behind the scenes

The shoot days for the movie were overnight, starting at 6:00 p.m. and going until four or five in the morning. It was my first time wearing makeup! It was November and it was so cold! I had Kathy, who is a support service provider (SSP), to guide me. Once, as Doug was explaining things to me, I lost my balance and fell. I told Doug I was okay and we kept on filming. After filming, we would go back to a hotel and rest.


At The Feeling Through Experience screening in Port Washington (near Helen Keller) I was shocked because my mother flew in from Arizona to surprise me! I had no idea she was coming! It was great that she was there. After the screening, we had a panel discussion. Sue, the executive director of HKNC, gave me an award.

Since that screening, I have been on many panels and met many people. I was even asked for my autograph! I was so proud to be the first deafblind actor in a movie.

It made me feel like I made it! It was a dream come true.


Robert Tarango was born in Arizona and attended the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind. After attending the Helen Keller National Center, he stayed to work in the cafeteria there. He fulfilled a life-long dream by becoming the first deafblind actor to star in a film.

The Feeling Through Experience is a fully accessible 90-minute, 3-part event created by Doug Roland in partnership with the Helen Keller National Center. It includes the short film Feeling Through, the first film ever starring a deafblind actor, and is accompanied by a documentary about the making of the film and a panel discussion with Doug Roland and Robert Tarango.

To learn more about The Feeling Through Experience, including details about upcoming screenings near you, follow the film on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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