Actor to deaf Burbank students: 'If someone says no, move on to the next yes'

Bob Hiltermann was four years old when he lost his hearing to spinal meningitis, but another six years would pass before anyone around him would discover he was deaf.

He was 10 when a teacher debunked his family’s assumption that he was “slow,” he told an audience at Burbank High School Wednesday night.

For years, his family doubted he could ever be successful, but Hiltermann — who went on to have a role on the television show “All My Children” and be a drummer in the band “Beethoven’s Nightmare” — defied their beliefs and this week encouraged deaf students to aim high.

“Don’t take no for an answer. Regardless of how deaf you are, you can,” he said.

Hiltermann trudged through high school the butt of jokes and name calling. With poor grades, he said teachers let him pass based on pity.

But he still managed to pass an acceptance exam for Gallaudet University and would learn sign language for the first time at the Washington, D.C. campus.

Now 60, Hiltermann met a base guitarist and lead guitarist in the dorms at Gallaudet then stepped in as drummer.

The trio that would come to call themselves “Beethoven’s Nightmare” have performed nationwide for over 40 years as “the only deaf band in the world.”

When he isn’t teaching sign language or acting, he tours with his band, which plans to release an album in 2013.

All the music talk prompted students to ask how he can seamlessly play as a deaf person.

“I almost never make mistakes,” he joked, before revealing that his band members make continual eye contact and watch each other’s hands. After all three have memorized the song, they close their eyes as they play.

More than 20 students at Burbank High School are deaf or hard of hearing, according to program specialist Patty Ivankovic, who said it was “extremely important” for Hiltermann to share his story with students and the public.

Hiltermann told the audience he wanted to close the gap between those who are deaf and those who aren’t. His wife and two children are hearing.

“I want to see more deaf people integrated with hearing people,” he said. “Not separate, not less citizens.”

At the end of his talk, he encouraged deaf students to never let anyone tell them they can’t do anything, and to figure out how to do things despite obstacles.

“Figure out a way that you can do it,” he said. “If someone says ‘no,’ move on to the next ‘yes.’”


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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