Maclain Drake, 27, was born with reverse-sloped sensorineural hearing loss (RSHL) in the moderate to severe range. His RSHL causes him to experience deficiencies in all three ranges of hearing loss: mild, moderate, and severe. As a result, low-end frequencies are harder to hear than the high-end, which is opposite of what most people experience—and yet, he has gone on to become a successful entrepreneur, filmmaker, actor, musician, DJ, and fashion icon whose story and career are an inspiration to the thousands of individuals who follow him on social media and attend his events.
Recently, we sat down with Maclain to get a glimpse into that story.
Growing up, living with hearing loss was not a surprise for Maclain. Because his mother and older brother had hearing loss, they knew the signs and were able to get him the assistance he needed when he was still very young. When we spoke with him, Maclain recalled his first memory as a small child: obtaining his hearing aid at one and half years old. Although many of us may struggle to remember things from when we were that young, the prominence of truly hearing for the first time causes that memory to stand out like an obelisk in his mind.
During early childhood, Maclain often ran into challenges when his classmates didn’t understand his hearing loss. Sometimes, they treated him differently because they “thought it was contagious” or that it was “some sort of disease.” Back then, hearing aids for small children were much larger than their adult counterparts both in actual size and comparison to the size of the ear, a fact that only fueled the misconceptions of his classmates. Luckily, as he grew, those kinds of things were less frequent, as his peers got wiser and realized “that was not the best way to treat people.”
In high school, he found a group of friends that were supportive of his hearing loss, and that led him to participate in musicals and to learn to sing and dance. This very well may have been the catalyst of his later career and life of advocacy. It’s likely that his love of drinking soda also helped because he could focus on theater instead of sports, which he tried for a hot minute.
Turning Hearing Loss Advocacy into a Career
Just after high school, Maclain gave up acting and musicals, a decision driven by his doubts regarding the limitations of his hearing loss. When he was about 20 years old, some friends recommend he get into acting in the film industry and modeling. Again, he let his doubts about his abilities creep in and worried that others would judge him for his disability. Eventually, his friends convinced him that his self-doubt was not the reality; only his own misguided perceptions were holding him back.
Upon elevating himself from his self-doubt, Maclain entered the film and modeling world, which is where he met important figures in the music-venue business that would guide him as he broke into the music industry. At the beginning of his career, though, he did what he could to avoid the topic of hearing loss to skirt around any perceived stigmas.
After deciding that music was going to be a career, he made the choice to not attend college; everything he was doing with music was experimental and not something he felt he could learn from an instructor.
Maclain started Vibe Music Events, a musical entertainment company with the mission to “create an inclusive atmosphere for those with disabilities while providing an enhanced experience for everyone through accessibility services for events.” To fulfill this mission, the company makes immersive concert experiences for people of all abilities: concerts for deaf, hard-of-hearing, and full-hearing individuals. It has also done events for people with autism and the blind community.
So, how exactly does that work?
Vibe’s events don’t take anything away from the things many people already enjoy in a concert, as their goal is to create a better, more inclusive experience for everyone in attendance whether they have a disability or not. Using elements like vibrating platforms and immersive visuals as well as smell and taste enhancements, the folks at Vibe aim to ensure everyone can enjoy the concert in different ways—whether that is through hearing the show or feeling it.
Because it’s very bass-heavy and vibration-focused, electronic dance music (EDM) was the first focus of Vibe Music Events. Lyrical music can be difficult to coordinate because there is a lot of necessary communication with the artist/musician ahead of time to get set lists organized and lyrics put on screen. Also, if an artist changes the set list on the fly—something many musicians do—it can be problematic for the event staff. Still, a goal of the Vibe team for upcoming festivals is to make mainstream lyrical music a larger part of the show.
Breaking the Stigma
Through his music and career, Maclain is working to erase the stigmas attached to hearing loss and other disabilities, so other people don’t have to go through what he went through as a child. He does this by pushing Vibe to create an atmosphere of inclusion at every event, offering an immersive experience that doesn’t exclude anyone—something to which he attributes much of the company’s success.
He is also very active in the hearing loss community as well as the hearing community, which helps people know they can trust his message and the intentions behind his inclusivity efforts. By showing the communities he cares, he further builds that trust, proving that his company is not just in it for the money.
One important way Maclain demonstrates this with Vibe Music Events is to introduce his artists/musicians to the hearing loss community. While this is ultimately a great experience for those in the hearing loss community, it benefits the artists as well. Musicians often fear that their performances could damage their hearing at some point in their life. Bringing them together with those experiencing hearing loss helps break the stigma behind their perceptions: They realize it’s not as terrible as society would have them believe.
The message Maclain wants people with hearing loss to know—particularly if a career in music is of interest—is that so much of your success will come down to staying confident in yourself and being willing to own your hearing loss. Be persistent, believe in what you are going to do, and find a group of people to surround yourself with that will lift you up and support you in your music. He even says you can reach out to him for support.
You can help break the stigma—it just has to do with “having confidence in yourself and knowing what it is you’re asking for.”
If you encounter a business or product that is difficult to use or enjoy with hearing loss, give feedback and let them know and then offer to help make that possible.
Many people go into a situation with the mindset that, “if you don’t provide this, you’re part of the problem,” when in all actuality, it’s most likely due to the other person not being aware of the problem in the first place. It’s far less common that they’ve gone out of their way to not provide accessibility. By letting companies know you would like to enjoy their product/service/offering more, you help to make it possible for you and others who may have the same problem.
In order to make that next big leap forward for the hearing loss community, the first thing that will be needed is communication—communication between the people that provide the accessibility to the community they are serving. The more collaboration that can take place between the two parties, the better. Many in the hearing loss community struggle with higher costs for accessibility or lack of insurance coverage for certain hearing health aspects. Why is hearing loss not seen as any other “more visible” disability that can be covered?
You must have the mentality that you are willing to work with the other party in order to come up with a solution that works for everyone. Don’t settle for sub-par accessibility. It’s about helping them do the most they can do to build up everyone in the community. “Believe in yourself and know that you deserve to be treated like anyone else!”
We’ve made great headway in the sphere of technology for people with hearing loss—such as captioning services for cell phones, something unheard of 10 or even 5 years ago. Hearing aids have also improved leaps and bounds over the last few years.
According to Maclain, the biggest pain point for people with hearing loss in the modern technology era is simply being aware of their hearing loss. Many put their hearing health on the backburner for so long that when they finally decide to do anything about it, the time for preventative measures is past. This effectively limits their options, as some are no longer available.
One key factor is to not be afraid of the technology available. Many people might still be under the impression that hearing aids are bulky devices that don’t have benefits beyond helping to hear. Maclain’s hearing aids are essentially “Air Pods” that allow him to do everything someone wearing normal “Air Pods” could do. He uses them to listen to music, take phone calls (even this interview was conducted through his hearing aids), and streaming movies or videos on his devices on top of improving his general hearing capabilities.
Both Maclain and his mother have had wonderful experiences using CaptionCall Mobile*, which allows them to take captioned phone calls on the go. His mom doesn’t necessarily love to use her hearing aids, so she’s thrilled with the option to read what her caller is saying. For Maclain, despite his top-of-the-line hearing aids, he still runs into situations where hearing on the phone is difficult, and he finds being able to read the conversation very helpful. His goal is to make his hearing loss as less of a hindrance for all involved, and captioning helps him make sure he doesn’t miss any of the conversation. He has “been very impressed” with CaptionCall Mobile.
The technological advances that have been made for equal accessibility are here to improve the quality of your life, not change what you need to do. They’re meant to help you so you can enjoy life.
We’ll end with one more message from Maclain: Talk about what these assistive technologies can do for you. Show people and help them understand that there is nothing wrong with using a hearing aid. And if you feel comfortable doing so, let them try it out and see for themselves that it’s nothing scary. It just might help calm any fears about getting their own hearing checked as well. After all, it is just cool technology that improves the lives of so many people.
*CaptionCall Mobile and service is for people with hearing loss who need captioning to use the phone effectively.