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Elevated | with Deaf Climber, Sonya Wilson

A non-verbal film
30 May 2022

Deaf climber Sonya Wilson overcame discrimination, isolation, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles as a child to become the woman she is today—a force of nature changing the face of the climbing world. Knowing communication is key to her sport, she has created ways for deaf climbers in her community to find each other and spend time together in the outdoors, leaving ableism and expectations behind.

portrait of Sonya Wilson, climber, at sunset looking into camera

I feel elevated, connected to the outdoors, connected to myself, connected to the people around me. There are no barriers. The outdoors has no requirements of someone I need to become to fit in with people and their expectations.

– Sonya Wilson

Produced with our partners at Spruce Tone Films.

Growing up in Nevada, Sonya Wilson utilized the outdoors as a judgment-free zone, climbing on rocks and on the roof of her home to find solace and acceptance within herself. Today, she can still be found climbing, but those rocks have gotten bigger, and so has her community of fellow Deaf climbers.

a group of climbers from ASL climbing network sitting in the desert in a circle

In 2012, Sonya founded the ASL Climbing Network, a community of ASL climbers around the world. Now based in Los Angeles, Sonya organizes monthly meet-ups in the gym, at the local crag, and at Joshua Tree National Park for her Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing climbing community. Friends, old and new, connect and talk about the latest problems they’re encountering on and off the wall. She has spent years advocating for the sport to bridge the gap and make climbing and spending time outside more accessible for her community.

Sonya’s work is deeply rooted in the lived experience of being a Deaf climber. “The outdoors doesn’t need you to have hearing or even a voice to connect with it.” Sonya challenges what it means to be a climber in an industry dominated by hearing people. “Climbing is a way for myself and others who are Deaf to challenge our bodies, minds, and ultimately find peace.”

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