Feb 2021 ABC News

Nathan BorgNathan Borg landed the job on Neighbours after speaking to an executive about the need for more on-screen diversity

It's been a big step to the small screen for actor Nathan Borg, making his debut on the iconic Australian soap-opera Neighbours earlier this year. He is the first actor on Australian television to have a cochlear implant, a dream he didn't always think he would be able to achieve. "At first I realised that there was no-one like me on screen, I wanted to change that for the industry," he said.

"But I knew it was going to be a long journey and it wasn't going to be easy. I knew I was the one who had to break the door down."

He landed his first on-screen role after calling an executive from the show, telling him they needed more diversity on the screen. "I decided to call the Neighbours studio and talk to them about me, and from there got an audition," he said. "We started talking about the character, and what we wanted to do around deaf awareness and the cochlear implant in a positive way. For a first job, I'm so proud to be a part of this production."

nathanNathan Borg had a cochlear implant after becoming profoundly deaf as a child due to illness

Now he wants to use his platform to make it easier for other disabled people to break into the industry. "It's amazing that I am in that position to be a role model for young kids with cochlear implants," he said. "I really want to see more diversity on our TV screens, and I really want to push for people with disabilities to be employed.” Borg contracted meningitis as a baby and became profoundly deaf and got his implant at the age of two.

Graeme Clark, the inventor of the cochlear implant, decided he wanted to tackle hearing loss after seeing the struggles of his father. "He was a pharmacist in Camden in New South Wales, and he had severe hearing loss," Professor Clark said. "I was always embarrassed when people came into his shop and asked for confidential items and Dad would say 'speak up', so all the locals would know."

Graeme ClarkIn the early days, Graeme Clark's colleagues were skeptical about his groundbreaking research

Now more than 40 years after the first device was implanted, Professor Clark's invention is used by more than 600,000 people worldwide. "It's wonderful to see the young children who are having the implants, even before the age of one, growing up with normal speech and language," he said.

"That was never even envisaged when we first started."

It wasn't an easy road, and Professor Clark faced a lot of criticism from his peers when he began researching the issue in 1968. "I was called 'that clown Clark', I had colleagues going to the vice-chancellor suggesting I might be dismissed from my job," he said. "I got a lot of criticism, but that's natural and normal in science when you're breaking new ground. I felt there was a real possibility of doing good science, and then finding once and for all if it really was possible."

Clark BorgProfessor Clark said seeing the success of people with an implant was the real gift

Borg's dream was made possible by Professor Clark's groundbreaking science. "It's changed my life in so many ways," Borg said. "Just to hear music, and even my own voice and my dog barking — just those little moments I wake up so grateful every day. "Growing up from two-years-old I always heard about Graeme and getting to meet him is amazing. I'm so inspired by him and I'm so thankful for him."

For Professor Clark, seeing the success of people with an implant is the real gift. "I think it's amazing, I think Nathan is a great example of how normal it can be, and that's something that was the goal," he said. "I never dreamed it would be so wonderfully helpful. It makes me feel a mixture of awe, gratitude and a sense of peace.”

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