Social Media: YouTube and then Twitter/IG/TT is @rikkipoynter
At 11-years-old, I was diagnosed with having hearing loss. It all happened because my friend’s mother told my parents that I should get my hearing checked out since I wasn’t responding to her calls to me from behind. So we went to the audiologist as one should and the suspicions were right: I have hearing loss. The exact amount is all a blur at this point, but it was enough for the audiologists to say that I would benefit from a hearing aid or two.
I never did get the hearing aids as my dad couldn’t afford them, and I still went to public mainstream schools despite a deaf school being just a half hour away. Learning ASL (American Sign Language) never became an option for me. I never learned and was never taught how to advocate for myself, what my accessibility rights were. I had to continue to go through life as if nothing ever happened and that I was 100% fine.
After I graduated high school in 2009, I had no idea where I was going with my life. Sure, teachers prepared you for life after graduation, but they didn’t take into account that I was one of the only two deaf people in the entire school, and that the process would be entirely different and much more difficult (and I didn’t either- because I didn’t know).
I tried to attend my local community college, but not only were finances a problem- the lack of accessibility and lack of knowledge of how to fight for it in the first time when I wasn’t even sure what I needed made it impossible. I tried applying to all the jobs I could, even the ones that required little to no hearing, and I was rejected over and over. My social life was next to none, and with the only people I knew being hearing people, socializing was difficult anyway because my lip reading skills weren’t great and it was hard to keep up with conversations.
Nobody knew what it was like having to go through all this, and I was doing it all alone and felt absolutely miserable.
Finally, a couple years later at the start of my 20s and with the power of the Internet, specifically YouTube and Tumblr, I began my search for other deaf people. I needed to know there were people like me doing something with their lives. I needed to see more deaf people than just Marlee Matlin (Switched At Birth, The L Word) who would occasionally pop up on my TV. I needed to see more deaf people who understood what I was wrong through. I was hoping that I’d be able to make some friends and they would be able to help me figure out who I was, and what I could really do.
And slowly but surely, that’s exactly what started to happen.
I watched videos of both mainstreamed deaf folks who lived just like me and of those who grew up in a Deaf culture with ASL and the like. I found blog posts on Tumblr and followed as many as I could, interacting with posts to try to make some connections.
The videos were casual, just your regular everyday people making the same types of videos as everyone else: vlogs, comedy sketches, bits of educational video about deaf culture and community here and there.
I also started documenting this journey on YouTube. While finding signing deaf people was great, I didn’t find a whole lot of people like me- a mainstreamed deaf person with no access to ASL and the deaf community. So I wanted to fill in some of that empty space not only for myself, but for others like me as well.
I even found more people on Twitter and Instagram. Did you know we have Deaf Twitter? There’s a whole community on Twitter!
All of this eventually led me to a work trip to Los Angeles in 2015 that also allowed me to meet people in the deaf community for the first time, and start using the very tiny amount of ASL that I knew for the first time. I was a nervous wreck, but it was still one of the greatest experiences that gave me so much relief and hope.
Since then, I’ve learned more ASL and use it more often (not as much as I could but such is life when you’re still living in a predominantly hearing environment where you don’t socialize as much). I’ve learned more about deaf history than I ever thought I would. I’ve found friends and an environment that I can feel comfortable around even when I’m overwhelmed by what I don’t know.
I’ve definitely got so much more to learn about myself and deaf history, and I get so excited to do so every time I’m back in an area with a larger deaf community than what I have at home.
Here’s to continuing to find and learn about yourself!