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Interview with Kirsty Jade – disabled or deaf?

CN: disability benefits, university, deaf experiences, cultural appropriation


Kirsty Jade – more commonly known as KJ – is a Deaf YouTuber with over 1.8K followers in just over one year, as well as over 4K followers on Instagram and over 2K followers on Twitter. Her aim is to ensure accessibility in her videos by using voiceovers and captions, and uses a mixture of sign and speech. Her videos focus on deafness, politics, and being a deaf woman; deaf women are underrepresented in the social media industry so KJ believes it is important to use her platform to showcase herself as a deaf woman and all the other deaf women out there.

an image of a white woman with a blond bob smiling. She is wearing a black Deaf Identity hoodie with her name (Kirsty) fingerspelled in pink.
Kirsty Jade - alt text included

Let’s talk about applying for benefits and support as a deaf person when not feeling attached or identifying as “disabled” but as deaf. For instance, I know you recently talked about deaf people applying for DSA*. Can you talk about how you felt when applying for things like DSA and any other benefits, like PIP**? Did you feel like you were entitled/eligible? Were you put off applying before because you are deaf?

This is a controversial issue for me. When it comes to interactions with Hearing people I will always say ‘oh I’m deaf’ – it’s that kind of daily interaction that has led to me never saying ‘oh I’m disabled’; but I do perceive myself as disabled in situations where I cannot access society, e.g. education and healthcare. Applying for DSA was fine for me because there was a repetitive use of the inclusion of deaf people, and specialised conversations around that. Some are generalised to just disability, the ‘one size’ fits all approach; but DSA were really specific about my needs which was nice to see.

PIP is another story, when I was 16 I had to go to tribunal, and I thought I failed my PIP claim. On the day of the tribunal, it turned out that it was just because I wouldn’t ‘answer’ the phone for them to tell me I would be getting PIP! My jaw dropped when I realised that was the reason I was being denied PIP! Me, a deaf person…‘wouldn’t answer the phone’…it’s disgusting!

So talking about the process in general (applying, the application, the assessment, the result.) Did the process go smoothly? What difficulties/barriers did you have with it? Did you feel that you found any of it harder than a Hearing disabled people would because you’re deaf?

Yes, yes, and yes! That’s often why I tend to be annoyed when people assume that I identify as disabled, mainly because I’ve met many disabled people who don’t sign, caption videos and aren’t aware of my needs - but yet we all get put in the same category? The assessment went smoothly, as the person was really aware. PIP again, a different story, as I said before about the tribunal.

As a deaf person, what do you feel could have been done differently to support deaf students and deaf people applying for disability benefits, such as PIP, and to make it more accessible?

I feel like the DSA, DWP (department for work and pensions) and SFE (student finance England) websites need to be BSL accessible, there needs to be resources out there that explains what PIP and DSA is and how to know if you are entitled to it. You wouldn’t believe the number of deaf students – current and past – who weren’t aware of DSA or PIP, purely because they weren’t told or there isn’t enough resources out there making them aware of it.

Sticking with this theme, how have you found your university experience as a deaf person? Can you talk a bit about what you study, the adjustments that were made for you, and any barriers that you came across? Were students and society spaces accepting? Were there any communication issues you noticed?

Well, I went to two universities, the first was Lancaster. I went there for one year and did Social Work, which I absolutely hated. The accessibility was awful; they didn’t try to get to know me or see what specific needs I had, it was like they pre-determined what support I would get, so I left. Now I am at UCLan, which is one of THE most accessible experiences I have had in an educational institution! They assessed me and asked if I thought I would benefit from a BSL interpreter, which I accepted and since then, my academic knowledge, my social interactions with my peers has improved so much. Now I think about it, Lancaster was a blessing in disguise.

The society spaces, I have some conflict with that. At the moment, I would say I don’t feel confident enough in societies that they will be accessible. I also don’t like the idea of having to have an interpreter with me – I want to be independent! On the other hand, the BSL society is …. interesting. It’s currently run by Hearing people and whilst I love them as people, it’s conflicting because deaf people should be at the core of it, they should be leading, we need more deaf people in leadership.

Students on my course have been accepting, but my course is split into two: one aspect is education; and the other is deaf studies & BSL. The deaf studies & BSL students are aware, some are still learning; but education, I only have one student who is really understanding and tries to build a real student-to-student relationship with me. The others just stare at the interpreter, it’s frustrating, just see me please, I’m over here!

Currently, a lot has moved online, such as remote learning, through Zoom. Has this been accessible for you or has it hindered your learning?

My course actually almost finished before COVID-19, but I use Zoom a lot for content work, for calling friends and family so that’s been helpful. There has been a lot of discussion on Zoom with panels and topics being discussed that has become really accessible with interpreters and captioning.

How have you found lockdown? Have you come across any issues? What needs to be done to make COVID-19 (which will be going on for a while) as accessible as possible to deaf people?

The masks obviously! I did an Instagram post about that a few weeks ago [link]. In the link, that’s my tips to be accessible with mask usage.

Other than that, providing interpreters & captioning for any videos, whether its Zoom discussions or quiz nights. Deaf people want to be included too.

At the moment there has been a lot of people picking up learning and tutoring BSL, as well as sign songs? How do you feel about that? Should it be just deaf people or is this for Hearing people too?

Sign Songs, no way. They don’t do anything for deaf people, it’s for Hearing people and their entertainment. Hearing people capitalising of sign language will never bring any good.

Apart from that, learning. I’m loving the fact that people are learning but they need to know about how to use it appropriately.

Could you talk a bit about what cultural appropriation means in the context of Deaf culture, and what the issue is? What can Hearing people do to support deaf people and deaf artists?

Jephta Asamoah provides a lot of context on this [link] and [link], I’m really just an observer. What I have observed is that Hearing people tend to view deaf people as a minority that needs ‘help’. That needs to be addressed and they need to be educated on that. They also view sign language as a trend at the moment, like all the other trends. The thing about trends is that it dies out after a while, the novelty wears off, which means Hearing people will learn sign just to join in the trend of doing a sign song and then it wears off. They carry on doing it if it “goes viral”, got retweeted by their ‘fave’ artist and so on, whilst other deaf sign song artists are barely being recognised.

Lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to a newly diagnosed deaf person, or a deaf person about to enter university, what would that be?

Newly diagnosed - speak to a range of deaf people, not just one group or one person, you need various perspectives to understand how the deaf community really works and your place within it.

About to enter university - know your truth, know what support you are entitled to and know your worth. If they don’t give you what you need and want, be assertive. Work hard and persevere.

*For more information on Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) see my blog here [link].*

**Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a disability benefit in the UK, see more information here [link]. For a BSL video, watch here [link] **

You can follow KJ on:

  1. Youtube – [link]

  2. Twitter – @thatdeafgirlkj

  3. Instagram – /thatdeafgirlkj

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