This September, we celebrate International Day of Sign Languages. Sign language is a communication medium that’s over 400 years old and is a rich part of the Deaf and hard of hearing communities’ culture. Sign language is used by an estimated 70 million people worldwide and each country has its own variation on the language, whether that’s ASL in the USA or BSL in the UK.
At Rangam, we firmly believe in the value of lived experience when it comes to being good allies to communities we aren’t part of ourselves. This is why we’d love to share with our readers some of our favourite Deaf self-advocates to follow: 1. Haben Girma
Haben Girma’s is a human rights lawyer based in San Francisco, specialising in disability justice and creating a more equitable society for all through her work promoting disability as an opportunity for innovation. The first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change. She is also a recipient of the Helen Keller Achievement Award and has appeared on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. When she isn’t using her expert legal knowledge to advocate for people with disabilities’ rights in court, Girma works with businesses to help them recognise the importance of choosing inclusion.
Joanne Chesteris an Irish TEDx public speaker and community worker with a passion for social justice. Last year, Chester featured on a documentary called ‘London Calling’, which pointed out the inequities Deaf people face in the workplace and has led to her advocating for an Access to Work scheme in Ireland as well as equal rights for the Irish Deaf community. She says, “There are many potential rising stars from the Deaf community who yearn to strive in society, but they face barriers daily due to inadequate access and deep-rooted prejudices. With a shift in attitude, we can create a better society for us all”.
Rikki Poynter is an American content creator, consultant, and YouTuber. Starting out as a beauty vlogger, Poynter began making content around accessibility and closed captioning awareness in 2014, which led to her being featured on the Huffington Post, BBC Newsbeat and countless other news outlets as she shed light on this important accessibility issue, with specific reference to YouTube. Poynter’s new closed captioning campaign, #LIGHTSCAMERACAPTION aims to get more YouTubers to add closed captioning to their videos.
Rebekah Afari is a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter at West Herts College in Hertfordshire, UK. Growing up Deaf in a hearing family, Afari draws upon the challenges she has faced in her own life in her public speaking to help increase understanding of the unjust barriers often faced by Deaf people in British society. She began advancing her mission to make the world a more equitable place for Deaf people in her early teens as a member of the youth advisory board at the National Deaf Children’s Society. Her TEDx talk ‘I’m Deaf, but we can still talk’ about BSL and her lived experience growing up as a Deaf person in a world made for hearing people, has over 100,000 views on YouTube. Why notwatch it today! 5. Jessica Kellgren-Fozard
Jessica Kellgren-Fozard is a British YouTuber who shares her experiences on a variety of topics, from vintage fashion and LGBT issues to her lived experience as a Deaf person who also lives with chronic illness. Her video ‘Why I don’t sound Deaf’ has been viewed by almost 10 million people worldwide and Kellgren-Fozard currently has almost 1 million subscribers to her YouTube channel. Check outher videos!