TIKTALK: FINDING A COMMUNITY IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Jun 30, 2022 | House Institute Foundation, Research

 

BY JAVIA HEADLEY, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS

The House Children’s Hearing Center is dedicated to providing case management, care navigation, and assistance for children and families to help them navigate and succeed.

 

Years ago, growing up deaf or hard of hearing often meant isolation. If you didn’t go to school with other Deaf youths or grow up in a family where the condition was hereditary, the likelihood of meeting other children like you was rare. TikTok is changing that.

 

Deaf creators on the platform are building an inclusive community for others like them. “I found the deaf community YES,” comments one TikTok user on a post by @jackandbec, “May I STAY HERE PLEASE.”

 

Jackie is a digital creator who co-runs the account @jackandbec with her sister Rebecca. “We [use TikTok] to focus on our marginalized groups. Becca is plus-sized and fat positive, and I am deaf. We love to incorporate that into all aspects of our art. Then we use TikTok to showcase and promote our small business, Jack and Bec, where we sell our art.”

 

This venture into digital content creation that started in March 2020 as a fun way for Jackie to learn choreography during her extended pandemic-induced spring vacation from her job in deaf education has now turned into a career. Jackie and her sister have always been artists. In their hometown of San Antonio, they would set up booths in the art district to sell stickers, t-shirts, and prints. Her desire for a career change and the digital climate at the start of the pandemic inspired Jackie and her sister to expand their business on TikTok.

 

Two years later, @jackandbec now has over 275,000 followers and 7 million likes. “The support has been amazing,” says Jackie, “I never in a million years would have thought people would be messaging me and saying, ‘thank you so much for posting this’ or ‘I’ve never seen a deaf person that looks like me.’”

 

Though there has been much patronage for her deaf and hard-of-hearing focused art and videos, the internet isn’t always a compassionate place. She has experienced criticism of her American Sign Language (ASL) and skepticism about her deafness.

 

Luckily, this type of backlash has died down with the rise of her account. Now, Jackie and Becca have had many memorable experiences, including two duets from Grammy Award-winning artist Lizzo. “The most rewarding part [of being a deaf influencer] is being the deaf role model I didn’t have growing up for so many people.”

 

GROWING UP DEAF

Jackie grew up at a time when there wasn’t much information about children like her. The first time she met another deaf individual, she was 14 years old. Thankfully, she had her mom. Single mother Deedee was her primary advocate through years of diagnoses and testing. It wasn’t until she was in the third grade that a doctor finally told her she wouldn’t be able to hear and communicate without an assistive device.

 

When she got her first pair of hearing aids, Jackie realized how different she was. Her peers would ask her why she had gum in her ears, scream in her face to test her, bully her, or even physically abuse her just because she was not like them. “No one told me why that was happening, and no one explained to them how I was different.”

 

Even the adults in her life were seemingly unaware of accommodations that could support her. When she got into the field of deaf education as an adult, she learned there were programs specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Still, like many other kids, she flew under the radar.

 

At 16, things started to get harder for Jackie. “I [didn’t] feel mentally able to continue in public school, pretending to be something I’m not because nobody knew I was deaf.” After falling behind in classes, she sought her school’s help. They were uneducated on the difficulties of assistive technology, thinking that hearing aids were enough to make her successful.

 

That same year, Jackie decided to drop out of high school, a decision not uncommon for young Hispanic women and even less so for those who were deaf. “I was a statistic,” reminisced Jackie. But that did not stop her. In fact, it started her on a path to finding her community. The internet was a place for her to escape. Amidst the blogs of Tumblr, a social networking site, Jackie was able to find like-minded deaf and hard-of-hearing young adults.

 

A few years later, armed with a GED, Jackie went to college. The first courses she enrolled in were Intro to Deaf Communities and ASL (American Sign Language). “Up until I was 16, I felt like I was defective, a burden, not a full member of society. Taking those classes helped me realize that was not the case at all. I was just different.”

 

For deaf or hard-of-hearing children growing up today, Jackie wants them to know that there are so many people in the world just like them. “It doesn’t matter if you’re this much deaf or that much deaf or if you don’t sign or use a cochlear implant. No matter your circumstances, you have a community, you have a claim to something, and you should feel proud of it. You are different, but different is good. These days, normal is boring, and at least we’ll never be that.”

Our commitment is to ensure that every child who comes through our doors doesn’t have to experience the isolation and unnecessary challenges faced by Jackie.

 

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