Kirsten has recently moved across the country to live on her own. She originally wanted to be an American Sign Language interpreter but along the way through college she lost more hearing so that became a career impossible to do. Kirsten is now chasing new dreams, "trying to be the person I needed when I was younger".
"I originally wanted to be an American Sign Language interpreter but as I went through college I lost more hearing so that became a career I couldn’t do. I wanted to be so many things growing up but I didn’t have access to education like everyone else. My grades weren’t good and I was constantly being told I couldn’t/ wasn’t good so I left those dreams behind. I finally have started chasing some of the dreams again."
Kirsten talks about what she wishes people knew about others with hearing loss "It isn’t the same person to person. Everyone has a different degree of hearing loss, a different percentage, for a different reason. We weren’t raised the same way. A lot of people think that deaf is deaf. That we all know how to sign and lip read but it is so much more complex than that."
I've asked Kirsten what could be implemented in our daily life to help people with hearing loss and she says: "Captions! Captions on everything! We have the technology now to have screens in coffee shops, in airports etc. Having everything written out isn’t a perfect fix but it makes life so much easier. And basic training of what to do when encountering a deaf person.
I am actually awful at lipreading. It is the last thing that I want to do and the hardest way to communicate. At best, I get about 30% of what people say. To help, people can learn that while lipreading is some people’s preferred way of communicating - it isn’t all deaf people’s way of communicating. Be prepared to write things down or even learn a few signs!"
Kirsten talks about what should we remember about people with disabilities "disability and deaf aren’t dirty words. I prefer that to 'differently abled'. I understand that people are trying to be polite but they aren’t dirty words. Also, each person prefers different things. If they tell you they prefer something else, and you aren’t hard of hearing or deaf, don’t argue. It isn’t up to a hearing person to tell a deaf person what is best to reference them by."
To share disability awareness Kirsten likes to create deaf characters from popular series like Harry Potter and the Flash. One of the characters that lost hearing is in Harry Potter world and people often asks if there is any potion she could take to make her hear. "I had to explain that while it sucked sometimes, she loved being deaf. I had a chance to show a range of deafness this way as well as different stories and the strength!". Kirsten is trying to be the person she needed when she was younger. In her career, she brings more diversity within marketing to show a better representation of people.
What is the most ableist narrative and what we could do to fight ableism? "That we need help. We need equity and justice, not help. It angers me when people find out I can’t hear and their first instinct is to help me like I am less than. I am top of my class, 4.0 student graduating with her Masters. I have moved across the country to be on my own - I don’t need help."
Kirsten shares her struggles with discrimination due to her disability and says how we could all help with that problem "From a teacher in high school refusing to do the needed arrangements and yelling at me to learn how to hear, to the security at the airport refusing to work with me so I can make my flight and trying to take my crutches after a surgery from me, without letting me know what was happening. There are so many stories of pain, of frustration. I think education is the most important thing. People tend to be ignorant when they don’t know what is going on or what not to say. Sometimes they don’t even realise they are being discriminatory or ableist."
"Compared to other countries, the US is probably considered an accessible place to live. We have something called the American’s with Disabilities Act. It gives people with disabilities certain rights and protects us in certain ways. In that way, yes - the US is accessible. But so many businesses don’t follow the ADA. We are constantly fighting for our right to be there, to have the access we need for equality. To make living more accessible - the ADA should be revised and enforced."
To raise more disability awareness Kirsten says "Projects like ThisAbility are perfect. Stories from people who have disabilities - people who have experienced it. This is amazing. We need more of this. Having first hand experiences provides a small window into what it is actually like and in such a raw, real way."