It’s tough to make friends in adulthood. Without the confines of a classroom to force you together, forging new friendship relies on extending out beyond your comfort zone. Enter Vancouver Neatos interviews, where I introduce you to a new face in Vancouver every week (ish). Want to take part? Drop me a line.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a Vancouver “orig-i-nal” who gets far too excited about Indian, Filipino, and Thai food. I’m passionate about accessibility, girls’ rights, travelling, design, and dogs!
I’m hard of hearing and wear two hearing aids. People ask me all the time where I’m from. They say “I can’t quite pin down where your accent is from.” They’re always surprised when I say I’m born and raised here. I love the stories and artwork that come out of the Deaf community, and I wish more people knew sign language so they could have the same appreciation. On the other hand, I’m a huge music fan with too many instruments for a person who can’t play a single one. I’m trying to learn the harmonica but my dog hates it. Music is cathartic and healing and I’d like to start a project to make music accessible to anyone who wishes to learn by creating a skill-sharing and instrument lending community (Hit me up if you’re interested in getting involved)!
What drew you to become an advocate for the Deaf community?
I was born hard of hearing, and while I was fortunate not to be teased by my classmates about my hearing aids, I knew I was different from my peers and that I had different needs—I also had the superpower of being able to lipread, so that gained me some serious cool points!
In grade nine, while working at my first job as a bus-girl at a restaurant, a deaf family came in and I practically abandoned my work to eat dinner with them—I felt like I had met my “people.” From that day on, I did everything I could to learn more about deafness and American Sign Language (ASL). I also quickly recognized my privilege in being able to step out of the Deaf world and back into the hearing world when it suited me. It bothers me.
In my high school, we could learn French, Spanish, or Punjabi, but ASL wasn’t an option. I teamed up with another young man who was on a mission to add ASL to the British Columbia education curriculum, and together with some friends, deaf and hearing, we collected thousands of signatures and took them to Victoria. The Government approved it and today students can choose American Sign Language as an elective course. My activism began when I was 15 years old.
Is there anything that particularly influences or inspires your work?
Anyone who is a Dancing With the Stars fan, or perhaps enjoys America’s Next Top Model, will know the name Nyle DiMarco. Nyle is a phenomenal role model for the Deaf community in that he celebrates his deafness and takes pride in his language and culture. And he’s done really well. His exposure on these two widely-watched shows has given him a platform from which he can educate hearing people on the Deaf experience of stigma and oppression. But his message is very positive in that the more we know, the more we can all come together to support one another.
In the Deaf community, there are many Nyles. Some of the most intelligent people I know are Deaf and it’s so frustrating to see limits placed upon them. I’m a big believer in accessibility and equity and I would love to see Vancouver become an inclusive city for the Deaf community.
What advice would you give someone who wants to learn American Sign Language or more about Deaf culture?
Do it. There are tons of ways in which you can learn sign language but please know there is a lot of misguided education coming from hearing teachers who have no business teaching a language that does not belong to them. Be an ally—support the Deaf community by learning from a qualified Deaf instructor. Vancouver Community College has some intro courses as well as the ASL/Deaf Studies program, and QueerASL is a queer and transgender positive space to learn with awesome, fun instructors! You won’t regret learning, I promise.
What are the biggest challenges for the Deaf community? How do you think we can overcome those challenges?
We live in a phono-centric world, which means we place a lot of value on the ability to hear. The way hearing people take in the world, the way they navigate it and communicate is through sound, so they pity those who can’t hear because they can’t imagine life any other way. But deaf people are in no way missing out—the biggest hurdle for them is not that they can’t hear, but the world refusing to meet them halfway.
I think if more people were open to learning from the Deaf community about what it’s like to have important decisions made for them, have opportunities taken away, to be kept out of conversation, and always told “no,” we could begin to make some real change. And I would love to see more people making an effort to communicate. Lipreading is not dependable, so using your phone or pen and paper is best. Hey, try gesturing!
Where’s your favourite spot in Vancouver to set up a laptop and get shit done?
I have a dog and I would give anything for an office that would allow me to bring him in with me. Until then, I can be found working at home with him and my computer on my lap.
Can you share any resources you’ve found most helpful in your career?
+Acumen! The first course I took was the Design Kit: The Course for Human-Centred Design and it’s changed the way I approach problem-solving and solution-finding. They have some great courses on leadership, storytelling for change, marketing, social enterprise 101, and business models—just about everything for anyone looking to create social impact in their communities.
I was also a cohort member of Groundswell, which gave me an amazing opportunity to collaborate with some of Vancouver’s biggest hearts and brightest minds. You need mentors? They have’ em. Also Groundswell is a social enterprise café with a really great working space if you need a place to work and get caffeinated.
(Also, Girl Gang – holla!)
What’s in the works for you right now?
I just got True Work up and running. I have a vision for a new workplace, one that is inclusive and embraces new ways of communicating. True Work is an initiative to showcase professionals in Vancouver’s Deaf community and highlight the work they are doing and their personal projects. I want businesses and organizations to have an opportunity to get to know these incredible individuals, and have my website be a way to connect employers to highly qualified candidates.
I also want to have it be a catalyst for learning about the Deaf community and its vibrant culture, by sharing news and current affairs happening in Deaf communities worldwide.
Anything you’d like to add
If you or someone you know has an organization with a mandate for inclusive hiring, I’d love to chat! If you’re interested in learning more about ASL or the Deaf community (or travel, dogs, music, Indian food – anything really), I’d be thrilled to meet you.