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Exclusive — Meeting deaf YouTuber Jazzy Whipps

Jazzy Whipps, 22, was born profoundly deaf in both ears. After years of not being represented in British media, she took to YouTube herself and started a platform dedicated to deaf UK culture.

It’s midday and Jazzy Whipps pops up on the Zoom screen. She waves at me with a full smile and a black hairband holds back her blonde waves. Her interpreter is running late, so we communicate via text for the first 10 minutes.

Following hundreds of awkward Zoom interactions, though, it’s perhaps the easiest conversation I’ve had this year.

Like many other Gen Zers, Whipps grew up consuming thousands of YouTube videos, although it wasn’t until 2015 when she’d just finished school that she realised there was no deaf representation on YouTube.

‘I gave it a go — set up a camera and did some makeup,’ she recounts. ‘I just loved it.’

‘So many people were like: “Finally, there’s a deaf person,”’ she continues. The community warmly welcomed this sudden access, and throughout the last six years, the YouTuber has garnered over 201,000 subscribers.

Whipps, who is profoundly deaf in both ears – meaning she can’t hear anything at all – explains that she wants to help make sign language more accessible. With around 11 million people suffering from hearing loss in the UK, Whipps’ content will help give deaf people more of an opportunity to find jobs and feel more at home in their own country.

So what’s the hardest part about being deaf in 2021? ‘People who hear don’t understand me,’ says Whipps. At YouTube, where she has worked in management for over two years, she still finds it hard to communicate with her colleagues.

‘I feel disappointed because if they understood sign language, I’d be treated as an equal,’ she says. ‘Instead, people get frustrated when they have to write things down or ensure they are facing me.

‘It’s really embarrassing.’

However, the problem isn’t as simple as that. It begins with hearing people not having the right access to signing courses.

In one of Whipps’s travel vlogs, when she travelled to Barcelona, the YouTuber stumbled across a deaf pub, which created an inclusive environment for individuals of all levels of hearing. There, she also learned that many of the locals grow up learning Spanish Sign Language alongside their spoken mother tongue.

With such a large deaf community in the UK, Whipps says: ‘You’d think more people would have access to learn it here too.’

Petitions to the government have been created, bills have been passed, but not enough has changed.

Whipps not only uses her videos to help with sign awareness but to educate hearing people of the myths that surround the deaf community. ‘I want people to realise that I’m no different from other people my age,’ she says.

Travelling alone, driving, and listening to music are some of the most common ones she finds herself addressing.

‘I actually love going to clubs, concerts, and festivals,’ she explains. ‘The music is so loud there that you can feel the vibrations in your chest.’

At home though, she can’t get the same kind of experience. Many individuals choose to wear cochlear implants to help with hearing and using their voice, but after trying it out, Whipps decided it wasn’t for her.

‘I found I was doing it more for other people,’ she explains. ‘And I was born deaf, so I want people to accept me for who I am.’

Luckily for her, her mother, stepfather, and sister Holly all learned to sign.

The YouTuber grew up in London, where she has access to a free bus pass, and where she attended a school containing a deaf unit with 20 other students like herself. ‘I had a lot of support,’ she says. ‘And I’m still in touch with a lot of my friends.’

Since graduating from college, where she studied hairdressing, makeup and beauty, the 22-year-old has also had her sights set on working in television. ‘Growing up, I’d watch people on TV and there was never any representation,’ she says. Love Island, one of her favourites, is something she particularly wants to be cast in.

‘Why not?’ she says, smiling. ‘The best thing, though, would be to have a deaf version of it.’ She explains that, with thousands of deaf viewers across the UK, it’s difficult for them to relate to the contestants in the same way.

Unfortunately, YouTube has also neglected to provide for the deaf community. While it has offered caption software for years, Whipps points out that not every content creator enables this function on their videos, leaving out a whole proportion of online users.

Some deaf YouTubers have started to challenge this in the US, but because each nation has a different sign language, British users can’t always consume those either.

Whipps says that she still enjoys watching some American YouTubers anyway — and has taken some inspiration from people like Cheyenna Clearbrook and Anastasia Kingsnorth. The two of them are good at providing lighthearted, positive content, which — amid the current state of the world — can be quite refreshing.

Whipps is unsure about her long-term future. All she knows is that she wants to keep making content that will educate the hearing community and give a voice to deaf culture.

‘I don’t think I’ll continue filming myself until I’m 80 or 90,’ she says, giggling. But making videos that really make an impact — like a video testing her voice on her family that got more than 6.2 million views in 2019 — is what she hopes to keep doing for now.

‘I think people are interested in something they’ve never thought of before,’ she says. ‘We do have voices but we don’t always choose to use them.’

 

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