Meet Rikki Poynter: Deaf YouTuber, feminist and social activist

‘Deafness and disabilities are often left out in ‘feminism’ talk’

Rikki Poynter has become an icon and inspiration both within and outside the Deaf community. The 24 year-old Deaf woman’s YouTube channel spreads the word Deaf culture, as well as bringing together the online Deaf community through her humorous and honest videos.

She’s a Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and iced coffee fanatic, and when Rikki’s not working on a video, she is writing the news for DTV News, a 100% accessible news channel for d/Deaf and hard of hearing and hearing viewers.

Rikki’s channel has exploded and currently has over 25,000 subscribers. She is best known for her humorous but enlightening video, Sh*t Hearing People Say (Things You Don’t Say to Deaf & Hard of Hearing), which has over 400,000 views as of May 2016.

We spoke to Nikki via a text based interview on Skype.  She told us about her life as a YouTuber, and spoke at length about deafness, audism, and feminism.

How did you become a YouTuber?

It really started out of boredom after I graduated high school. I didn’t have anything to do and didn’t have friends to spend time with, so I was lonely and my depression was acting up. I came across YouTube, mostly makeup tutorials, and started watching those constantly. Then I started getting makeup and wanted to be a makeup vlogger. That’s how I started out on YouTube…

I started to realize that makeup, at least doing it on YouTube, wasn’t for me anymore. It was a good run for four years, but it was lacking in the creativity department, both from myself and others. I wasn’t interested in seeing another makeup tutorial using the new Urban Decay NAKED palette. I wasn’t interested in doing another makeup tutorial using that. The love I had for the makeup world was dwindling so I knew I had to say goodbye to it eventually.

However, I didn’t want to leave YouTube. But what was I going to talk about? I didn’t know what else I was good at or decent at or interested in because makeup was all I had talked about for so long. So what else was a part of me? Well, being deaf was. Or is. And I was growing tired of the lack of accessibility/captioning on YouTube, so I wanted to talk about it.

Rikki Poynter at VidCon 2015 where she led a workshop called “Lights, Camera, CAPTION!

When was your deafness diagnosed?

I didn’t get an official diagnosis until I was 12 when somebody brought up that I should get my hearing tested when they noticed I would “ignore” them often, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it started before then and just got worse.

Can you explain the difference between deaf (small d) and Deaf (capitalized)? 

Little “d” is simply a medical term. Just a simple “I have hearing loss” and that’s it. The big “D” has more culture added to it. These people are part of a community that involves signing, Deaf events, etc. It’s a culture.

What was it like going to a school that didn’t specialize in deaf education?

Middle and high school were difficult. I went to mainstream school k-12, so I was surrounded by hearing people my entire schooling. I did not meet one deaf person. My teachers knew I had trouble hearing, but they didn’t really do much for me to try to make learning easier.

There weren’t captions provided on films, so I had to make do with what I could when we would watch films and have to take notes on them. Most of the time, I had incomplete sentences and most teachers didn’t pay much attention to it. But one time, my US History teacher had the audacity to take my incomplete paper and read it out loud to the class, making fun of me and allowing the other students to make fun of me.

I also had a math teacher that was a butthead when I couldn’t understand him because he was a teacher that would stand and talk at the back of the room, but the math work would be the front. So I had to look back and forth and missed out on a lot. I remember I asked him one time for help and his response was, “I taught you this.” “I didn’t understand it.” “Look at the book.” “I did look at the book. I don’t get it.” It wasn’t a fun time.

English class was also difficult since we did a lot of reading aloud. I was constantly losing my place because I couldn’t hear the person a few rows behind, beside, or in front of me.

Rikki is a huge lover of Sailor Moon and Pokemon!

How does your deafness affect you today?

There’s the obvious fact that my way of communication is different than the majority of people and when I’m out and about, there’s a lot of difficulty since I don’t always understand something and then people will either be alright about it or just brush it off.

Aside from that, and something a hell of a lot more positive, is it has given me a group of amazing friends, opportunities, life, and knowledge.

What made you want to be a YouTuber?

I wanted to share my experiences as someone who was mainstreamed with others who are mainstreamed. I wanted to share with those that are also finding themselves as they go back and forth between hearing and Deaf worlds. I want them to know that they’re not alone…

There isn’t a minute that goes by that a Deaf friend of mine isn’t inspiring me. Same for the non-Deaf friends.

Rikki is an advocate of American Sign Language.

What do the words ‘feminism’ and ‘audism’ mean to you?

For me, feminism is equality for all, yes, but it’s also more complex than just that. Like, a lot of it is really bringing women up because in this society, women are being put down a lot. And then you’ve got us also trying to get people to take assault on men seriously and how men don’t have to be super macho all the time despite what society says.  Feminism is hard for me to describe out loud. 

Audism is more simple. Discrimination about people who are d/Deaf/hard of hearing. Like ableism, but more specific.

Feminism has brought so many women together, including deaf women. It has given us a support system. While it may not be 100% perfect, there have been some improvements and that’s because of the fact that we’ve come together to fight for it.

As a deaf woman, I’ve read comments that wondered what I would sound like during sex, or that I’m, “pretty but my deaf voice is too annoying”. I’ve seen other deaf women receive the same comments.

Although she now focuses on Deaf issues and commentary on her channel, her love for makeup hasn’t changed!

Deafness, disabilities, etc. are left out a lot in feminism talk. From my understanding, it’s some of the least talked about. Feminists are getting elsewhere, but they still need to be more intersectional. We need to be more intersectional in our feminism…

What do you think are the next steps for modern day feminism?

A lot of feminism these days is just white feminism. Women of color, trans women, etc. are often left out of conversation. They all need to be included as well. We can talk about the wage gap, and we need to talk about it, but we also need to talk about the fact that certain races still make more or less than others. That’s one of the most common examples I can give…

There’s still a lot of awareness that needs to be made.

How do you think we can improve?

More positive talk in general. More awareness. If there’s a conversation about rights for women and they get a little specific about the types of women, it would be awesome to see deaf women be talked about too. Not just cis deaf women. Deaf trans women. Deaf women of color. DeafDisabled women. Bi and lesbian Deaf women. Deaf men. Deaf men of color. All sorts of Deaf people.

Photo taken by Bobby Sullivan

You can watch Rikki’s videos over on her channel, follow her on her website, or like her on Facebook for more.