Faces Behind the Screen: Kaylee Lartigue
Kaylee Lartigue is an activist who advocates for those in the Deaf community. She started Deaf Girl Evolution, and through this platform, she strives to empower her peers to advocate for deaf and hard of hearing people.
And it doesn’t end there.
Kaylee’s passion and activism for the Deaf community ignited her next step: In May 2019, she found a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization called Deaf Dreams. The purpose? It’s all in the name. Kaylee hopes to help young people who are deaf to achieve their dreams.
On top of all that, Kaylee is an excellent student and is pursuing one of her own dreams: modeling.
At the end of our interview, Kaylee wrapped things up with a bright smile on her face reminding us to check out the Deaf Dreams website. Throughout our interview with Kaylee, we couldn’t help but take note of Kaylee’s determined and aspirational spirit. Her positive attitude was truly contagious, and we couldn’t help but smile, too.
Get to know Kaylee more in the latest Faces Behind the Screen interview.
In part one, Kaylee shares her experience being a Deaf individual. She talks about what it’s like navigating school, opens up about some of the struggles she faces, and explains the best thing about being Deaf.
FBTS: Do you identify as deaf with a lower case d, a capital D, hard of hearing?
Kaylee Lartigue (KL): I identify as Deaf with a capital D.
FBTS: How long have you been Deaf?
KL: I was born with a hearing loss in one ear. And then, I mean, the other ear was fine. I could hear just fine until about age three. And I became deaf in both ears. So I started technically being deaf in both ears at age three.
FBTS: What was it like knowing that eventually, you would lose all your hearing?
KL: It was a little bit hard for me…it was just a change. I realized I didn’t understand things that people were saying. So we went to the doctor to see how much more I was planning on losing my hearing.
FBTS: What has it been like navigating school as a Deaf person?
KL: It’s been difficult because I can’t always understand what other people are saying. And I don’t know when it’s time to sit. Or if there’s a roomful of people, and everyone’s talking, I don’t know what’s going on around me. So that’s tough.
During classes, I do have an interpreter. But during free time, like lunch or whatnot, I do not.
None of my friends sign. I mean, I do try and teach them a little bit.
FBTS: How do you communicate? Do you have to lip-read?
KL: I do [lip-read]…it’s exhausting.
FBTS: As a Deaf person, what are some struggles you face?
KL: With school, specifically, I mean, it’s tiring. There’s– we always have to remind the teacher that they need captions for things, for videos that they show in class.
And recently, I started modeling. And it’s difficult to understand what the photographer wants and what they’re saying to me, especially when there’s other conversations going on. There’s a loud environment around usually. But people who’ve been working with me have been trying to learn sign to be able to communicate with me. So that’s been good.
FBTS: What do you wish that hearing people could understand about your experience being Deaf?
KL: There’s a lot. There’s a lot that I wish. I wish that hearing people would understand that we’re people, too. And we can do whatever you can do, too. And we feel emotions. And it’s really hard for us to sit in a room that’s full of people who are talking and having their own conversations and be alone.
FBTS: What is the best thing about being Deaf?
KL: If I’m tired, and the world’s annoying me– everyone is bugging me– then I can just turn it off, turn my hearing aid off. I don’t have to hear anything. It’s really nice. It’s quiet and peaceful.
One time, I was younger. I was in trouble. My mom was yelling at me for something. And I was like, OK, I’m all set. So I turned off my hearing aid. Didn’t want to hear her anymore. But then she started to sign to me. So I was like, oh, no. So then I covered my eyes. And then I couldn’t hear or see. So to me, I wasn’t in trouble anymore.
In part two, Kaylee tells the story of how Deaf Girl Evolution and Deaf Dreams came to be a reality. The goals for Deaf Dreams center around providing resources and support for deaf people who may need assistance in reaching their dreams.
FBTS: What inspired you to start Deaf Girl Evolution?
Kaylee Lartigue (KL): A lot of the times, hearing people tell me what I can and can’t do. And I don’t like that. I don’t like when people tell me what my limits are.
So I started Deaf Girl Evolution to teach people, to educate people and young Deaf children and kids and Hard of Hearing [kids] that hearing people do not decide what your max is, what your limit is. You respect your own limits. And you know yourself better than they do.
I go to different schools. And I educate everyone there about Deaf and Hard of Hearing students and culture. I have videos on YouTube that I put up and posted.
FBTS: What’s the difference between Deaf Girl Evolution and Deaf Dreams?
KL: Deaf Girl Evolution is more– is my persona, if you will. And Deaf Dream is more– is my nonprofit organization.
I have three missions or goals for the [Deaf Dreams] foundation. And the first one is to give free hearing aids, or FM systems if you will, for people who maybe don’t have the money.
The second aim is to raise money to help donate to people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, who maybe can’t get to that dream that they’ve been working toward, that they want. Like, if someone wants to learn guitar, I will help raise money for them so that they can get a teacher. And so they can go live their life and live their dream to play guitar.
And there are camps that are not necessarily only for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, but that are for hearing people. But it’s more to– so I want to establish a camp for Deaf children. But a lot of camps already have ones that allow Deaf kids. But I would love at the same time for their siblings who are hearing to go with them to camp. So that’s the third aim.
FBTS: What have been your proudest moments?
KL: Showing hearing people that they’re wrong and I’m right. When I was younger, I had a teacher who told me that I wouldn’t graduate high school with a reading level beyond the fifth grade. So I started reading a lot. And now I can read at what my grade level is supposed to be.
FBTS: What’s a common mistake that hearing people make about Deaf people?
KL: There are a lot of times that hearing people will meet someone who’s Deaf. And they think they need help. Or they think they have to talk louder so that they can hear them. But it’s offensive, kind of. It’s kind of like if someone who was blind, and you thought you could help them see better by coming closer to them– I mean, it doesn’t work that way.
FBTS: How would you address those misconceptions?
KL: I mean, people who are talking louder obviously think that they can help. But that is their own misconception and their own judgment…And that’s fine.
But if someone’s going to tell me that I can’t do something because I can’t hear– I can’t do it because I can’t hear whatever they’re saying– that…is going to make me really angry because I am the exact same as that person. The only difference is hearing loss. I can throw a ball. I can dance. I can run. Whatever you can do, I can do and maybe better.
In part three, Kaylee touches on how technology can help with communication but emphasizes that leaving accessibility out of the conversation is detrimental. Kaylee doesn’t want people to be afraid to talk to her. She hopes that hearing individuals take the initiative to strike up a conversation with her by learning basic American Sign Language phrases or by utilizing apps on their phones.
FBTS: How do you feel that technology either helps or hurts your communication?
KL: In terms of hearing aids, they’ve gotten progressively better over the years. And now, my hearing aid’s actually connected to my phone. So I can hear people better when they call. So I can talk to them on the phone sometimes.
There’s a different– there’s a lot of interpreters, a range of interpreters, as well. There’s captions for videos, in terms of technology. There’s a lot of different ways that have been helpful.
But it always would be amazing if ASL became one of the few main languages, like English or Spanish. It would be great if it was English, Spanish, and sign language.
I started an ASL club. But there’s no class.
FBTS: How do you feel when you come across a video that isn’t captioned?
KL: Disappointed, mad, upset, because now I can’t enjoy the video where other people can.
And it’s annoying when [the captions] are wrong. Especially because other hearing people, they’ll be watching it. If they’re watching at the same time [as me], if they see the captions are wrong, they’ll start giggling to themselves. So then I know something’s wrong.
FBTS: What message do you have for content creators?
KL: It would be amazing if the content producers could spend the time to really make correct captions. My mom uses iMovie. And she does the captions. And they’re– it as easy as that, so on iMovie. It’s not hard. It’s like other apps. They have other apps as well that can put down captions for you. There’s lots of options.
FBTS: What are some ways a hearing person could communicate with you?
KL: I prefer if that person tried an app. There is word translation to sign apps. There is different kinds of apps. There’s different apps that will teach you sign. So someone could check a word and just try and use that sign when they approach a Deaf person.
And the reason that I say that– and I don’t necessarily prefer writing and showing me a piece of paper– is that a lot of Deaf people don’t know necessarily how to read or write super well.
Plus, if that person only speaks American Sign Language, they’re not necessarily going to understand the words that are written– it’s possible– and the grammar as well. So it’s not only the words but the grammar with the written word. It’s not the same as English. ASL is not the same as English.
We always have to be the ones to try. We have to fake a smile. We have to act like we understand what you’re saying. And when we go to the movies with friends who are hearing, we’re watching the movie. And if there are no captions, we have to act like we’re enjoying it. So it would be better. It would be amazing, once, if a hearing person tried, just tried.
Faces Behind the Screen would like to thank Kaylee Lartigue for participating in our storytelling project. If you’re interested in sharing your story with us, fill out our nomination form.
Faces Behind the Screen is a storytelling project focusing on members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community.