Faces Behind the Screen: Rikki Poynter

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Rikki Poynter
Photo: Robert Sullivan at sullyzenphoto.com.

Each YouTube star is, of course, unique but some will often overlap with each other. If you want comedy, advice, perspective, or cooking tips, for example, there is a giant list of channels to explore in each category.

But when it comes to fighting for video accessibility and deaf awareness, there is really only one name you need to know: Rikki Poynter.

If you haven’t seen her YouTube channel yet (or heard about her interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook for Global Accessibility Awareness Day), Rikki is a 25 year-old deaf beauty-vlogger-turned-activist. A great deal of her videos deal with defeating any remainder of stigma and stereotypes surrounding the deaf community usually with a good deal of humor.

Rikki is also a huge advocate of video captioning. She has spent the past few years addressing the topic in her videos while receiving a great deal of press for it. Last year, she launched a social media campaign titled #NoMoreCraptions to draw attention to the extreme inaccuracies often found in YouTube’s speech-recognition-generated closed captions, or autocaptions.

We recently had the pleasure of asking Rikki some questions about her experiences as a YouTuber and advocate. We learned a lot about her transition to deaf advocacy, what it was like to meet Tim Cook, and some other essential minutiae like her thoughts on the sounds babies make when they cry.

What has your experience been like working as a deaf YouTuber and blogger?

Mostly good, very much challenging. Accessibility, deaf and disability rights, etc. isn’t YouTube’s most popular topic unlike challenge videos and the like. Trying to make YouTube a career, or trying to use YouTube to branch out and also make a career out of other things can be difficult because I don’t do popular topics.

What was your first memory of struggling to communicate?

Uhmm, probably 6th grade since that’s when I was diagnosed with hearing loss. I don’t have anything specific as far as the where it took place and what happened, but definitely the earliest I remember has to be 6th grade.

“I love helping and being a part of change.”

How do you feel technology helps or hurts your ability to communicate?

It helps way more than it hurts. I don’t recall technology ever hurting communication unless it’s my iPhone dying. Speech-to-text apps, writing apps are great. They’re something I use all the time and they’re way faster than pen and paper.

How have you felt included or excluded as a deaf person by the active online community in general?

I’ve made a lot of great friends, deaf and otherwise, that have really improved my life. Unfortunately, most of these friends live way too far away from me, so it’s difficult to see them and even work with them as often as I would like. I love helping and being a part of change. Being excluded usually comes with going to conventions as a guest, in a way. When you’re the only deaf person in a convention with 99.9% hearing creators, you’re more likely to feel a little left out because of communication barriers and it can suck.

Can you talk to us about how you’ve become an advocate using YouTube as a platform?

I just started making videos about deaf stuff and it went on from there, really. I started talking about captioning and the lack of it and I didn’t want to shut up about it.

What’s a common mistake hearing people make when interacting with deaf people that you wish to address right now?

Hearing folks have a tendency to continue talking with their mouths after we tell them we’re deaf/HOH and to write. That’s the biggest one. This happens a lot when I’m crossing the border to and from the U.S. and Canada and other situations and it’s quite frustrating.

“Sorry, babies. I understand why you cry, but it hurts.”

What is your proudest moment?

Being able to work at an Apple event, VidCon, and other conventions. Being able to give talks at schools. Public speaking was always scary for me when I was in school.

What is the best thing about being deaf?

I hear screaming/crying babies less. Unfortunately, sometimes, I can still hear them depending on how close they are, but for the most part, the sound is less for me than it would be a hearing person. Sorry, babies. I understand why you cry, but it hurts.

What was it like meeting Tim Cook? Does his interest in web accessibility give you hope for the future?

Very surreal. Honestly, Apple has been very accessible (not 100% perfectly, I don’t think, but very, I would say) for a long time so I had high hopes both before and after I talked to Tim.

Anything else you would like to add?

I think that’s it! Besides a message to online creators to please caption your content.

Thanks so much to Rikki for taking our questions. To learn more about Rikki, visit her YouTube channel and her blog.

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Pictures of four people who were interviewed for the Faces Behind the Screen project

Faces Behind the Screen is a storytelling project focusing on members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

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