I’m not sure when exactly Jessica Kellgren-Fozard first popped up on my Twitter newsfeed, but it’s been a real delight getting to know her online work. Jessica is a YouTube presenter, who chats mostly about disability, deafness, the LGBTQ communities and vintage fashion – amongst other things.
In her own words she is a jolly lesbian version of a vintage Hollywood sweetheart. Which is a rather fabulous description, don’t your think? 😉
She has over 300,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, with a section of videos dedicated to deafness – topics covering why she doesn’t sound deaf; why she wears hearing aids and what she can’t hear… to name a few.
So what’s her story? Jessica was diagnosed with hereditary neuropathy with liability to pressure palsies (HNPP) and she also has a mixed connective tissue disorder (MCTD), an autoimmune disease in which the body’s defence system attacks itself. She had several operations on her ears as a child which meant from the age of 5-15 she could hear relatively well. When she realised she was losing her hearing as a teenager due to nerve damage she began to use hearing aids and later taught herself to sign.
As Jessica’s disabilities are mostly invisible she has received online hate messages regarding her not being “disabled enough.” She also speaks of her struggles being deaf and explains how the fact she has clear speech means she is often assumed to be a hearing person.
Despite this she lives with a positive, can-do attitude and uses her social media platform to educate and inform – in an engaging, gorgeous and humorous way. She says her disabilities and her deafness are just part of her and her videos are a great way to break down misconceptions and change peoples assumptions about what deafness and disability mean.
Binge-watching Jessica’s YouTube videos – which are all captioned, of course – I was really intrigued to find out more. So I got in touch 😊
So, Jessica, was it always your intention to present / vlog? How did your YouTube channel come about?
I’d never felt represented in the general media so wanted to make videos about topics that were important to me but would also hopefully educate people who hadn’t thought about these issues before. Through my YouTube channel and Instagram account (including my joint account with my wife) I focus on disability and chronic illness awareness, deafness, lesbian relationships and vintage fashion and beauty.
Some of our readers may recognise you – I remember seeing you on BBC3’s Britain’s Next Top Missing Model back in 2008- What was your greatest moment on the show? What did it spur you on to do next?
I had great fun on the challenges, I really loved doing all the modelling. I also really loved the interviews, the 1 and 1 and being able to chat to camera. It probably spurred me to get help with my hearing and work even harder at my a-levels because I wanted to get a job with the BBC.
You do have an incredible fashion style, so as a hearing aid wearer how have you adapted your hearing aids (if you have?!) to suit your style?
I actually haven’t in any way adapted my hearing aids but I make sure that they are always very neutral coloured because I like to coordinate colours in my outfits and my hearing aids have to match. Currently the type that I wear are really old, when I upgrade them next I want to get gold coloured ones! Because I like all my accessories to be gold and sparkly.
Sparkly hearing aids – I love it! Talking of sparkly, Ive seen several of your BSL (Christmas) signed videos. What inspired you to do these and do you have any aspirations for further signed videos?
I think that signed songs are a really helpful easy way for people to pick up sign language vocabulary and specially fluency moving from one sign to another. I would personally love to sign a song with the YouTuber Dodie, we recently met at VidCon and she was so lovely! Plus her songs have beautiful lyrics.
I’m aware you weren’t born deaf and so came to sign language later in life; how did you find that?
I actually use SSE, as I taught myself how to sign after my school was not able to provide any classes. They were quick to provide an interpreter, but not the lessons, which was… not that helpful. With the help of a sign language interpreter I was able to understand classes at University that I just hadn’t been able to previously, which changed the way I learned at uni!
With your busy work and travel schedule what do you use or do to make things easier – communication wise?
Obviously I work with video which is a very visual medium but also uses a lot of audio, I edit my audio visually but sometimes that goes wrong. So I use the hearing people in my life as guinea pigs to test sound for me. Travelling by myself can be quite daunting especially in airpots where they announce things over the airpot tannoy. Due to my disabilities I’m largely unable to travel without assistance however and my hearing wife is great at keeping me informed. I use a sign language interpreter for all big events, interviews, business meetings etc.
What is the biggest barrier (in your view) for deaf people in general?
Hearing people who don’t make the effort to aid communication. Like eating while I’m trying to lip-read, always gross.
Agreed! Who are your inspirations or role models and why?
My grandmother has always been the biggest inspiration in my life, even tho she is no longer with us I always admire her efforts to understand and help everyone around her.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to be a featured creator in Summer in the City next August in London, the UK’s largest YouTube and online video festival. I’m also working with BBC Radio 1 on a documentary about Deaf Youtubers together with Jazzy and Benny Ngo. This one doesn’t have a date as it’s in pre-production, but I’m very excited about it.
It sounds exciting! We will keep our eyes peeled. Thanks for chatting, Jessica.
To follow Jessica make sure you subscribe to her YouTube channel https://m.youtube.com/c/JessicaKellgrenFozard
Check out her Instagram account too! https://www.instagram.com/jessicaoutofthecloset/