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How to Say Different Sexualities in British Sign Language

A TV presenter and YouTuber is getting all the social media love after she released a video showing people how to say different sexualities in sign language. 

Jessica Kellgren-Fozard has previously spoken out about the taboos people with disabilities face when it comes to sex, dating, relationships, “and life in general.”

And now she’s sparking a conversation about the stigma that people living with disabilities face, particularly when it comes to the myth that they're, what Kellgren-Fozard describes as, “non-sexual objects." 

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In celebration of Pride Month, Kellgren-Fozard demonstrated the signs for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, asexual, pansexual, and gender non-binary. 

In previous interviews, she’s talked about what it's like to tell people she's gay and living with disabilities. 

“Telling someone I am gay is instantly accepted, no questions asked, generally with a smile,” she told the Guardian. “Telling someone I am disabled comes with, ‘No, really? You don’t look it,’ and a scrutinising look.”

She’s said that her experience of realising she was gay was gradual, and “probably the least interesting part of my teenage years.” 

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“Being aware of my disabilities was also gradual,” she continued. “I had a lot of problems with my hearing as a baby, including my eardrums bursting on a number of occasions … Adults often complained that I was ‘dreamy’ and ‘not listening’ when I realise now I just couldn’t hear them.” 

At 17, Kellgren-Fozard was diagnosed with hereditary neuropathy with liability to pressure palsies (HNPP). She also has mixed connective tissue disorder (MCTD), an autoimmune disease in which the body’s defence system attacks itself, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). 

Combined, these affect her nerves, muscles, organs, hearing, sight, digestion, immune system, and blood pressure.

“I understand that I look fine, but when most of the difficulties in my life come from the very fact that I look fine while actually needing help, that is not really a bonus,” she said. 

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“I think disabled people are not just taboo when it comes to sex, but also dating, relationships, and life in general,” she continued. “My wife is often told that she is a saint for marrying me, or that she must be such a good person — as if I am a terrible burden and not the woman she loves.” 

“We’re just two people with our own way of communicating… and sometimes one of us needs to be carried upstairs,” Kellgren-Fozard told Cosmopolitan magazine. “My disabilities aren’t negatives or flaws, they’re just part of our life. It’s about what I give and have, not what I lack.” 

Starting a conversation about living with disabilities is a vital step in combatting the social stigma that still exists, both in Britain and around the world. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are an estimated 278 million people around the world living with a hearing disability — and around 70% of these are living in low-income countries. 

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Compared to infants born in resource-rich countries, infants born in resource-poor countries are nearly twice as likely to have hearing loss, according to a report published last year by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

And hearing loss is a major barrier to education and employment, particularly in developing countries. Children living with hearing loss have, in general, poorer academic achievement, are less likely to finish secondary school, and are more likely to be unemployed as adults, according to the NCBI report

In fact, the WHO ranks hearing impairment as being the 12th most common contributor to disease burden.

For Kellgren-Fozard, tackling the issue is about “soft activism rather than shoving a message in people’s faces and telling them they should change their opinion.” 

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“I think it is better to subtly insert small changes into our everyday lives, such as having more disabled characters featured in the media — and in instances where being disabled is not the main story,” she told the Guardian

“Businesses, the media, and politicians need to start seeing disabled people for what we are,” she added. “Useful members of society who have something to bring to others.” 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty. These goals include action on reducing inequalities, and ensuring everyone has access to health care and education. You can join us by taking action on these issues here