To honor the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), In The Know is asking young people with disabilities about growing up with the law, and how it’s impacted their lives.
One of Chrissy Marshall’s most popular videos starts with a seemingly simple question.
“How do you make TikToks if you can’t hear the music?”
Marshall, who was born hard of hearing and is now profoundly deaf, gets questions like that all the time. The 20-year-old is a filmmaker, a YouTuber and, by all definitions of the word, a TikTok star.
Her page, ChrissyCantHearYou, has more than 860,000 followers. The videos there are personal, deeply creative and rarely similar. In some, she signs the lyrics to popular TikTok songs. In others, she teaches her followers about the tools she uses to feel safe in public.
The one thing that’s always constant, though, is her motivation.
“I use social media to reach millions of people and educate them about the deaf community, access, ASL, as well as provide them with resources and a place accommodating to learn and grow with each other,” Marshall told In The Know.
Accessibility is at the center of everything Marshall does, and so is visual storytelling. It’s a medium she’s been passionate about for as long as she can remember. Growing up, she was obsessed with computers and technology, especially the fact that they let her create her own films and recordings.
“I’ve always been a very visual and observant person, and I love breaking down situations and creating and be artistic,” she said.
Marshall currently studies film production at the University of Southern California, and in her free time, she uses the medium to explore her experience as a deaf woman.
One of her first mega-viral videos, which she posted last summer, is a prime example. In the clip, Marshall emotionally details a “crazy” day where she encountered three service workers — a bank teller, a Starbucks barista and a restaurant server — who all knew ASL.
“Today I went to three places … Everyone signed,” she says in the video. “It was like a perfect world — like a utopia.”
The clip racked up more than 1 million views. On one level, it was just a story about Marshall having a good day — but on another, it was a powerful message about access and representation.
“I started realizing I can use [TikTok] to educate and inform,” she told In The Know. “And I was really happy to have, like, a space where I could actually reach people who are not in my community to just look on in.”
These days, Marshall posts on TikTok almost every day. She hopes that sharing her own life will help others see the challenges people with disabilities face each day.
“Providing access is something so basic but so strong, and important, and valued by the deaf and hard of hearing people as well as many people with disabilities who require captioning and accommodations to be able to experience things just the same as you,” she told in The Know.
Marshal sees discrimination around her every day — at her school, in the workforce and even on TV.
“A lot of people think [discrimination has] gone away,” she told In The Know. “It hasn’t. I’m still fighting for captions in college, and I always will be.”
Education is one of the things Marshal thinks about most often. It’s also one of the areas where she thinks the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) can be improved. She says that the law, which prohibits disability-based discrimination in the U.S, isn’t always enforced the way it should be.
“My hope for the future of the ADA and disability laws in general is just that they’re taken more strictly and seriously by businesses and schools, specifically education,” she told In The Know.
On an individual level, Marshall encourages her followers to be better allies. She uses words like “patience” to describe how people can better understand and help their friends with disabilities.
“The best thing is just always asking disabled people what their preference is for access and just be open to having that at the start of conversations,” she told In The Know. “What’s the best way I can provide access? Because access is what makes the world achievable for us.”
If you liked this story, check out In The Know’s profile on Drew Dees, the student journalist using his platform to advocate for people with disabilities.
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