A sign of the times: Kim’s story

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During the recent pandemic, the importance of the human connection to the world became even clearer and was the catalyst in Kim’s quest to support the deaf community

Over the years I’ve had many ups and downs and mental health issues – depression, anxiety, and most recently post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But through all of that, learning a new skill and using that skill to help others has given me purpose and helped me get my way.

At the end of 2016, I started studying psychology at the Royal Holloway University of London. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and how the brain works – but my other passion is British Sign Language (BSL). I started learning BSL nine years ago by watching YouTube videos and teaching myself in my spare time. Once I got used to signing the alphabet, I realized how much I was enjoying it, and I really wanted to do more. An online search helped me find British-Sign.co.uk which had a flexible Level 1 course that was ideal for me. I loved learning new characters and expanding my BSL vocabulary – even though the online course wasn’t perfect – and after a couple of months I got my level 1 BSL certificate! It was amazing and I was so proud that I knew the basics of BSL and could even communicate a little with the deaf community.

What I have learned over the years is that this language also helps so many other groups of people, as well as those who are deaf – including people who are on the autism spectrum, have Downs syndrome, or have painful chronic diseases – because signs language enables them to communicate without the effort of using their voice. And I personally found it useful too.

In 2010 I was diagnosed with bronchiectasis. Since then I have been hospitalized several times with other respiratory infections.

Kim and her father both smile

Kim with her father

When my chest is bad, I feel weak and in great pain. Therefore, I keep communication to a minimum as I get breathless and cannot speak due to the pain. However, using sign language has helped me tremendously in communicating with serious illnesses.

In 2017 I was approached to teach Level 1 BSL at Royal Holloway. It was a scary concept teaching 25 students and I thought I couldn’t do it. But after finishing my first lesson, I fell in love with teaching sign language.

But in December 2018 my father suddenly died. I stopped learning BSL and got very aloof. I was in my third year of college that I was struggling with.

My dissertation, which my father helped me with, was research that looked at the mental health of the deaf compared to those with hearing. I opened my eyes to the adversity deaf people face every day and the effects it has on their mental health. It triggered something in me; I wanted to do more and raise awareness of the deaf community. Although my father couldn’t read my dissertation or see my degree, he knew that I would always do everything I can to achieve what I set out to do.

The ability to use sign language has helped me tremendously when communicating with serious illnesses

After graduating in 2019, just like any graduate, I was scared and worried about what to do next. I studied health psychology at the University of Surrey as I always wanted to get a Masters. However, by the middle of the course, my PTSD and mental health suffered a lot and in January 2020 I made the decision to quit and resume part-time work.

Then one Sunday I was with my mom when I mentioned the idea of ​​becoming a level 1 BSL teacher and helping people learn the basics of BSL – but mostly I wanted to help companies deal with deaf customers communicate. My mother mentioned the Prince’s Trust and that day I signed up for the Enterprise course.

I loved the course and met some of the most wonderful people including my mentor Richard. He believed in my idea and helped me turn it into a business.

But shortly after I started putting my plans together in March 2020, I was worried by coronavirus in the UK. Because of my breast condition, I received an NHS letter that classified me as vulnerable and had to shield myself for more than three months. This had a huge impact on the start of my Help2Sign business and worried me about what the future would be – especially since vacation added to my anxiety and mental health.

Kim smiled

I uploaded my first video on March 26th, 2020 – which was nerve wracking, but I loved it so much. I couldn’t believe the positive feedback I was getting. Every day I get nice messages from many hearing people who are learning BSL, which makes me so happy that people are actively learning such a beautiful language.

After just four months, I went from 10 to 6,200 followers, starred in Stacey Dooley’s documentary Locked down Heroes, and was nominated for a Diversity Award in the Excellence Entrepreneur category, which was an incredible and beautiful surprise. Recently I was asked to work with Tea Please UK to combine my love of art with BSL and have now received a range of mugs and t-shirts featuring my illustrations. The proceeds go to SignHealth. This is a charity that I have supported for many years and that has gone a long way in helping Deaf people with their wellbeing and mental health issues. It is particularly close to my heart because I also have psychological problems.

In a world so focused on promoting diversity and awareness, there is still much work to be done in terms of accessibility for the deaf – for example, interpreters. I hope I can have even a little bit of a positive impact on the Deaf community.

Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr, says:

We have all seen the world differently in the past few months. We realized the importance of being in touch with loved ones, but also of being able to communicate our needs to others – and to be “heard”.

It’s really great that at a time when many were withdrawing from society, Kim found out she could get involved and get involved. It reminds us that there are so many different ways to experience the world, and opening our eyes to how others see it can broaden our own horizons and allow us to feel part of something bigger.

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