From BSL to #DeafTok, how TikToker Louise May is normalising being a child of deaf adults

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Dec 20, 2022 at 12:24 PM

Reading time: 6 minutes

Which side of TikTok are you on? Personally, after making my way through messy sleuthing videos and sexy chef thirst traps, I finally found myself settling within a wholesome community of daily TikTokers who post short clips about their favourite lip balms and which tube line is giving Aries energy—spoiler alert, it’s the Northern line. In reality, I was on a quest to find the closest thing to the magic and mystique of 2013 YouTuber vlogs. I’m thinking particularly of the Zoella, Marcus Butler, and Tanya Burr era—aka, the Brit crew.

Now we’ve reached 2022, I’ve established a new circle of online favourites, and one of those happens to be Louise May Mosley, a 20-something gen Zer living in Bath who emulates the quintessential relatable messy British woman. Glamour even recently deemed her a modern day Bridget Jones—I don’t think anyone could receive a higher honour. Mosley has a hankering for acting, singing, Taylor Swift, and skincare. And she also happens to be a child of deaf adults (CODA).

Normalising having deaf parents

SCREENSHOT had the opportunity to chat with Mosley about navigating TikTok, the current lack of accessibility to British Sign Language (BSL) and, most significantly, how the notion of filming alongside a deaf parent online should not automatically be considered a form of radical political activism, it should simply be received as an everyday normality.

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A post shared by Lou (@louisemaymosley)

For those of you who are part of the creator’s 1 million followers on TikTok or have come across any of her content on your FYP, you’ll be aware of the very sweet and genuine relationship Mosley has with her mum. One of the first things we discussed during our chat was how she got started on the video-sharing app, and how her mum felt about the subsequent success she garnered online.

@loumayyy

The moment we’ve all been waiting for @starbucks 🌲❣️ AD #JoyInEverySip #BSL #StarbucksRedCup

♬ original sound - louise may

Mosley explained: “It first started with me posting random videos of me, singing videos, acting videos, and people soon clocked that my mum wasn’t listening to me or paying attention. That’s when the views started to come in more rapidly.”

After seeing the many questions about her mother left in her video’s comments section, Mosley realised that, “there was an obvious need and want to learn more. As time went on, people just became more and more interested. People would write ‘How can she talk?’, ‘How did she learn to drive?’, and, of course, these things are so obvious to me but they are not obvious to everyone else.”

It’s blatant to see how there’s very little deaf awareness both on social media and within mainstream society. This is an unsettling reality when you consider the fact that there are approximately 12 million adults in the UK who’re hard of hearing.

Putting emphasis on how, despite the vast amount of deaf people both in the country and around the world, hearing loss is still perceived through such a narrow lens and can sometimes feel almost as if it’s a “taboo.” Mosley stated that “there’s a quarter of a million people that use BSL in the UK and so many people watch it as if they’ve never seen it before. I get stared at in the street when I’m signing with mum.”

@loumayyy

the way my mum thinks i’m famous breaks me #deafmumcheck #bsl #deafmumhearingdaughter #signlanguage #cochlearimplant #bath #mumchats

♬ original sound - louise may

Some netizens have gone as far as to accuse the TikToker of using her mum “for views” and insinuate that she’s the only reason Mosley has managed to build such a fast-growing audience. To this, the gen Zer answered: “I know in my heart of hearts that I didn’t start posting on the app to get this supposed claim to fame by having a deaf mum. That was never the case and I think when people are commenting ‘She’s only getting views because her parents are deaf’, I think ‘How cool is it that I get to have deaf parents and experience sign language’.”

Of course, with any kind of criticism or hate, there’s an uncertainty that follows, and Mosley is no exception to this rule. “There are some days where I don’t want them to think that mum’s this performing monkey and I’m solely showcasing her in my videos to get me views,” she shared. This is another reason as to why the content creator is so keen on normalising having a deaf parent.

“I don’t want to come across as a ‘hearing saviour’, I’m just filming a TikTok with my mum”

One of the most impactful conversations we had was addressing the continued massive generalisation about the deaf community and how—while considering herself a proponent of the cause—Mosley isn’t showcasing her mum online in an attempt to be hailed a ‘hearing saviour’. Instead, she’s filming with her mum because she’s her mum.

On these terms, Mosley explained: “I’m not trying to come across as this person who’s out to cure deafness. However, by simply filming a TikTok with my mum, it now makes me an advocate for deaf awareness.” Rather than being perceived as an activist, the creator simply wants to normalise her lived reality, and in turn potentially encourage other CODAs to speak about their experiences online.

@loumayyy

In Elsie’s words “I love playing tiktok” 🥹 I can’t #deafparentscheck #coda #signlanguage #bsl

♬ love nwantinti (ah ah ah) - CKay

Continuing with our conversation about the generalisation of the deaf community, Mosley reiterated a number of ways in which her mum only represents herself. The deaf community is essentially a varied spectrum, so while the creator’s mum may be of the opinion that she’s not disabled, other deaf individuals may feel differently.

Mosley also recognised that some deaf people are incredibly proud of their condition. But although her mum may accept that she’s deaf, she has always wanted to be hearing. The creator added: “All of her family are hearing and she understands that currently, it is superior to be hearing in this world.”

@loumayyy

mum will always try my iced coffee even though she hates it. Hi @pandorame we love you🤟🏼 <3

♬ original sound - louise may

Ableism is a topic that is gaining traction on a variety of social media platforms. Defined as “the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior,” this term can often lose its meaning amid tumultuous discourse online. However, as noted by Forbes, conversations surrounding this societal issue is a crucial way in which disabled individuals can express themselves and fight against both personal and systemic ableism.

Lack of language accessibility

Mosley also went on to recall her journey learning BSL and the difficulties she’s faced along the way—particularly from a financial standpoint. “I really wanted to complete Level One during my GCSEs but they cost money and my school said no—bearing in mind four of my siblings had gone through my school before we even broached the conversation of maybe we should get our qualifications in sign language,” the creator recalled. 

Mosley then started taking Level One during her A levels as an evening class that she paid for. Later on at university, she self-funded her Level Two and has now paid for her Level Three by raising the money through TikTok.

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Now, it’s no understatement when I say that the financial backing needed to gain even a basic understanding of BSL is outrageously high. In order to obtain access to the six levels of necessary courses, training, and assessments, students are expected to shell out approximately £6,000 ($7,300).

While BSL has been recognised as an official language by the UK government since 2003, there has been no serious move to introduce the same into the national curriculum. After a recent petition garnered over 35,000 signatures in support, the government responded with a predictably useless statement: “There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term, and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications.” I mean, did we expect anything less?

There have been some strides within the creative industries to try and introduce greater accessibility for deaf individuals, such as captions and interpreters. But, at its core, Mosley feels as though there won’t be true inclusivity until BSL is given greater priority. Ultimately, the language remains inaccessible even today.

@loumayyy

This was so hard to translate into captions lol #deafawareness #deaffamilyhumor #deaffriends

♬ love nwantinti (ah ah ah) - CKay

Being a creator on TikTok can be overwhelming for anyone, particularly when you feel as though it’s your responsibility to disseminate so much information about an important topic. Speaking on this, Mosley confessed, “Sometimes, I can feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, as though I’m trying to fix the world.”

However, Mosley’s online presence and the growth of her audience has also come with a number of positive outcomes. More specifically, in terms of her relationship with her mum. The TikTok stated: “It has made mum and I’s relationship so much better now because I’m not hiding her. I think I spent my whole life—or she, perhaps felt this way—hiding her, she never came to parents’ evenings and now, it’s brought us so much closer.”

Meeting viewers in public

Ah, the dreaded public sighting. We’re currently living in a time where online creators have become so entrenched in our lives that seeing them buying toilet rolls in Sainsbury’s is both a thrilling and magical experience—for us, of course, not for them. This false reality, however, often means that some individuals feel entitled to approach these creators and their family members in an invasive way.

Mosley’s priority lies in monitoring the way in which viewers might approach her mum in public. And, according to the creator, these interactions don’t always go smoothly, “They’re adamant that they know sign language and they’re signing the most randomest things, or people will come up and say ‘I love you’ and then just start signing the alphabet while my mum is just trying to do the food shop.”

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Continuing to recall these often uncomfortable impromptu meet and greets, the gen Zer added, “I did have to make a TikTok about a year ago saying ‘If I’m not with her, please don’t approach her’. It’s not fair on her, there is a communication barrier.”

Moving forward

One of the most valuable things Mosley has gained from the platform is watching other CODAs who’d previously followed her begin to post with their own parents. There are now entire FYPs filled with #DeafTok and #CODATok—an important development the creator has massively contributed to.

Often, TikTokers get a bad rap for the kinds of content they peddle online, and it’s important to note that while there are some obvious exceptions, formulating and enforcing a content hierarchy is only going to limit creative expression.

The creator has also faced a certain level of disdain when it comes to describing her full-time job—it comes with the territory. Concluding our conversation, Mosley stated: “I think when you tell people you’re a TikToker, you feel this instant drop in respect. In reality, if everyone could do it, they would. There’s this phrase ‘Anyone could be a TikToker nowadays’, and I always think ‘Please do!’”

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