INTERVIEW: The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Stream Team with Christina Haslage

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Christina Haslage

Over the past two years, Christina Haslage and her charity 1UpOnCancer have been amazing to meet at conventions. This year, I learned that Haslage is not only the CEO of 1UpOnCancer, but also a staff member of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers stream team. A streamer and gamer herself, known as Sasiah online, I got the chance to talk with her about Deaf accessibility as it pertains to streaming. We also spoke about her expertise in the space as a charity owner and streamer and how she helps others get information on charity streaming as well as beginning streaming in general.

Streaming has been in the spotlight lately for some of its negative qualities, but that being said, streaming as a creative outlet offers up a powerful way of connecting communities. With streaming on platforms like Twitch increasing in popularity, content creation has become more than just generating revenue and instead has become a way for gamers from traditionally marginalized communities to connect and build a space for themselves in the industry.

One of these communities is the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers (DHHG), a Twitch community for everyone with hearing loss who stream and play a variety of video games as well as streamers who focus on other creative streams on a regular basis. Their goal as a community is to bring Deaf & Hard of Hearing streamers together and build a community on Twitch of Deaf culture, language, and entertainment.


But Why Tho:  How long have you been streaming? And why did you start?

Christina Haslage: I started streaming in mid-2014. I started because I wanted to reconnect with my twin sister who started streaming a year prior or so. I had an account on Justin.TV to watch people and was curious on what the platform was all about. I wasn’t planning on streaming because at that point, I was focused on trying to get into a Masters program while teaching at a university. My husband had his own account. He really enjoyed watching but I didn’t since back then, there was no captioning or anything even remotely close to WebCaptioner so I could follow along. YouTube at that time had really bad auto-captions so I didn’t watch any live streaming platforms except for Facebook if I had an ASL signer livestream.

When my twin started streaming, I would watch her and I would moderate her chat. She started with Minecraft and one weekend, my husband and I had visited her and her family in June 2014 or so. She was streaming that evening and she was talking about Twitch and I was intrigued. So I decided to try it out and the rest is history. I’ve been streaming for about five years now as a very part-time streamer due to my work life.

But Why Tho: What has been one of your favorite moments while streaming?

Christina Haslage:  My first favorite moment of streaming happened in the fall of 2014. I was playing Among the Sleep and the viewers began to help me with audible hints and clues because it was audio-only. I didn’t ask – it just happened! I have never forgotten that moment.

But Why Tho: What are some tips you have for streamers looking to get involved with charity streaming?

Christina Haslage:  I do have several tips for streamers who are looking to get involved with charity streaming:

Always do your homework. Go to the charity that you’re curious about and look over their website, their social media, and their information from Guidestar (now Candid) or Charity Navigator. Go to the IRS website to look up their 990s. Look at the people running the organization. Are they trustworthy? Do they follow up with what they said they would according to the mission statement? Do they match with your philosophy and outlook? Do you see yourself still working with them five years from now?

If the answer to all those questions are a yes, you can contact them to see how you can best help them. Keep in mind there are so many genuine charities out there that aren’t as big as St. Jude’s or Extra Life. They often are willing to work with you one-on-one to make sure that you are successful and it also can be very fulfilling. The best part is that you can include your experiences under volunteering on your vita or portfolio.

But Why Tho: Can you tell us a little about the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Stream Team (DHHG)?

Christina Haslage: All I can say is that the team is a really great one to be hanging out with because our members are so varied. The team was founded by [Christian Londono] who is no longer active with the team. Chris Robinson aka DeafGamersTV took over and one of his goals was to make this an active team which was accomplished within a short time. Now we have four staff and 13 members. I joined DHHG about three years ago and recently became a staff.

The team wants to create a safe space for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing streamers. We take the idea of safe space seriously and have no tolerance for toxicity since we already have plenty of that in the mainstream world. Our community is diverse with streamers with varying levels of hearing loss, as well as different languages and communication methods since there are several members in different countries such as Australia and UK and several DHHG members who know very little of sign language since they grew up only speaking. We also all want to share our cultural values, language (ASL, BSL, Auslan, etc.), and be able to entertain our viewers as well as enriching them with new experiences.

But Why Tho:  What are some issues that you’ve run into with the technology that you have at your streams, whether game or streaming related that may affect accessibility?

Christina Haslage:  When I started streaming, I encountered games that didn’t have audio descriptions like [ball bouncing in the distance] or [sounds of faint footsteps behind you] since I loved playing old games. I had to depend on my available skills to recognize the events as it happened. One major disappointing game that I couldn’t play at all was The 7th Guest. So I had to become more aware of which games I could actually play vs 100% unable to do so. Alien Isolation is one game I got but very unsure whether I should stream my gameplay since one major feature was the sounds of the alien as it approaches or leaves when I was hiding in a locker or under a desk.

One other major accessibility issue I encountered as a streamer was being able to have equal access to the viewers. I experimented with voice interpreters a few times until I discovered one who had left their WebCaptioner running after the test stream had ended and their significant other was asking if they were getting paid. The ASL interpreter was just volunteering their time and had let their significant other know. Their significant other was not happy at all and thought they should have been paid.

As a result, I didn’t feel comfortable after that due to having flashbacks of all the microaggressions and push backs that I encountered growing up and entering the workforce just because of my hearing loss and the lack of easy language access. It also made my job harder than it really needed to be due to the trust being incredibly tenuous and I wasn’t even getting tips or a consistent subscription base so I couldn’t even promise them a specific amount per hour.

Now I need to regain the feeling of being comfortable having ASL interpreters volunteer their time. At this moment of time, I do not feel comfortable having voice interpreters and being questioned. One workaround is that I have had to type in chat after signing so I could repeat what I had signed into text. It’s literally extra work that I’ve had to do to make my viewers more comfortable.

I thought about experimenting with text to voice but then again, it’s extra work that I have to do unless I devote my time to just text to voice instead of signing in ASL on a visual platform. I find that incredibly demeaning to the beautiful language of American Sign Language and I refuse to do that based on others who are living in a mainstream world that fits them and not me. I realize this is incredibly blunt and I have no idea how to restate this in a polite way: This is a VISUAL platform.

I find it very marginalizing when “streaming coaches” or streamers with large following claim that the audio set up is a major key to a streaming success. They don’t know what they are missing out on! I have also found out being authentic to my native language is much better because it puts less stress on myself to perform. I want to be authentic both for my viewers and for myself. I also want to be able to connect with the viewers and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing streaming community that I’m part of.

Twitch

Twitch is the world’s leading video platform and community for gamers.

But Why Tho:  What does your stream set-up look like? And are there any accessibility features you wish were available?

Christina Haslage:  My streaming set-up is of an L-shaped desk and a chair that I can sit cross-legged on while streaming. I have a green screen behind me and two monitors. My monitors are both on a rise. The left monitor has the streamed game maximized and my webcam is set on top of that monitor and my right monitor has the Streamlabs OBS showing my chat. I have a wireless keyboard and mouse. The set-up is far from professional or fancy because it is slowly getting together since I am so busy during the week, (40+ hours total from both of my jobs) plus streaming and I can only work on one component at one time until completed.

I don’t have any fancy transitions so when I start my stream, I usually try to wait 15-20 seconds before starting in case of ads since Twitch has changed how I start my streams. I used to start right away but now with the starting ads, I am forced to wait up to 30 seconds since I don’t want my viewers to miss the start. I don’t do the 10 minutes long intro because that to me is too long and usually those have music and I don’t have music. I don’t have any sound alerts other than the default ones that the Streamlabs OBS have included because I simply do not consider those as an important part of me. Sounds have never been a priority to me at the end.

One accessibility feature I wish was available is the visual recognition of ASL so the software could translate ASL into spoken/written English. Unfortunately, at this point, it is not possible. So far people have created clumsy prototypes like the very common “Glove” that translates simply signs that only benefits the hearing world.

We need more access to us instead of us giving more to them which contribute to the consistently high percentage of inequality of giving from an already marginalized group to a superior group vs the small percentage of giving from the superior group to a marginalized group. I would love more extensions available that provide more cues. I’m still trying to gather more resources for Deaf and Hard of Hearing streamers as well as other staff of DHHG so we can help others succeed.

But Why Tho:  As a viewer, what are some ways that hearing streamers can make their streams more accessible?

Christina Haslage: They can go to the captioning review that DeafGamersTV and ChrisKewlTV co-created with me and choose which extension or set-up that is best for them and their streaming set-up. The best captioning service out there is WebCaptioner because it allows streamers to share their captions or include the captions on their streams. The Deaf viewers can simply go to the streamer’s VODs and watch. Currently, Twitch’s captioning extensions do not save or play with VODs unless it’s live. One good guide on how to format the captions can be found at Snugibun’s Caption Glossary.

But Why Tho: What is some advice you can give to any Deaf/Hard of hearing gamer looking to get into streaming but unsure of how to?

Christina Haslage:  Stay authentic. Don’t try to match to your viewers because that is taking away from who you are. Start with a basic set-up. You can just play a game – no need to set up a webcam or have a fancy set-up! Tags are very important and have a consistent platform for getting the word out about your stream such as Twitter, Instagram, etc. Connect with your viewers and have several rules up that you can be consistent with.

But Why Tho: What is your favorite thing about streaming?

Christina Haslage:  My favorite thing about streaming is to get to chat with people that stop by. I’ve always loved the idea of interaction online because, in the real world, it can get lonely with my severe to profound hearing loss. My first language is American Sign Language and not everyone signs it so I’m often left out without an interpreter.

Online, the communication barrier is removed and I am free to learn or to meet people. With WebCaptioner and discovering how I can use the service by Curt Grimes to meet my needs has been world-changing for me. I can run captions on my side and watch any streamers I want to watch. It’s so easy to set up and takes less than 15 minutes to do so, either for your streams or for the Deaf viewers who want to run captioning on their side for any voice service (Discord, Ventrilo, etc.).

But Why Tho: Where can people find you, your stream, and your organization?

Christina Haslage:  People can find me at @sasiahhochle and my stream is at twitch.tv/sasiah. The organization I’m part of is 1UpOnCancer at www.1uponcancer.org. I also wanted to say that for people who still need help paying their medical bills related to their diagnosis of cancer can apply on that website under Help. The application period began on July 1st and will continue to July 31.