YouTuber Molly Burke on How Tech is Re-defining Accessibility

At 25 years of age, Oakville-born YouTuber, Molly Burke, has already lived a momentous life.

When Molly was four, she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare retinal disease causing loss of vision. Although her vision began to deteriorate, Molly faced her challenges head-on; overcoming bullying, anxiety, depression, and persisting through accessibility challenges.

Now living in Los Angeles, Molly has accrued a worldwide YouTube audience of over 1.8 million subscribers. We had the opportunity to chat with her about how she uses her platform for good, and how to handle life’s challenges with grace.  

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My audiobook, It’s Not What It Looks Like, has only been out for a week now and it already #1 on @audible and made the New York Times list for best audiobooks! WOW! I can’t believe it… I’m so overwhelmed and filled with emotion thinking about all the positive feedback. I’m so glad you’ve been listening to it, learning from it, and loving it! If you haven’t downloaded it and started to listen yet, you can do so by heading to the link in my bio! ENJOY! ??? . . . #accessibility [Photo Description: Molly is looking directly at her followers. She loves the description of this photograph which is a close up of her face as she leans on the palm’s of her hands. Her expression is one of sincerity and serenity. The photograph has a glow of mainly purple and blue lighting, with purple being her last favorite color when she could still see it] #newbook #audiobook #audible #itsnotwhatitlookslike #mybook

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You’ve found immense success through social media. Do you still face challenges overcoming adversity today?Every single day I get discriminated against in some way. People always say, “Oh, you’re living in LA working in the entertainment industry, don’t get too cocky.” It is so hard to get cocky when I go home from a red carpet event and get denied access to an Uber. It’s very grounding and humbling when everyday society expects less of you, thinks less of you and treats you as less than. Or when I go to order a coffee and the Barista spends the entire time talking to my mom about me instead of talking to me. Honestly, every day I’m overcoming something. It’s a constant challenge and it’s what constantly fuels me to want to talk about this and want to create change; so that girls and boys of the future boys don’t have to go through these things in the same way.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs experiencing adversity right now?
Find a community. Being an entrepreneur and starting a business can be really isolating. So whether you find that community online or actually physically in your environment, just find a community of like-minded young people who are also trying to make it happen for themselves, because there’s not a lot of people who don’t follow a traditional path. Finding a community to support you is really important.

Would you cite Youtube as your community?
When I started my YouTube channel, I went to the YouTube space in Toronto. That became my community because it can feel so weird when the only thing is this online thing and there’s nothing physical. So getting to go to the YouTube space, meeting up with other creators, going to their events and talks, meeting with people who worked at YouTube, that was really helpful.

In general, I’m a big fan of finding your community. Growing up it was the disability community – finding other blind people. Then it became finding other guide dog users, so I found a group on Facebook. I just think you need to immerse yourself with like-minded people who understand you, even if you don’t get to be with around them every day. It’s really great to have a diverse group of friends and family in your life and to have a space that you can go and talk in.

What might surprise people about how technology influences your life?
People are still surprised by the fact that I can even use a touch screen phone. All the time on Instagram we’ll see people commenting like, wait, how did she post this? I don’t understand how she’s replying to my comment! But of course, we have so much technology now. Technology is immersed in everything we do. We even have a fridge that is smart! Technology is everywhere now. It is everything we do. We can talk to a speaker that tells us the weather. It’s really crazy. So, of course, technology companies have thought about that for blind people as well. I use a voice assistant program which allows me to pretty much do anything that anybody else would do on their phone. I can just hold my finger over, scroll across the screen and it reads what’s underneath my finger. I double-tap, I open, I do anything anybody else can do.

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When people try to tell me I can’t do something I don’t let it get me down. Instead, I use it as fuel to push myself forward, try new things, and achieve. Next time someone tells you you can’t, I challenge you to say, “actually, I can!” And BELIEVE it! So often in life our biggest limitation is our lack of belief in ourself and our potential. I can, you can, we all can! . . . #accessibility [Photo Description: Molly is standing in an indoor area and smiling at the camera. She has a cut off grey sweatshirt with writing on it that says, Actually I Can' and dark wash navy jeans. Photo 2 is a close up.] #ican #youcan #wecan #believeinyourself #nolimits #aerieREAL #motivation #positivity

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How have these types of technologies improved your life?
It’s truly been life-changing for me. Accessible technology is equality. I’m very grateful because 10 or 11 years ago when I went blind, I couldn’t even pick my own music to listen to. Everybody had an iPod or some device like that. I would just joke that I played Russian roulette. I would just spin the wheel on the old iPod and click. Whatever I ended up listening to is what I listen to because there was no program to read it to me. That was just 10 years ago. Now I text my friends, I take selfies and it tells me if my face is in the frame or blurry. I can take a photo of a menu and go into an app that reads me the menu. I can do anything. It’s amazing. 

How has technology-empowered you?
At the end of the day, I’m not disabled if the world is accessible. I’m only disabled by accessibility, you know? And so I think we need to stop focusing on curing the disability and start focusing on making the world accessible. At the end of the day, making the world accessible is a hell of a lot easier and cheaper than curing every individual disabled person. 

You can follow along with Molly on her YouTube channel and on Instagram.

Answers have been shortened and edited for clarity.