Skip to main content
MECCA Logo will take you to homepage on click

  • Book an appointment
Mecca Franchise Logo Mecca m Powered

Hope Cotton on the Power of Finding Your Community

January 1 | 5 minute read

Memo Mpower Hope Cotton Interview Hero 16x9


Originally published on | November 13


In our MECCA M-POWERED interview series, fearless women from around the globe share their incredible stories – from overcoming adversity to following their passions and inspiring a future generation of female changemakers.


Hope Cotton has always wanted to change the world, because she spent many years feeling like she didn’t belong in it. Cotton is Deaf, yet grew up in a hearing family (as 95 percent of Deaf children do) – and a hearing world.

“I would often get into trouble at primary school,” Cotton reveals. “I also found it really hard to connect with my extended family growing up and big dinners or family events were super stressful.

“I could lipread and communicate pretty well one-on-one, but in bigger groups, I had no idea what was going on.”
Memo Mpower Hope Cotton Interview 3x4 1a

“It showed me just how inaccessible our world really was and filled me with a longing to make things better."

A turning point came when Cotton attended a kids’ camp run by Ko Taku Reo (Deaf Education New Zealand). “For the first time in my life, I could communicate with ease,” she recalls. “Everything was set up with Deaf people in mind. It was amazing!”

Leaving the camp, that sense of belonging and ease wouldn’t last: “The airport, with the announcements we couldn't hear, unintelligible security staff and uncaptioned in-flight entertainment, was a shock to the system.

“It showed me just how inaccessible our world really was and filled me with a longing to make things better,” she says.

At 15, Cotton started learning New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) and “the floodgates opened”. “I often describe trying to communicate orally as like wading through jelly; it's a lot of extra effort and brain power. Learning sign language was incredibly freeing,” she explains.

It also enabled her to connect with the wider Deaf community: “I cannot put the significance of the love, support and friendship the Deaf community has provided into words that would do it justice.”

Yet navigating being Deaf in a hearing world is just one of the challenges Cotton has had to overcome.

Her lifelong Christian faith failed her when she came out as bisexual; she was insulted, excluded and shamed by clergy, teachers, mentors and peers.     
“My first panic attack relating to my sexuality happened when I came out to my Bible study group.”

“My first panic attack relating to my sexuality happened when I came out to my Bible study group," Cotton reveals. “We were talking about how God created us all with unique differences that we should celebrate. I quietly mentioned my sexuality and it was like a bomb went off.”

Cotton was told bisexuality was simply a “trend” – that her desires were sinful, and never to act on them. “As soon as I got into my car I started crying and shaking and I didn't stop for hours. After that experience, I couldn't go inside a church building for years,” she recalls.

Now, at the age of 18 and studying Communications at the Victoria University of Wellington, she’s become a fierce advocate – determined to change the experience of Deaf people as well  the LGBTQIA+ community, women and those with disabilities.

“Fighting for yourself is more difficult than fighting for someone else,” she says. “By fighting for my friends and younger queer kids that I saw myself in, I gave myself the motivation to keep on going.”

“Fighting for yourself is more difficult than fighting for someone else."

At the moment, Cotton is focusing on one key change: “Currently, Aotearoa (New Zealand) is one of the only countries in the OECD without a legal captioning standard, which puts them in direct violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” she explains.

Captioning makes 
news, broadcast media, streaming content and educational media are all accessible to Deaf, hard of hearing and neurodivergent Kiwis.”

The student is also one of 25 young people selected for Aotearoa (New Zealand)-based feminist organisation YWCA’s Y25 programme – a celebration of young self-identified wahine (women) and non-binary people doing amazing mahi (work). 

“I feel incredibly blessed to connect with and learn from so many amazing young women. It is a great feeling to have my work acknowledged and uplifted by an organisation like the YWCA,” she says.

To find out more about the Y25 programme, click here.

Related topics and brand tags


More beauty news

Skip to content below carousel
Hannah Diviney Hero 16x9

Writer and disability advocate Hannah Diviney on finding her voice – and her power

July 10

Skip to content above carousel