Rose Ayling-Ellis enthralled audiences in Strictly Come Dancing last year, waltzing off with the glitterball trophy.
The 27-year-old Eastenders actress made history as the first deaf contestant to take part in the competition, dancing with professional partner Giovanni Pernice.
The pair’s silent dance to Clean Bandit’s Symphony was declared the must-see moment at this year’s Bafta TV awards.
Rose praised Strictly for bringing about positive change for deaf people and says the impact of the show has been huge for the community.
“People are definitely becoming more positive towards deaf people and it’s no longer ‘oh, I feel sorry for them’,” she told STV entertainment show What’s On Scotland. “People now think, ‘wow, you’re deaf, you know sign language, that’s amazing’.
“TV is so powerful, so many people learn from TV. I feel I have a responsibility as an actress to make TV more accessible.”
As the most prominent deaf actor in the UK, Rose says she feels pressure to make a difference.
“All the work I’ve done so far has been really positive and I love that, but I think I have to strike a balance to show the reality of what’s going on in the deaf community – it’s not all sunflowers and sunshine.”
The actress says she is tired of playing the “token deaf character” and that the TV industry needs to have more realistic storylines for disabled people.
She wants the “system” to change to make it easier for disabled actors to land jobs.
“I had to break through countless barriers to get where I am,” she said. “It’s been a lonely, upsetting journey, and whilst winning Strictly and having a lead role on Eastenders is an amazing experience, it doesn’t conceal the struggles I’ve been through to get here.”
Rose, who has played Frankie on Eastenders for two years, is leaving the BBC soap soon to explore new challenges.
“To be regularly on TV playing a character that is deaf but also has lots of storylines is a real privilege, but there are so many opportunities out there, I want to try them out,” she said. “I don’t want to stop, I want to keep exploring.”
Rose will soon be fronting a hard-hitting new documentary entitled Signs For Change, all about the daily challenges, discrimination and barriers faced by deaf people.
“This documentary comes with responsibility because I feel like this is an amazing opportunity to be the voice of the community, who have not yet been heard,” she said. “I want to open people up to the issues they’re facing.”
With a Barbie with hearing aids being launched earlier this year and British Sign Language becoming a recognised language, Strictly has changed not only Rose’s life, but has shone a light on the deaf community.
As the new series begins this weekend, the reigning champion says she can’t wait to watch from the comfort of her sofa.
“I’m going to enjoy it so much, because I can actually eat food while watching from home,” she joked. “Sit back, no aching muscles, no blisters – it’s going to be great.”
Catch up with What’s On Scotland on the STV Player.