In 2012, Melissa “echo” Greenlee had an ambitious idea – to crowdsource all deaf consumer experiences on a public review platform. This month, we celebrate the 10-year mark of this entrepreneurial journey.

The spark? An Indian restaurant hung up on her video relay call before she could even finish signing “naan”. The rest, as they say, was history. A history that includes a global pandemic, three U.S. presidents, a racial reckoning, and massive shifts in how companies use technology to better reach (and serve) customers. 

When we launched the review site – formerly deafREVIEW, before its rebranding in 2014 – the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had already been law for over two decades. But something was still missing: deaf and hard of hearing customers were barely integrated into the marketplace, and there wasn’t a place to share our consumer stories. “Before you had a place to write a review, people’s stories and experiences got shared in private conversations – and then dissolved,” said Greenlee, referring to how information travels through deaf grapevines. “With a concrete place to share your experience, it’s there forever and circulating the World Wide Web which expands the reach and eyeballs on the issues that we face as a community.”

home page of deaffriendly review website in white and different shades of blue

ID: a home page of deaffriendly review website in white and different shades of blue

By the numbers: deaffriendly’s 10-year snapshot

Our site’s first reviews were written by a small, earnest group of Seattleites. Imagine being able to share deaf-specific information to a national deaf and hard of hearing audience. It was years before TikTok existed, and Snapchat was just getting started. 

Yelp! had already been around for eight years. But it didn’t feel like the place to learn and share what that really runs through every deaf and hard of hearing customer’s brain: 

  • This dentist accepts my insurance, but will they honor my interpreter request? 
  • The reviews say this restaurant has “romantic lighting”. Does that mean I can barely see my date’s face and hands?
  • Should I just toss this defective product? I’m tired of customer service hanging up on my VRS call again.

To fill the huge void, in 2011 Greenlee began hatching a business plan for a growing demographic: deaf and hard of hearing Americans, which today number over 48 million. 

In 10 years, reviews in ALL 50 states

Deaffriendly continues to evolve in ways unimaginable ten years ago: “We’ve been asked to replicate our platform in Mexico, Canada and even South Africa,” Greenlee revealed.

While branching out internationally is not feasible just yet, the types of experiences shared on the platform offer absolute proof that the deaf consumer marketplace is large, growing, and deserving of business owners’ attention: “We have had reviews in almost every industry you can imagine – even police departments, weed shops, and strip clubs.”

Since our inception in Seattle in 2012, deaffriendly has quickly expanded from the West Coast into the rest of the U.S. To date, the state with the most frequently-reviewed business remains our flagship Washington State. The runner-ups: California, Texas, New York, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, D.C, Arizona, and Maryland – which all have large deaf communities and long-established Deaf institutions and schools.

Going full-circle on our decade-long journey around the nation, we officially have reviews in all 50 states. Deaffriendly received its first review from Alaska last year – for a bobsledding outfit, no less.

a photo of deaffriendly team

ID: a dark blue background with a white wavy line and stars on both top right and bottom left corners. In the top center, a deaffriendly review logo. In the bottom, a photo with a transparent background of the seven deaffriendly team members with #deaffriendly t-shirt.

What’s next for deaffriendly?

On our first anniversary, we celebrated our 1,000th interview – a four-star review about Cafe Presse, a French bar-Cafe which, while closing last year, still remains in many Seattleites’ hearts. 

Heading into the next decade, our goal is to break the 10,000-review mark. But beyond numbers, we have big plans to educate and improve some of the most deaf-challenged industries shared on our site: healthcare, followed by hotels and travel. The most deaf-friendly fields? Dining, salons, and retail.

“What we’ve learned from amassing thousands of your reviews all across the nation is, for the most part, businesses really do want to be inclusive, welcoming and deaf-friendly, they just don’t know how”. said Greenlee.

Businesses willing to put in the work are the ones with the biggest rewards

Since deaffriendly CONSULTING trained their first business in 2016, a restaurant, it quickly garnished the interest of several large hotels and a Fortune 500 giant. Now, in 2022, thousands of customer service representatives have been trained on how to provide deaf-friendly customer service to their guests and customers. 

The first decade is over, but the journey is just getting started as businesses get serious about diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Ready to create a deaf-friendly and inclusive customer experience?! Make sure to check out our Deaf-Friendly Basics online course and you’ll be on your way in 60 min or less.

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