WHAT IT MEANS TO BE DEAF-FRIENDLY: THE BIG THREE
Not just a viral hashtag, #deaffriendly has signaled a paradigm shift in recent years. It reflects an emboldened consumer demographic — one with more information, more choices, and more discretionary income on their hands.
It’s a demographic that can and will do anything, except hear.
Many businesses capitalized on the term “family-friendly” to attract a consumer demographic looking for ways to make life easier while raising children. From this, came an explosion of workplace legislation, themed restaurants, and more. Similarly, being deaf-friendly is a commitment to making business easier for consumers who are all too accustomed to communication barriers.
The barriers go beyond the cash register. They touch every aspect of the consumer experience: from calling customer support to troubleshoot a product, to getting interpreters for a customer appreciation event, to abandoning a website due to an un-captioned promotional video.
Once communication starts to crumble, the chance to keep a lifetime consumer drops too.
With so many parts of the communication chain, what exactly does it mean to be deaf-friendly? Here are three of the top examples many deaf consumers rave about:
Deaf-Friendly means: Your public-facing staff enunciates clearly.
Some deaf/HH people develop an ability to “read” speech. Some become so skilled, they nab speech-reading jobs for football teams and the FBI alike. While this is a rarity, science explains why we still look at lips closely: University of Manchester researchers found that deaf/HH people using their residual hearing only understood 21% of speech. But comprehension goes up to 90% if they combine residual hearing with both hearing tools and speech-reading.
Make continual eye contact, and move your lips at a medium pace. If you run a restaurant, be sure to have a few extra lamps or candles. The “dim, romantic lighting” at many upscale eateries is anything but romantic for deaf diners struggling to speech-read!
Also, remember that it can be too easy to overestimate how well the average deaf/hh person can speech-read. “Studies show that only 23% of hard of hearing people become effective speech-readers,” according to Neil Baumann, Ph.D, director of the Center for Hearing Loss Center. “That means that whopping 77% need to use other means of coping along with speech-reading.”
You proactively budget for sign language interpreters and captioning services.
Many businesses, in their zeal to ride the Gold Rush of inclusion and accessibility, rush to promote themselves as such. But when they get their first interpreter request, they’re stumped about how to make it happen.
A desire to be deaf-friendly is an important first step. Once you’ve committed to it, the work needs to be done long before your first deaf customer comes knocking.
It means formally writing down how much you’ll budget for interpreter requests. And in that process, learn about the potential delays to hiring an interpreter: Do you need to scout out a sign language interpreting agency beforehand? Does the said agency require a contract beforehand? Will the agency require two interpreters instead of one? Have you had a conversation with your tax professional about making this form of accommodation a line item in your annual operating budget — and reaping tax credits?
Logistics aside, a deaf-friendly business will honor and respect the cultural importance of interpreting services. As many Deaf people describe it: “The sign language interpreter is not here because I can’t hear you; rather, s/he is here because you do not know sign language.”
Equally important is to recognize that not all Deaf/HH people know how to sign; and to be aware that some may request CART (Communication Access Real-Time Captioning) services instead.
Your technology is up to snuff …but you don’t rely on it to do all the work.
Some business transactions are too involved and lengthy to rely on pointing, gestures, and paper and pen. Examples include a doctor’s visit about a life-threatening diagnosis, or legal situation.
Some deaf consumers require more complex accommodations in order to get the most out of the service or product you offer.
Technology is a powerful way for Deaf/HH people to get the most out of their daily lives. But there are two rules about deaf-friendly technology usage: one, it shouldn’t replace human connection; two, it must be upgraded to what deaf people use currently.
Depending on your bsuiness, specific technology can be needed. Not sure what that might be… Ask us.