Marilyn Weber’s path to being the president and CEO of Deaf Interpreter Services, Inc. (DIS) in San Antonio, Texas, has a personal side. She began learning American Sign Language when her daughter was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at the age of three.
Today, her thriving business provides certified interpreters, video productions geared toward American Sign Language and other services. She talked with Small Business Trends about the things entrepreneurs can do to make their small businesses more deaf-friendly.
Tips for Serving Deaf Customers
Be Aware of the Video Relay System
A deaf person who uses American Sign Language places a video “signing” call to a business that has hearing staff who act as liaisons. Companies like Sorenson have contracts with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to interpret sign language verbally over the phone using video. They connect the deaf person at one end with hearing counterparts at the other through interpreters.
“This technology allows the deaf individual to communicate back and forth in real time in their language,” Weber says.
Small businesses need to be aware these systems exist. Shop owners need to educate their staff and to let them know the interpreters identify themselves at the beginning of each phone call.
Use Text and Email Too!
A lot of our everyday technology works well with deaf clients. Along with the relay services mentioned above, text and email are great ways to communicate with deaf people.
Adjust the Interview Process Accordingly
Making provisions for deaf people can be as simple as tweaking pre-interview questionnaires and other documents and processes.
“If you have someone who applies to your company that is deaf, you need to be open to fact that doesn’t limit them from communicating with you, other consumers or anyone else,” Weber says.
The whole thing can be as easy as taking stock of those questions that are geared toward hearing only people. Otherwise, an unintentionally slanted pre employment questionnaire can disqualify a deaf person who is qualified for the job.
“We should be open to adjusting these questionnaires to include people with other kinds of abilities,” Weber says.
Stress Other Visual Helpers
Video relays systems are just one way to accommodate deaf customers. There are several onsite ideas small business owners can adopt to make for a more comfortable shopping and working experience.
Weber points out making sure fire alarms and smoke alarms have visual cues like strobe lights make for a welcoming atmosphere for both clients and employees.
She says making sure these get placed in washrooms goes a long way to establishing a deaf-friendly safe reputation that leads to more deaf clients and profits.
Teach Your Staff Some Basic Signs
“If a deaf person comes into a restaurant, they don’t just want to point to something on the menu if they want it prepared a certain way.”
Weber stresses training restaurant staff in some simple signs or encouraging them to take the time to write notes and pass them back and forth is a good practice. Taking those few moments can even help you find out if a deaf person has allergies.
Act Out Scenarios at Work
Play acting can help to engage your small business staff and teach them about the needs of deaf customers. Weber suggests running through some ‘what-if’ scenarios so everyone on staff knows what to do.
Survey Deaf Customers
Keeping things simple is always a best small business practice. Just asking deaf customers or experts how you can improve your processes goes along way. Deaf people are loyal clients and word travels quickly in their communities about shops and small businesses that go the extra mile.
Weber makes this simple.
“If you want to know how to have a deaf-friendly business, ask a deaf person.”
Be Aware Of Deaf Target Markets
If you’re planning on or have already made deaf accommodations, targeted advertising works to everyone’s advantage. La Vista is a good example of an entire community that focuses on the deaf and hard of hearing. It’s located in San Marcos, Texas. Looking for deaf markets in your area works wonders.
Learn Deaf Etiquette
When dealing with a deaf person and an interpreter, small business owners need to talk to the deaf person directly. Look at the client and stay away from phrases like “Tell her I said,” and remember to say what you mean and mean what you say.
Interpreters sign everything they can decipher.
Be Open Minded
Most deaf people don’t look at themselves as being disabled. Small business owners shouldn’t either. Weber says that by just making little accommodations, you can tap into a whole segment of the population that has tremendous potential.
“They are no different from you, me or anyone else,” she says.
Sign Language Photo via Shutterstock