As a consumer review based company, Deaf Friendly has designed a powerful tool that can empower the deaf community by educating everyday businesses about deaf consumers and their needs.
The concept is similar to Yelp but with an additional component that provides deaf awareness training.
But how do we, as deaf consumers, use this tool?”
Your business is a consumer based business model with the goal of empowering the deaf community, can you explain or share an example of how this works?
Yeah, of course. So, you know there are many hearing people out there who have never met a deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing person before. And when they’re approached by a deaf person for the first time they may not know what to do. Sometimes it’s scary because this kind of interaction is unknown territory for them. They aren’t familiar with this kind of interaction because they weren’t taught in school. So, Deaf Friendly’s consumer review website is a space for deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing people to write reviews and leave feedback on how businesses can improve their customer service for the deaf community.
If deaf people want businesses to improve their ability to engage with the deaf community, we need to educate them.
That’s a powerful way to educate hearing businesses while identifying and bringing deaf needs to the forefront. Not only is this beneficial to consumers but businesses as well. Recently you launched a new business certification program -- do you mind highlighting the most important aspect about this program?
Really, it’s the criteria process that is most valuable. The most important thing is that the process is based on neutral third party reviewers. The actual reviews are written by deaf people. Also 1) If businesses want to become a certified deaf friendly business they must have a minimum number of neutral third party reviews written by deaf people. (2) Second, businesses must have a minimum number of deaf friendly skills that they practice. (3) Third, we here at Deaf Friendly will hold a vote that includes heavy discussion, and (4) if a business passes the vote, we will then offer training as part of the required criteria. So, the process itself is very transparent and rich but it’s important to remember that the people who decide whether the business is deaf friendly or not are deaf consumers and their reviews. -- they tell us which business they believe deserves to be certified as Deaf Friendly.
This is really interesting because there’s another company that is a similar concept, LP Connect, they certify businesses as deaf friendly but only if businesses sign up to use their VRI (video relay interpreting) service will they then be certified as deaf friendly. What are your thoughts on that? What’s the biggest difference between your company and theirs?
Well, my opinion about that business model is that it’s exploitative. That’s how it feels. I have a lot of questions regarding their practice. I’m not sure what their criterias are when they’re certifying a business? And also, who is responsible for developing the criterias? Are they including deaf people in the discussion? Is there a focus group? Again, I just have a lot of questions. It’s not transparent.
Suppose the criteria for the certification process relies on VRI. Imagine VRI offers their services to businesses that connect to their business, LP Connect. If their interpreting services generate profits, then it’s not a neutral certification process because it depends on financial transactions. That process feels biased, and it feels exploitative. And not only that, it also creates a false message for businesses being certified as deaf friendly, but the question remains, are they capable of engaging with their deaf consumers? It’s questionable. As most of us deaf people are aware, there are a wide range of communication preferences within our community so to only offer VRI is not considered to be deaf friendly.
You’re right. I agree. That makes sense. When there’s a transaction of money things become questionable. It’s not enough just to provide VRI, what about deaf culture and their individual language and communication preferences?
Last year, Summer of 2016, your company partnered with NAD, National Association of the Deaf, in Phoenix, Arizona, there were a tremendous amount of positive feedback for those that attended the conference. The hotel and surrounding venues, restaurants and bars seemed well prepared to engage with deaf attendees. It was a pleasurable experience. I’m aware that your company was involved with training just prior to the conference -- so my question for you is how can other deaf conference planners partner with your company and how exactly does that work?
Yes, it’s important for any deaf person attending a conference to have ease of access in a deaf friendly environment. That standard of good quality customer service is something we aim for. Deaf conference planners all want to provide that kind of accessible and friendly experience. We reached out and partnered with NAD to achieve this for their attendees. It’s a really easy process, deaf conference planners basically just need to connect us with their choice of hotel, conference center, surrounding restaurants etc, and we’ll do all the “dirty” work for the conference planners. We’ll go there, train them, negotiate and everything at no cost to the deaf conference. Really, like you mentioned the NAD conference was an amazing experience. I really believe that we deaf people deserve better and we deserve quality customer service. So at the NAD conference, it was an opportunity for us to really raise the bar of expectations for every conference that we attend now.
Deaffriendly.com reminds business owners that the Deaf community faces communication barriers on a daily basis. And while Deaf people able to navigate through any challenging scenario, business owners should also have the resources and customer service attitude to appropriately accommodate their Deaf and hard of hearing customers.