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