Power in Numbers: Deaf-Friendly Businesses

This article originally appeared at i711.com.

When my husband and I began shopping for photographers for our wedding day last November, we went to two of the most well reputed photography studios in town. This is a small town; everyone basically goes to one of these studios or the other.

The first studio we went in, we indicated that we were Deaf and wanted to communicate by writing. Keep in mind that Faribault is a very Deaf-friendly town; it’s got the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, plus a large Deaf population. Deaf people here are used to friendly nods and quick understanding of how to communicate; there’s usually one person who signs at almost every business in town. Back to the studio; the woman gave us a tiny piece of paper, and we asked for a bigger piece of paper because we knew it’d be a long conversation. She sighed, cracked her gum and made a face as she wandered off looking for paper. We left immediately; her attitude said enough.

We walked down the street to the second studio, which was friendlier but didn’t seem eager to work with us. We left not quite satisfied. When we shared our frustrations with some of the other Deaf people in town, they had similar experiences and shared more information about which businesses in town “liked” Deaf people and which ones were “cold to Deaf people.” Fortunately we ended up finding a husband-and-wife photography team who was absolutely fantastic to work with.

After this experience, I got to thinking: why isn’t there such a thing like Angie’s List for businesses that may not be accommodating of deaf people’s needs?

The Angie’s List web site (at www.angieslist.com) says, Angie’s List is a word-of-mouth network for consumers. It’s a growing collection of homeowners’ real-life experiences with local service companies. The people who join Angie’s List are like you — looking for a way to find trustworthy companies that perform high-quality work. Rather than digging through the phone book, they check Angie’s List to find out what people in their area are saying about the companies they’ve hired.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone could set such a list up for certain areas with large deaf populations, like Faribault, with specific customer experiences listed?

I don’t mean for this list to become a bashing site, nor do I mean for it to become an opportunity to hurt a business. There would, ideally, be safeguards in place to prevent false reports and/or accusations from being listed. But it’d be a great opportunity for us to share real-life experiences, positive and negative, with businesses in our locality. That way, maybe we could get businesses to consider how they work with Deaf people’s varying communication needs. My business teacher said that the average customer tells at least nine other people if s/he has had a bad experience with a store, probably more. That’s a lot of lost business if the word-of-mouth reputation isn’t very good.

Granted, for every bad customer experience, there are several good customer experiences (or vice versa), but at least we’d be able to know about these incidents. It would also help us work out solutions with certain businesses that may have stereotypes about Deaf people. For instance, I once called my local food store to try and order some potato salad for a housewarming party I was hosting. I called two times via Internet relay but was hung up on both times. I ended up driving eight miles to the store and talking with the very understanding manager; it turned out the worker who answered the phone thought I was a Nigerian prank caller and had no idea that there were so many Deaf people in town. After the manager reprimanded her, I got about $50 worth of potato salad at no cost. While this was a good compensation, I didn’t appreciate the hassle. A list like Angie’s List would resolve this common occurrence. It could also help provide solutions for how to avoid these hassles, for both the customer and the business.

As Angie’s List says on its web site:
Power in numbers: Through Angie’s List, you have the ability to quickly and easily tell thousands of other Angie’s List members about your experience with a company. That’s really great news for the companies that do quality work — and not so great news for the companies that don’t. So when contractors know that you’re an Angie’s List member, we’ve found that you’re more likely to get a quick call back.

Besides, solutions are what we’re after, aren’t we?

Copyrighted material, used by permission. This article can not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed without the written consent of the author.

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