Far too often Deaf people receive poor customer service and have unfortunate interactions in public when they are just trying to accomplish everyday activities, like purchasing a car, getting assistance and access from customer service for an issue that is seamlessly handled for a “Hearing” customer. Having a frustrating experience in a business could cost that business a loyal customer. And with an annual disposable income of $8 trillion around the globe, Deaf and Hard of Hearing people have tremendous buying power. P. Lanette Pinkard, founder, and CEO of My Hands Your Heart and Cruise Interpreter Academy, certainly knows this all too well.
That is why it is important to remember some key points when working with the Deaf Communities. Not only will people feel more respected and more comfortable when interacting with a business, but a positive experience could also help businesses retain loyal customers.
While learning the entire Deaf language (American Sign Language in the USA – ASL) may be out of reach for many people, there are a variety of ways hearing people working with deaf individuals can communicate.
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Keep a Notepad Handy or Use Texting
It is a digital world, but sometimes nothing beats the convenience of pen and paper. Whether your employees are walking around greeting guests on a cruise ship or working behind a register, having a notepad and pen or simply texting using your cell phone can ease communication in a variety of situations.
Remind your employees that Deaf people often use devices with non-signing individuals in public. It is important to respond politely when a customer does not respond immediately, but instead starts jotting down notes or texting a message on their phone.
Teach Proper ASL Etiquette
Typically, people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing always face the other person while conversing so that they can read lips if possible. Teach employees to always face the person they are speaking with and remind them not to turn around in the midst of the conversation.
Additionally, if the individual communicating with you is using an interpreter, always remember to address the person communicating first and not the interpreter. Do not exclude that person from the conversation by addressing the interpreter. Understanding this can be enhanced by having sensitivity training provided by My Hand Your Heart.
Be Patient and Be Kind
Of course, this feels like a no-brainer, but in today’s world, it certainly is not. Too often in our busy lives, we forget that other people do not operate with the same abilities we may have. If you see a customer struggling to respond, do not make a snap judgment about that person or brush them off rudely.
Truth be told, you do not know their story and you do not know what may be happening with them internally or in their everyday lives. When faced with different communication styles, assume the best about the individual you are working with, take a breath, and offer your vest customer service.
Understanding Basic Sign Language
It is estimated that up to half a million people in the U.S. and Canada know ASL. It makes sense that most of us should understand some basic sign language. If you have an employee who signs, remember to identify them as an ASL user with a badge or a sticker, do not label them as “Deaf” but help employees and other consumers focus on the beauty of the language by stipulating “ASL User”. The language is beautiful and that makes others see the beauty in the users of the language.
The team at My Hands Your Heart provides a service to teach your employees basic sign language that is related to your business. You can also display ASL educational materials in common areas or watch videos that teach some basic vocabulary signs.
Remember to Use Captions on Social Media
Don’t forget about the Deaf Community in your social media outreach. You will reach more people if captions are used when you create videos. However, one of the best scenarios is providing access in the native language of ASL. My Hands Your Heart offers a specialized service where they will interpret live videos, pre-recorded videos for every social media platform. Deaf Consumers are able to understand your content. It is a win-win for your marketing plan.
Not only will the deaf be able to understand your content, but people who want to watch your content without sound will also be able to view it and understand it. It’s a win-win for your marketing plan.
It’s About Inclusion
In 2022, businesses need to consider and act on inclusivity. Ignorance used as an excuse to treat individuals unequally is no longer acceptable. The good news is that, together, we can build a stronger world, one that includes people of differing abilities. My Hands Your Heart helps companies treat all their customers and guests with the respect they deserve. We help these companies achieve excellence.
About P. Lanette Pinkard
P. Lanette Pinkard is the founder and CEO of My Hands Your Heart and Cruise Interpreter Academy, her entrepreneurial organizations that service organizations and companies with certified and qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing customers and guests. She has written five lifestyle inspiration books and has interpreted on over 100 cruises.