Is Your Business Deaf-Savvy?

Are you alienating 50 million potential customers? Are Deaf and hard of hearing folks able to access your business or will they go to your competitor? Take the quiz and find out if it’s DEAF-SAVVY!


CONGRATULATIONS! You may already know you were knowledgeable about the dos and don’ts with your deaf and hard of hearing customers, but now you’ve got the PROOF! You are a TRUE ALLY. Check out your answers with explanations below. I hope you find this site helpful for information and resources you may need. Share your knowledge far and wide, friend!

OOPS!  Looks like you’ve missed a few initially, but I hope you’ll pick up some good tips here to use in your business going forward!  No one is born knowing all there is to know all about deaf folks, but the fact you took this quiz – hey, it means you care. I hope you’ll find this site useful for further adding to your awareness. Feel free to reach out to me if you have further questions about accommodating your deaf customers.  If I don’t know the answer, I can certainly point you in the right direction. Cheers!

#1. When making/posting videos for your business, are they captioned?

Option #2 works in a pinch situation, but as a business you should caption videos. If you don’t, we wonder if you’re not all that tech-savvy and maybe what else about your business isn’t up to speed. Do you really want us wondering these things? So, PLEASE CAPTION YOUR VIDEOS! Captioning has never been easier, especially on social media platforms like Facebook and Youtube where they pretty much do it FOR YOU, you just need to turn on the feature and then they’ll show up to whoever has them already turned on (hand waving). There’s also cool apps like MixCaptions or MySubtitle that will add captions to your videos and then you can post them anywhere you want. If this is new to you, please check out some cool how-tos here and here.

If your business has actually produced videos as part of your product, it’s absolutely the standard to be PROFESSIONALLY captioned by a transcription company. It’s an investment for sure, but a very wise one considering how many people can benefit from it. I’m surprised I’ve run into some well known/popular-through-social-media offerings lately that blatantly DO NOT caption their videos/streaming packages they have for sale and when I ask them about it, they simply say, “nope” or ignore me. It’s not only outrageous and disappointing to me, but it forever changes how I think about that business. If a business is primarily being promoted online I would say it’s smart to NOT ALIENATE nearly 50 million potential customers (as estimated by the Hearing Loss Association of America – that’s just in the US). That’s plain BAD BUSINESS.

#2. If you have a business where people need to wait in line, what system do you use to indicate it is their turn to be serviced?

A combination system is ideal to be sure and get everyone’s attention (including blind folks or those who need audio alerts), but as long as there is some standardly used visual system incorporated, it’s generally the easiest way for deaf and hard of hearing people to be alerted.

When there is an audio-only system and customers are being called by name or number (the doctor’s office or the deli counter come to mind) we have to pay rapt attention to every single person who may be doing the calling and a lot of times we get skipped over even if we tell them to wave or whatever visually. That’s kinda stressful! So, when there’s a visual system already in place, you BET I’m going there when I have a choice. Huge SHOUT OUT to my homies at the DMV, Michael’s and Homegoods – DREAM systems! I love going to those places. That’s how I even got interested in crafting and bargain goodies. And if you see someone skipping around the DMV, that’s me, yep. Kid in a candy store.

#3. If you have a television playing in your establishment, do you turn on the captioning?

I think the deaf-savvy answer is pretty clear here, but in case it’s not: PLEASE TURN THE CAPTIONING ON. If you think it’s no big deal, turn the volume off on the same TV and see for yourself. Waiting for someone to request they be turned on isn’t really effective either. While I personally need captions, if they are not already being shown on a business’s TV, I usually don’t bother asking. Not only do I not want to be told the remote is lost/no one knows how to turn them on/BE ASKED to turn them on myself/have other customers glare at me because they think it’s going to cover up the score (hey, it DOESN’T), it shows your place of business simply doesn’t think of it or people like me and you’re in need of some education. Would you be up to that task everyday?  I’m not.  Most of the time I’m focused on why I’m at your place of business. So, when I see the captions off, I honestly start thinking of other possible businesses I could go to instead. By contrast, when the captions are already on, my head is simply aflutter with the STARS I have mentally added onto your yelp review.

#4. If a customer were to request a sign language interpreter or a realtime captioner for access to a service you offer in your business, you:

HIRE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS! This is usually done upon request from the Deaf person (who knows ASL – not all deaf people do so PLEASE don’t assume this as a one-size-fits-all-deaf accommodation). If you are hosting a large public event, you may decide you want to hire interpreters anyway.. This is WAY cool, but please do this as far in advance as possible AND be sure to mention that the event will be “ASL interpreted” in your advertising. Also, hire the interpreters from a reputable local agency that SPECIALIZES in ASL, NOT foreign language translation companies.  The reason for this is the former will have owners that are fluent in ASL and can better control the quality of interpreters they hire. You can find a reputable interpreting agency near you by accessing the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf’s referral service.

HIRE CAPTIONERS!! As mentioned above, not all people with hearing loss know American Sign Language and many would benefit from captioning. You would hire them from a Realtime Transcription or CART company. Captions would be shown on a big screen for all to see (and benefit from) or on a laptop or handheld device. Special note: dictation software is iffy at best and generally will NOT work for large gatherings. Siri or other voice recognition/speech-to-text apps COULD potentially help for quick 1:1 convos, but that also depends on everyone’s comfort level. It’s a scrappy solution, at best.

KNOW YOUR OBLIGATIONS – generally speaking, businesses are required BY LAW to provide what is known as “reasonable accommodations” in the form of auxiliary aids such as (but not limited to): sign language interpreters, real time captioners, assistive listening devices, note takers, etc. Some of these accommodations will cost your business money, some will not. But if it does, you can apply for a tax credit which will lessen the burden AND in most cases attract more business for your business. There are exceptions to this (houses of worship are exempt, a business can apply for “undue hardship”, etc.) This is a big ol’ topic and this is only a nutshell to make you aware of the obligation, but if you are wondering if you need to provide such an accommodation, feel free to contact me.  I am happy to point you in the right direction. Alternatively, you may contact the Department of Justice’s ADA Info Line and get it from the horse’s mouth.

#5. How would you communicate with customers if they are not physically in your establishment?

TEXT/EMAIL CONTACT options are gold to arrange appointments, do business, make reservations. Calling a phone number is possible of course but we have to go through a relay service to do so, so it isn’t quick or always possible depending on WIFI or cell reception. Sometimes calling IS preferred, it’s just generally a lot more rigmarole than a simple text or email. A phone call may be faster for hearing folks, but for us it could take longer. BE OPEN TO NEW (to you) TECHNOLOGY OR IDEAS!


#6. When a customer indicates they do not hear you/are deaf you:

LOOK AT US – this is not only good for those of us who are (partially/30%) lipreading you, but as a way to follow a conversation and pick up on other social cues. Plus, it’s just darn polite. Communication doesn’t have to be hard, especially for short exchanges like at cash registers, ordering food, etc. Utilize simple communication such as pointing to menus/signs/receipts/register, typing on phone, gestures. Also, some deaf folks might not “seem” deaf to you. They may just miss a word or two, if that. I may get some flack for saying this, but… unless you are a mostly-fluent signer (AND you know for sure I use sign language – not everyone does), just follow the person’s cues and I bet the experience goes smoothly. PLEASE don’t try to fingerspell every word to me. I appreciate that you know it, but straight up: that’s not how we communicate everyday and it’s as hard as trying to understand someone verbally spelling out every word. I’m a customer like everyone else with places to be, kids hanging on me, I might have to pee, etc. So, no need to hold up the line on my account. In fact, please don’t.


#7. Someone who does not hear or have a typical hearing range prefers to be called:

KNOW THE TERMS – generally speaking, deaf and hard of hearing people prefer to be called that. HOWEVER!  If you refer to the deaf person as such and they state what they prefer to be called, CALL THEM THAT. Don’t question it. Their body, their label.

#8. Deaf and hard of hearing people usually know some sign language and can read lips. TRUE or FALSE

While the vibrant Deaf Community in the US uses American Sign Language, it is only representative of a fraction of the larger population with “some form” of hearing loss which includes people who lose their hearing as adults or experience presbycusis which is age-related hearing loss as they get older and learning sign language isn’t necessarily feasible in their daily lives (it takes 7 years on average to become fluent in a language, it’s harder to learn new languages as we age, family/friends may not learn it, etc). Some families also opt for an auditory-verbal method of communication when their deaf child is born and thus do not learn it (although MANY of us learn it in college, wink).

Likewise, lipreading challenges some people more than others. I learned this initially when my husband and I were moving for the first time. Apparently with an arm full of boxes, pointing with my foot, jerking my head AND enunciating like hell doesn’t work out to clear communication for everyone. Even in optimal environments, it is estimated (from a VERY hearsay source, don’t quote me) that only 30% of communication is visible on the lips. So, many of us DO WANT to see your mouth when communicating with you, but it’s usually in combination with other things like body language, pointing, residual hearing, etc. A sidecar skill, really.

#9. When designing your business space, what best describes the building/décor materials you use?

While a sound booth would offer the best acoustic environment, it’s a tad lacking in ambience. #2 would be the ideal acoustic environment out of the bunch.

SOUND – Design/decorate for sound quality: tiles, glass, metal and big, tall rooms are DIFFICULT to hear in, especially to those who wear hearing devices which tend to exacerbate background noise. So, if you are designing a new space, please don’t use so much of these materials and definitely not all together. If you’re working with what you’ve got, you can add soft things to the walls, add fabric, carpets, rugs table cloths, a huge honkin’ art installation from the ceiling. This can help soften the “bounce” sound tends to make in hard, bare rooms. Additionally, background music can be a real pain in the butt.  I would just keep it low if it’s on at all.

LIGHTING – a comfortably well-lit room enhances communication all around.  Dark, moody lighting can make it hard to communicate for those of us that are lip readers, see interpreters, see people walking over, etc. Poorly placed lighting such as lighting or bright windows behind the speaker, interpreter or even provides a glare on a screen can also interfere.

VISUALS – for anything that is SPOKEN to customers, it’s ideal to also have it available in visual/written form. Handheld menus for “specials”, dessert/bread trays with labels, a white or blackboard to grab for more complex communication. Special boards at the bar or are of interest explaining a sale, etc. Especially around the holidays, PLEASE don’t clutter your customer service areas with decorations we have to peer over or around to see clearly. Said with love from your short customers.

#10. You receive a call at your place of business and the caller on the other end states, “Hello, you are receiving a call from a person that uses sign language to communicate and I am going to be interpreting the call”. You:

This is an example of a call placed through the Video Relay Service.  On a screen, I am watching a sign language interpreter sign to me what you are saying and they are voicing to you what I am signing.  The key is to talk at a normal pace, addressing me as my name and not saying “tell her”. The interpreter is the vessel and they will tell me exactly what you say even if you mutter under your breath, etc. They may ask for clarification or repeats if they can’t hear you.

Another way deaf or hard of hearing people make phone calls is through a captioning phone or app. This would mean you hear their voice and they are READING what you are saying as it’s typed by a “caller assistant” who simply hears what you say and types it to the deaf person. Sometimes there is a lag time with this, sometimes there isn’t.  So, it’s important to be aware of this as the person might take a second or two to respond after you finish talking.

#11. Bonus: Would you use a nametag?

Don’t laugh. Nametags are one of my favorite things on earth. I wish people wore them to parties. And if you think they ARE that dorky, there’s the ever-cool lanyard with a plastic name badge. Just keep it flipped up so we can see. I don’t get it, I mean kids love everything personalized with their names and somewhere on the road to adulthood we don’t want anyone to know ours anymore. What’s up with that?!



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