Courtesy of Matthew Vita
The clock ticked when Angie Bedoya stopped with a pair of inner jeans for five judges, showing the different sizes of each pocket. She shot her phone deep into the left pocket – almost down to the knee – like her business partner, Emely Rodriguez, dramatized in American Sign Language, "Look at these great, glorious pockets!"
At the Gallaudet University's latest Bison Tank competition in Washington, DC – a college version of the popular TV show Shark Tank – the two students beat a tailor company called "Super Pockets" hoping to quit to the growing ranks of deaf business owners nationwide.
Based on widespread chronic unemployment, but also improvements in technology that enable better communication, deaf people create their own businesses and push employers to become more deaf and sign language friendly.
Madeleine Cook / NPR
In Maryland alone, there are now more than 75 deaf-owned businesses. Kelby Brick, director of the Deaf and Hearing Governor, says that this "deaf ecosystem" is growing fast and giving deaf and hearing impaired people a financial strength. Deaf-owned companies pop up nationwide too – including Mozzeria, a California pizza restaurant; Deaf-friendly, a Yelp-like platform that can tell you where to find bartenders signing or places that play the music high enough; or DeafTax.com, which provides tax preparation services in US sign language.
These deaf-owned companies often employ other deaf people who help cultivate a kind of deaf economy. Running a business also enhances self-confidence and social skills among deaf people, says Ryan Maliszewski, director of the Gallaudet Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute.
"Deaf people must improve their soft skills in leadership, collaboration, trust and cooperation," he said. "My goal is not only to help them develop a business to make money, but really to develop their soft skills."
Deaf breweries debut
Madeleine Cook / NPR
One of the newest deaf companies in Maryland is Streetcar 82, a Hyattsville brewery owned by three deaf men.
On the front of the sharp white building hangs a sign with a logo with a green tram. The logo is also plastered on work clothes. Both were made by other deaf companies. Like many deaf owned businesses, the owners of Streetcar 82 said they are trying to prioritize deaf sources for any contract work.
Most repair and material workers they hire are deaf. All their employees are deaf.
The idea for the brewery originally came to co-founder Mark Burke after two years of job hunting.
Madeleine Cook / NPR
Burke had worked in the field of education as an athletic director at Model Secondary School for Deaf. He applied for hundreds of training jobs, but only received two interviews. He received no offers.
During this time, Burke earned cash by bartender and made beer at home for fun. Making beer was just something that Burke saw as a hobby until one day, a friend suggested he opened a brewery to sell his beer.
The proposal came in June 2016, one week before the Gallaudet University's first Bison Tank competition. Burke recruited two interested friends to collapse a business space. Although they did not win the competition, they won most votes and earned them a spectator's favorite prize of $ 250. They never looked back.
Two years later, the brewery became a reality.
Madeleine Cook / NPR
"My goal is to make the best beer," Burke said. "But the impact and size of how this affects deaf communities is inspiring."
Although the brewery started very hard work, Burke said it was easier than it would have been in years past. Burke revolves around technological improvements as the reason why he was able to investigate how to start a business.
"Twenty-five years ago, deaf-owned businesses were nothing because the resources were not there," Burke said.
Technology like video relay service (VRS), a video-based interpretation service, made it easier for the company to communicate with the Small Business Administration and get a loan, he said.
And although the entire staff is deaf, Streetcar 82 also has a phone number – another added benefit of VRS. With such technology, Streetcar 82 is catering to both deaf and hearing customers, said Burke, who surpassed the gap between what is sometimes considered separate worlds.
Madeleine Cook / NPR
Left out of the "world of hearing"
In the so-called "hearing world", many deaf NPR spoke to them feeling out of town – and to the people who integrated an experience that often reflect their childhood. Chris Soukup, CEO of Deaf Communication Services (CSD), says this is detrimental to their career development.
"People who come to us from corporate jobs have often worked in isolation, in a box all the time closed from opportunities for promotion," Soukup said. "They do not have the same social opportunities and experiences in the company's hearing world."
Knowing this, Gallaudet junior Meghan Hatfield has concerns about working in the "world of hearing". Hatfield is a friendly, modest redhead from Eagan, Minn., With a strong deaf identity. Both of her parents are deaf. Her mother works in "deaf world" – at a deaf school. Her father works in the "hearing world" – at a post office.
At the father's struggle to find a job in the "hearing world", Hatfield wanted to work for a deaf-owned business where she knows she will not be overlooked for her disability.
"Hearing companies dismiss people like us," she said. "I can do many things, but I feel there is a barrier."
Although she is a communication maiden, Hatfield said she lacks confidence in trying to communicate with people.
Promoting communication between deaf and hearing is exactly what Soukup and his company are trying to do. A towering man with a confident voice and stable character hands has Soukup fought against the notion of deaf as "less" throughout his life. His company, CSD, is convinced that the only way this misconception will change is through a major conversation.
Bridging the deaf and hearing worlds
Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images
Established companies are increasingly working to meet, include and support deaf employees and customers. CSD preaches the idea of "One World", where both deaf and hearing can come together. This world became a reality in a new coffee shop.
Starbucks first store run entirely in ASL opened this fall. On the big opening day, the coffee line passed a deaf artist's colorful cubist mural to the front door, where ASL letters spelled out S-T-A-R-B-U-C-K.
Deaf and hearing customers ordered in the register. Non-ASL users used touchpads or wrote their orders. But those who knew ASL just had to rub a fist over each other in a circular motion, imitating manual coffee grinding – the sign for "coffee."
On many tables, customers stole sip of coffee when their hands were & # 39; t fly fast in conversation TV news staff came to cover the opening and trained their cameras on a discussion between Hatfield and some fellow students.
Hatfield held his palms parallel to the floor, bending both his ring fingers down and bobbing them up and down – the sign of "awkward."
She agreed with her friends that it felt as if they were being watched by spectators. The cameras kept rolling, ignorant of her words.
Despite the zoolike atmosphere, Hatfield said she was thrilled with Starbucks. Many of her friends were too.
"I know many deaf people who want to search here, but they only have few jobs open," she said.
All employees at this Starbucks place are fluent in ASL. Some are deaf, including store manager Matthew Gilsbach.
Joshua Trujillo / Starbucks
Prior to this job, Gilsbach was used to feeling alone in the hearing world. He grew up in Michigan, where he went to a regular school, but felt left out of his peers. He then received a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Gallaudet and a master's degree in higher education from the University of Vermont.
After getting his master, he started looking for a job in his field, but did not succeed. He decided to work at Starbucks in the meantime.
"I need to find a company that is willing to risk. I have been met," will it require an interpreter? This will cost money "" Gilsbach said about his job-hunting experience. "Starbucks was willing to take that risk."
Gilsbach first worked in a store in California, but when he found plans to open an ASL Starbucks, he knew it was a perfect opportunity for him. In his new role, Gilsbach now has full accessibility, and he said he really feels he is part of the team.
Don't wait for "shift to rain from the sky"
Jia Zhang / Courtesy of Jackson Busenbark
Instead of creating their own "deaf ecosystems," some deaf employees and organizations push employers and their industries for better accommodation. Some jobs – like driving a passenger bus, screening for TSA and flying commercial aircraft – still require hearing. But deaf employees say that in some cases these claims are based on outdated stereotypes, not the actual ability to do the job.
Deaf pilot Jackson Busenbark may only fly small private aircraft. He does not have a prime medical certificate required by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly larger jets and live as an airline pilot. According to FAA regulations, he cannot get one because larger airports and airlines rely on radio communications.
However, Busenbark and other pilots in the Deaf Pilots Association who count over 200 claim the FAA's multibillion dollar efforts to modernize the US airspace, called NextGen, will eliminate the need for radio communications. Under NextGen, flights will be satellite-based and GPS-based, using data communication such as subtitling for additional voice communication.
Busenbark was featured in the CSD's "Let's Work" campaign and shows deaf people who would be able to do jobs that they are barred from doing.
DJ Garrison / Courtesy of Jackson Busenbark
Texting would actually be safer than voice communication, especially since aircraft are becoming increasingly global and numerous, Busenbark believes.
"Radio communication has its drawbacks. People tend to have misunderstandings all the time," he said. "Accents can be a communication problem, and when two pilots try to contact the tower at the same time, it shatters with the transfer, so critical information can be mistaken, resulting in death."
Despite NextGen's changes in technology, an FAA spokesman said there would still be a hearing requirement for a first-class medical certificate.
"Some voices could be needed as a backup," the spokesman said in an e-mail statement. "Currently, technology exists that allows a deaf pilot to fly safely as a pilot, not."
Busenbark disagrees. He said the problem is not a lack of technology, but rather what he called FAA's culture and stigma against deaf people.
"There is a paternalistic view of deaf people where they believe that deaf people cannot hear it is dangerous," he said. "But there is this thing called deaf gain – a concept of deaf people having the advantage of not hearing people. For example, studies show that we have a better response time to visual stimuli."
CSD used the idea of "deaf gain" to launch its # DeafEffect campaign, calling on deaf workers to share times of times when their hearing loss was beneficial.
Soukup hopes that these campaigns change the social perception of deaf people, but he said he understands it takes time. Meanwhile, CSD also runs a Social Venture Fund that provides deaf-owned businesses with money and support.
"We have adopted this line of thinking about fighting for land, at sea, by plane," Soukup said. "Instead of waiting for a shift to rain from the sky, it's about creating changes with deaf companies."
He added that CSD & # 39; s work will only be done when it is common to see successful then-employees.
"I" I am most surprised when there are success stories, and this is the opposite of what it should be, "said Soukup.
When asked how long he thought it would take Deaf to be just employed, it was the only time Soukup was really speechless.