Best of Deaf-Friendly Businesses in 2020: The Year of The Pandemic

Posted by: Staff Writer on Jan. 1, 2021

This month, deaffriendly faces a tough task: Highlighting the best businesses in one of the worst years ever, the year of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic raised the bar for deaf-friendly customer service: Behind masks, Zoom screens, and from six feet away. So this year, we’re switching up our “Best of 2020” and focused on categories that have had a major impact on a deaf consumer base: masked communication, no-contact service (curbside), and access to pandemic press briefings.

While we can’t list every business, we want to acknowledge the following fields: Small businesses, which suffered enormous financial losses. Front-line healthcare professionals, our superheroes in scrubs and PPE. And educators, teaching their hearts out through Zoom boxes.

Let’s give the following services and businesses a round of Zoom applause:

NO-CONTACT SERVICE AND CURBSIDE

For errands that can’t be done by VRS or online shopping, deaf and hard of hearing customers usually end up needing to interact with masked people. Many businesses launched a curbside pickup in 2020 - and it’s especially beneficial to deaf customers.

This year, reviewers have increasingly begun crediting businesses with curbside, delivery and takeout options, such as Lowe’s Hardware, Fred Meyer and LemonGrass bistro. Even better: businesses that don’t require a curbside phone call, such as Applebee’s “I’m here” app button for parking lot pickups. 

MASKS: CLEAR, GESTURING, OR OFF

One of the biggest weapons against COVID - a face mask - is also one of the biggest communication barriers for deaf and hard of hearing customers. 

Some can speechread from six feet away. But with a mask? Impossible.

This summer, the deaffriendly team had the opportunity to try out ClearMask, co-founded by a deaf person who had gone through the “dehumanizing” experience of being prepped for surgery without communication access.

For businesses without clear masks, some take a step back to lower their masks: Fat Sal’s Deli associates do this when talking to one deaf reviewer (and handle table arrangements for deaf groups). Encino Pet Grooming also is aware of how important it is to speechread: “In this time of the mask, the owner knows I'm deaf, so as soon as I walked in he took off his mask without me saying a word.”

(Note: Deaffriendly recognizes deaf and hard of hearing customers have different preferences for whether employees remove their mask to make reading lips easier, depending on circumstances such as distance and plexiglass)

PROVIDING SAFE AND ACCESSIBLE COVID PRESS BRIEFINGS

When COVID-19 hit, VRS call volumes surged. Choosing the right provider allows us to do a telehealth appointment with a doctor or call to order takeout. Convo Relay already has a reputation as “ethically excellent,” the “only VRS provider that works on ANY operating system,” and for nonexistent wait times.

Then this year, Convo stepped up their game even more by partnering with other organizations to provide ASL interpretation and captions for presidential press briefings. It also kept its interpreters safe by implementing the @home interpreting service and petitioning FCC for a waiver to allow contract terps.

Joining Convo as a partner (along with RID and CSD) is DPAN.TV: When the current administration skimped out on providing on-air interpreters for deaf viewers, DPAN’s streaming platform became a way for us to get critical pandemic information - such as the White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing - in our native language. As one reviewer put in, “DPAN.TV deserves a big fat payday from the president.” 

(Note: in October, the White House itself finally began providing interpreters).

GOVERNOR’S OFFICES

COVID responses differ from state to state, so deaf and hard of hearing Americans also look to their state governors’ leadership. 

After having no reviews until early this year, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee’s office was flooded with four 5-star reviews from appreciative deaf Washingtonians. “Having a choice to read either the captions OR watch our Deaf interpreters has made the entire process painless,” one wrote.

Others love that Inslee’s press briefings use a Deaf Interpreter and the reduced anxiety in getting information in their native language. In Minnesota, the office of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lt Governor Peggy Flanagan also provides Deaf Interpreters and real-time captions for press briefings.

ACCESSIBLE MEDIA AND LOCAL COVID-19 BRIEFINGS 

Aside from federal and state governments, municipal and local-level organizations also stepped up to make their pandemic communications accessible to the deaf Community.

Atlanta-based WSB TV Transmit employed a Deaf Interpreter and took steps to make it a comfortable workspace, including providing a dark blue fabric to minimize "visual noise.” Los Angeles City Hall earned kudos for having ASL interpreters for COVID TV briefings (with a request to consider Mexican Sign Language interpreters for LA’s heavily Spanish-fluent base). The City of Seattle provides interpreters and captions through the pandemic. “It really saves our lives,” one reviewer said. 

LAST BUT NOT THE LEAST

The pandemic has led to intense stress and “skin hunger,” a term for touch deprivation. So we’d be remiss to not mention the perennial winner of our “Best Of” year-end nods: Julia Cameron's Magical Mystical Massage Tour has received 60 reviews to date.

One reviewer recently went in for a lymph massage based on doctor’s orders. A mask proved to be no deterrence: “Julia's communication skills are perfect for both deaf and hearing clients; she signs and speaks perfectly, even with a mask!"

LOOKING TOWARDS 2021...

The year 2021 is arriving with the promise of a COVID vaccine distribution (in varying stages). But that doesn’t mean Zoom meetings, masking, distancing, and curbside delivery will vanish overnight. If anything, many of these things will still be around - especially virtual meetings. Businesses that adapt quickly will be in the position to serve a demographic of 466 million deaf and hard of hearing customers - in the best of times, and in the worst of times. 

And it all comes down to continuous feedback and education from you, deaf consumers! Write a review today, to help businesses re-learn how best to serve you in 2021.

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We’re aware that issues facing the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing Community can become quite passionate and divided. What can we say, we’re a group of passionate people! While we fully support a community full of passion, we also require that comments are respectful. We think negative attitudes and disrespect are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with people, you just need to do it respectfully. We reserve the right to delete or edit any comments we feel are judgmental, rude, or of attacking nature.

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