Hartford businesses become deaf-friendly for NAD conference guests

Posted by: Staff Writer on July 5, 2018

A busy week is taking place in Hartford, the state capital of Connecticut: The 54th Biennial National Association of the Deaf (NAD) conference is off to a roaring start. With a total of six days (including pre-conference meetings), over 100 workshops, 2,000 attendees, and 300 hotel rooms blocked out for them, the conference presents a sizable - and exciting - hospitality challenge.

Mission accepted … and accomplished: Last week, hospitality businesses Marriott Hartford, Hilton Hartford, and the Connecticut Convention Center took deaffriendly’s customer service training. With professional trainer Rachel Berman at the helm, over 100 staffers learned the nuts and bolts of serving Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing guests.

That included dismantling an etiquette rule: That one shouldn’t point at people.

“In the hearing culture, pointing is considered rude and not shown in the ‘hospitality’ language,” said Berman. “It was fascinating watching them coming to terms with that culture conflict and adapt to the idea of pointing.”

Marriott Hartford, also received an assessment of its hotel: Berman, a guest of the hotel, made notes about accessibility and customer service for each of the areas of the hotel. She then created a comprehensive action plan of things to change prior to the conference to be deaf-friendly.

“The Marriott staff was wonderful and engaging, and it was neat to observe them on duty and applying what they learned from the training,” recalled Berman. Having interacted with a few staffers early on, she adds: “They were already accommodating, but the training provided them way more tools and insight on our community.”

Starbucks shirt fingerspelled in ASLThis week’s NAD conference marks the fourth time deaffriendly has worked with the Marriott brand. Last Fall, Berman and co-trainer Crystal Roberts trained Marriott Baltimore staffers to welcome about 700 attendees for the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) conference.

Marriott-branded Renaissance Phoenix (venue for NAD’s 53rd Biennial Conference) and Marina Del Ray (venue for Council de Manos conference) have also taken deaffriendly trainings in the past.

No surprise for Marriott, which has longstanding partnerships with over 30 diversity organizations and is committed to empowering individuals with disabilities.

ASL classes bridge the divide

Berman, an ASL instructor at University of Colorado Boulder, also taught a separate ASL class to those interested in continuing their skills after the customer service training.

There, 22 staffers practiced signs they’d most frequently use this week, including: Numbers, FOOD, DRINK, ROOM, BATHROOM, WIFI, INTERPRETER, HELP, and STARBUCKS.

“I used the community and communicative approach as typically used in my college teaching.” The approach, called spiral learning, built on the signs that they acquired in an iterative and interactive way: Once Berman taught a new set of signs, she had staffers practice with one another and ensured time to let the signs set in before moving on to new ones. Curious staffers asked many questions about language and Deaf Culture during the ASL class, she added: “The ASL class was more hands-on, as they could actually use it to communicate with the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing guests.”

An inclusive spirit is already manifesting itself at Marriott Hartford: A server at Vivo wrote out the dinner specials in advance. A Starbucks barista wore a tee shirt with the word “Starbucks” fingerspelled.

Berman also ordered from the hotel's Fresh Bites service, by sending a text message to the hotel from her room. Being able to do this resolved a simple, yet frequent barrier for Deaf guests: Ordering room service.

“I suggested many times during the training that it is important to share what they learned so the impact would be wider,” she said.

Hilton staffers also get training

Rachel Berman smiles for the camera in an empty conference roomWith so many NAD attendees in Hartford, local hotels looked to deaffriendly as a source for basic ASL and deaf-friendly service training for its staffers.

In addition to making NAD guests’ visits safe, productive, and comfortable, another goal was to “make everyone's stay really memorable, as well as have fun in our interactions,” said Ali Dezfoli, director of operations at Hilton Hartford.

“Through sharing some of her past experiences (with a sense of humor), Rachel also managed to raise our level of understanding and empathy for deaf people's daily experiences and obstacles,” added Dezfoli.

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Want to learn more about how Marriott Hartford and Hilton Hartford are being deaffriendly? Check out hashtags for #nad2018 and #deaffriendly, and follow both @deaffriendly and @nad1880 to see how the conference is unfolding! Lastly, don’t forget to write your review here about businesses in Hartford, Connecticut.

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