Ten years later, deaffriendly’s journey is all over the map - and the marketplace
Posted by: Staff Writer on April 11, 2022
In 2012, Melissa “echo” Greenlee had an ambitious idea - to crowdsource all deaf consumer experiences on a public review platform. This month, we celebrate the 10-year mark of this entrepreneurial journey.
The spark? An Indian restaurant hung up on her video relay call before she could even finish signing “naan”. The rest, as they say, was history. A history that includes a global pandemic, three U.S. presidents, a racial reckoning, and massive shifts in how companies use technology to better reach (and serve) customers.
When we launched the review site - formerly deafREVIEW, before its rebranding in 2014 - the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had already been law for over two decades. But something was still missing: deaf and hard of hearing customers were barely integrated into the marketplace, and there wasn’t a place to share our consumer stories. “Before you had a place to write a review, people’s stories and experiences got shared in private conversations - and then dissolved,” said Greenlee, referring to how information travels through deaf grapevines. “With a concrete place to share your experience, it’s there forever and circulating the World Wide Web which expands the reach and eyeballs on the issues that we face as a community.”
By the numbers: deaffriendly’s 10-year snapshot
Our site’s first reviews were written by a small, earnest group of Seattleites. Imagine being able to share deaf-specific information to a national deaf and hard of hearing audience. It was years before TikTok existed, and Snapchat was just getting started.
Yelp! had already been around for eight years. But it didn’t feel like the place to learn and share what that really runs through every deaf and hard of hearing customer’s brain:
- This dentist accepts my insurance, but will they honor my interpreter request?
- The reviews say this restaurant has “romantic lighting”. Does that mean I can barely see my date’s face and hands?
- Should I just toss this defective product? I’m tired of customer service hanging up on my VRS call again.
To fill the huge void, in 2011 Greenlee began hatching a business plan for a growing demographic: deaf and hard of hearing Americans, which today number over 48 million.
10 years later, reviews in ALL 50 states
Deaffriendly continues to evolve in ways unimaginable ten years ago: “We’ve been asked to replicate our platform in Mexico, Canada and even South Africa,” Greenlee revealed.
While branching out internationally is not feasible just yet, the types of experiences shared on the platform offer absolute proof that the deaf consumer marketplace is large, growing, and deserving of business owners’ attention: “We have had reviews in almost every industry you can imagine – even police departments, weed shops, and strip clubs.”
In the fall of 2012, we celebrated receiving the supplemental register mark from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Not long after, we crossed the 30-review mark from deaf Californians.
Since then, deaffriendly has quickly expanded from the West Coast into the rest of the U.S. To date, the state with the most frequently-reviewed business remains our flagship Washington State. The runner-ups: California, Texas, New York, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, D.C, Arizona, and Maryland - which all have large deaf communities and long-established Deaf institutions and schools.
Going full-circle on our decade-long journey around the nation, we officially have reviews in all 50 states. Deaffriendly received its first review from Alaska last year – for a bobsledding outfit, no less.
What’s next for deaffriendly?
On our first anniversary, we celebrated our 1,000th interview - a four-star review about Cafe Presse, a French bar-Cafe which, while closing last year, still remains in many Seattleites’ hearts.
Heading into the next decade, our goal is to break the 10,000-review mark. But beyond numbers, we have big plans to educate and improve some of the most deaf-challenged industries shared on our site: healthcare, followed by hotels and travel. The most deaf-friendly fields? Dining, salons, and retail.
“What we’ve learned from amassing thousands of your reviews all across the nation is, for the most part, businesses really do want to be inclusive, welcoming and deaf-friendly. They just don’t know how and also need helpful guidance from their deaf and hard of hearing customers,” said Greenlee.
Reviewers are the heart and soul of our site
Since Greenlee wrote the very first review on this site, about a local Starbucks, thousands have followed suit. At least 500 reviewers have written at least one review. Among them are 30 Elite reviewers - those who have earned their title and badges through prolific, frequent reviewing no matter where they travel or live.
The first decade is over, but the journey is just getting started as businesses get serious about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Whether you’ve never written a review or have inked hundreds, write a review today - to shape the next decade of progress for deaf and hard of consumers.