Building Bridges: Bringing Deaf-Friendly Customer Service to Baltimore

Posted by: Staff Writer on Sept. 5, 2017

Baltimore is a town of depth and breadth; fanning out from a picturesque harbor, it boasts both the culinary delights of Little Italy and its culinary love affair with crabs. The historical town is known for jobs in science, engineering and technology as well as its proximity to one of the most foremost teaching hospitals in the nation. And for several days in August it was the host to one of the largest Black Deaf gatherings in the country.

A record breaking 700 people attended the National Black Deaf Advocates Conference (NBDA) last month in Baltimore, Maryland at the upscale Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, owned by the Marriott Hotel brand. Few may realize that Marriott International is headquartered in the greater Washington, D.C. area and is committed to creating inclusive guest experiences by engaging with a variety of diverse groups.

Baltimore and the beautiful, towering glass frontage of the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, situated right across the infamous Baltimore harbor, are now on the map for providing deaf-friendly customer service. This was never more evident than when conference attendees walked through the glass doors of the sophisticated and modern lobby and were greeted by hotel managers, bellhops, and front desk staff with smiles and a few signs of welcome.

This was by no means the first time deaffriendly partnered with the Marriott Hotel brand. The success of deaffriendly collaboration with the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel to prepare them for the National Association of the Deaf Conference in 2016 is still remembered and talked about today. Wanting to keep the momentum felt from Phoenix NAD, Socorro Garcia, our deaffriendly community outreach manager reached out to NBDA and the hotel explain the benefits of prioritizing deaf-friendly customer service.

Both the hotel and the conference organizers quickly saw the value in having deaf-friendly customer service training catered towards the hotel industry and specifically to prepare them for the conferences. This training, provided by deaffriendly, ensured that the hotel staff were well prepared to engage with Deaf guests so conference attendees could focus on having a successful experience without communication barriers. Companies like Marriott International and the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel in Baltimore who invest in Deaf consumers and prioritize improving Deaf consumer’s experience realize the value in doing so. 

Whether it is in the restaurant, the bar, the lobby, or at check-in - having the ease of access while travelling is something that many take for granted.

Some of the most successful results of training, as shared by conference chair Benro Ogunyipe: “The hotel front desk prepared pen and papers on the check in desks. In addition, prior to check in, the hotel management sent out an email blast to all conference guests a check in sheet to help guests check in more smoothly with parking information, directions to video phone stations, and free Wi-Fi information.” Prioritizing clear communication, the hotel also hired qualified ASL interpreters for the front desk ready to greet guests. ​While there were some snafus such as low lighting for DeafBlind and those with low-vision, this feedback was positively received by both the conference organizers and hotel to make the necessary adjustments in the future.

Overall, the training, the collaboration between deaffriendly and the hotel, the consistent positive attitude, and the unwavering commitment to creating a more deaf-friendly experience establishes a shining example to other businesses and hotels throughout the world on what it means to truly provide deaf-friendly customer service.

In the end, such as in life, it isn’t about getting it perfect, it’s about trying your best, learning from your mistakes and a willingness to work together, in Baltimore and beyond.

Hotel staff pose for a picture with their hands up signing "I LOVE YOU"


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