It’s not always easy for deaf people to dine out or shop. The right attitude and a little effort can make all the difference, says Melissa “Echo” Greenlee, founder of Deaffriendly.com.
The online consumer review website gives the deaf community a place to rate the quality of service they receive at restaurants and stores, and also hosts business trainings and events geared toward the deaf and hard of hearing.
“I’m probably a little bit biased because I live here in Seattle,” Greenlee said, “but I feel like Seattle is a very deaf-friendly city — over the top — but there’s always room for improvement.”
Capitol Hill restaurants, for example, need help improving the quality of service they provide to the deaf and hard of hearing, she said.
“Businesses just are not comfortable with deaf people,” Greenlee said. “When we come into their business, they just don’t know what to do.”
Deaffriendly.com is working to ease any frustrations between businesses and customers when more than 600 deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing community members arrive on the Hill next month for SKIN.
Presented by Deaf Spotlight, SKIN is a play written by Crystal L. M. Roberts that follows four deaf queer women struggling in the changing landscape of Capitol Hill. There will be six performances in American Sign Language May 5-7 and May 12-14 at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave. All will be open-captioned in English.
As a Deaf Spotlight partner, Deaffriendly.com is leading a “Deaf-Friendly Dining” training 9:30-11:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 19, at the Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center, 1625 19th Ave.
“A lot of deaf people are successful,” Greenlee said. “We can do everything that a hearing person can.”
That includes choosing where to dine out, she said, and a business that makes itself accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community has the potential to attract regulars.
“Word of mouth really gets around,” Greenlee said. “I should say word of hand really gets around.”
Some restaurants won’t accept relay calls — where a deaf person uses an interpreter — because they won’t take the time to deal with the delay or think the call is a prank or scam, Greenlee said.
Basic ASL skills are very helpful, she said, and Greenlee recommends businesses hire staff that have them. The April 19 training won’t make restaurant workers experts, but they’ll learn enough to assist customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, Greenlee said.
“Attitude is everything. If they have a positive attitude, it has a tremendous impact on the deaf community,” she said.
It’s important that restaurants have good lighting, not be too loud, and also be flexible with requests, Greenlee said.
“Those are all little barriers to communication and to the overall experience of dining in that restaurant,” she said.
Maintaining eye contact and generally treating a customer like any other person isn’t always something Greenlee’s experienced, especially when eating out with her husband, who isn’t deaf. She said waiters won’t talk to her.
“All of this relies completely on my husband,” she said, “and I’m a person too.”
A deaf or hard of hearing customer will sometimes try to write to a waiter or server, but then the employee will speak to them rather than write back, she said; not every deaf person can read lips.
“That problem comes up over and over again,” Greenlee said.
There are currently eight businesses registered for the upcoming “Deaf-Friendly Dining” training, and Greenlee expects more to sign up as the event gets closer. Participants don’t get a sticker to put up outside their storefront, she said. If they do well in improving the way they interact with deaf and hard of hearing customers, she said, it will reflect in their deaffriendly.com rating when more community members report a better experience.
Capitol Hill businesses that receive high marks include Vivace Coffee, Molly Moon’s and Roy Street Coffee. Deaffriendly.com wrote a spotlight piece on Rachel’s Ginger Beer last year, when the company readied its Capitol Hill staff for the annual Seattle Deaf Film Festival down the street at the Northwest Film Forum.
“They’ve done a complete 180 and made the changes we suggested and made their brewery more connected to the deaf community,” Greenlee said. “They just really showed the effort and made the business accessible.”
The registration cutoff for the “Deaf-Friendly Dining” training is Friday, April 14. Businesses can register here.