Are you losing out on deaf customers and their revenues?

Growing up, my father would ask me to interpret for him when he met with our local insurance agent. My father was profoundly deaf, and while fluent in English and fully capable of communicating in writing, American Sign Language (ASL), not English, was his native language, and his preferred language for discussing business.

Unfortunately, even today, deaf parents being forced to use their own children as interpreters when professionals don’t provide them, is an all too common trend. Would you want to rely on a 12-year old with hearing aids [due to his own moderately severe hearing loss] to understand your customer, and be understood by him/her?

I am proud of the trust my late father put in me, but this was a horrific FAIL by our insurance agent. By not hiring a certified sign language interpreter, our agent lost thousands of dollars in business when my father left him for another agent who had the business sense to use an interpreter.

Your ability to service your customers depends directly on your ability to understand their specific needs and communicate how your products and services address those needs. You already know customers will not buy from you if they don’t trust you. You may not know that they will never trust you if they can’t freely communicate with you!

Think of the incredible investment you make in your sales, marketing, and communications efforts. Don’t throw away this investment, especially when it is easier now than ever to communicate with your deaf and hard of hearing customers.

Unfortunately, in many industries, including insurance, companies are not familiar with how to effectively communicate with prospective and existing customers who happen to be deaf and hard of hearing.

There are many different degrees of hearing loss so always ASK your deaf and hard of hearing customers for their preferred language/communications method.

The communications disconnect is most severe with the estimated two million people in the U.S. who use ASL to communicate. Unless you happen to be fluent in ASL, you will require a certified sign language interpreter to effectively and clearly communicate with people who use ASL.

What about lip-reading you ask? Lip-reading is unreliable as only 30% of spoken English is distinguishable on the mouth and lips. How successful do you think you will be if your customers consistently miss 70% of everything you say to them?

Another option, the “paper and pen” method, is not comparable to using a sign language interpreter. This is because ASL is a visual-spatial language with its own grammatical structure; for example, the English phrase “I give to you” is one word, or sign, in ASL. Additionally, as ASL is often deaf and hard of hearing individuals’ first language, this makes English a second/foreign language to many of these individuals.

Recent advances in technology provide you with some great options to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing individuals. When calling deaf and hard of hearing individuals who use ASL, they may use video and text relay services so you can understand them. Some people may also use captioning services to see and capture everything you are saying.

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is another emerging technology gaining traction among deaf and hard of hearing consumers, and is a service we provide to businesses here at Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD). VRI is a sign language interpreting service where a remote sign language interpreter is available with short notice 24 hours a day, seven days a week through video communications software on an Internet-connected device with speakers and a video camera.


VRI is a great complement to CSD’s on-site interpreter services due to its convenient, instant availability and placement at any location, as well as its short time minimums. The service works equally well for one-on-one discussions and group meetings. While a live interpreter is always best, VRI is a great solution to discuss with your deaf and hard of hearing customers who use ASL.

Had VRI been available and used by our insurance agent, I would have been out of my interpreting job for my father, and my insurance agent would have kept our family as a customer!

As technologies emerge and eliminate communication barriers, we can only think to the future. This is why I was delighted when offered a position with CSD – I knew I would be a part of an organization focused on improving the quality of lives for people who are deaf and hard of hearing by driving positive change and innovation. On a daily basis, I’m given the opportunity to ensure the community I am a part of has access to communication, and I welcome you to join me in ensuring your deaf and hard of hearing clientele has full access to communication.

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