Making a Difference in Retail: Why ASL is Beneficial
Think about the places where ASL can benefit deaf people (and all people!) when put into use. A fewplaces that come to mind, are restaurants, stores, and dealerships. When delays and hold ups are minimized, the experience for deaf and hearing consumers would improve and they willfeel more engaged in the process.
Retail is easily one of the least accessible places for the deaf when it comes to navigation, getting their items, and making a purchase. This is so commonplace that deaf people default or prefer to navigate retail on their own, even when retail workers could make their experience more positive and quicker. ASL can be beneficial in so many ways.
(A gif of a white woman in green sweater smiling holding a cup)
Time and time again, language barriers can make easy transactions awkward. Imagine you go into a bar in search of a beverage, but the plan to order one doesn’t work out as simple as you wish. You end up stuck in the middle of a three way conversation between you, the bartender behind the counter, and another customer standing behind you, trying to order their drink over yours.
This is a common example of how others can be disrespectful when encountering a deaf person. To avoid an uncomfortable exchange that annoys all involved, ASL could be the answer to a seamless interaction, especially in a loud environment. If the bartender knew the basics of ASL, your experience could have been much improved.
(A gif of an animated male cashier ringing up a blonde woman as another customer enters the frame, the cashier says “All right, thanks! Have a good day. Good afternoon, sir.”)
The aim of retail is to earn more money every year. What’s the best way to continue that growth? Innovation, adaptation, and finding what works and what doesn’t. The greatest form of continuous improvement is finding ways to reach more consumers, taking their background or accommodations into consideration. If you’re teaching your employees how to sign you’ll most likely make many deaf and hard of hearing consumers happy. Those who witness these accessible experiences will also feel drawn to your establishment. With a welcoming environment, you’ll continue to gain more people who enjoy frequenting your establishment.
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The satisfaction of a job well done can be elusive sometimes when you’re in the retail industry. Customers come and go in different moods. You’ve either made their day or are an addition to their list of frustrations. Helping a deaf person at a store while signing with them may be an exception to those strange in-between moods. Even if the deaf person didn’t need your help in the store, they’d still be thrilled that you were able to sign, and if they ever did need help with anything in your store, they’d know where to find you. Inclusion is an experience that positively impacts you and those you include.
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Products in stores are rarely designed with deaf people in mind. You may see products from time to time that include or reference Deaf culture or ASL. Unfortunately, these are usually sold from vendors that appropriate Deaf culture with their products, with none of the proceeds going to support deaf-owned businesses or deaf artists. This makes real ASL and Deaf culture appear unseen and unimportant in the retail atmosphere.
When someone feels that their culture is represented inaccurately or in a trivial way for profit, it often impacts whether or not they will return to that establishment. Having ASL in the retail experience makes deaf people feel more engaged and important.
Additionally, managers and buyers should consider the authentic representation of ASL and Deaf culture, especially if they are aware of a large population of deaf and hard of hearing people near them. Be sure the products your establishment orders are directly supporting deaf-owned businesses or deaf artists. When people are treated like they matter, they’ll likely come back to your establishment.
(A gif of a black man and a white man dressed in light blue button shirts giving each other a fist bump)
Injustices towards deaf people in public happen in front of hearing bystanders, especially in retail. Whether someone is trying to take advantage of them or simply disrespecting them, deaf people experience discrimination when they’re trying to live their life normally.
As you become more aware of Deaf people and their culture through conversations and interactions, you may start to form a connection with the Deaf community. You’ll be able to see how they are treated on a day-to-day basis.
Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean deaf people are looking for a savior. What they seek more than anything is to be respected just as much as everyone else, and appreciate your genuine support. Your allyship in retail environments will not only be appreciated, but could be returned with the rewards of increased customers, sales, and potentially, connections that last beyond a transaction.
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Much like any skill, the more you practice it, the better you get and the longer it stays in your memory. ASL can be a valuable skill to keep in your repertoire. It is to be noted that if you work at a place that is frequently visited by deaf people, the chance of ASL sticking with you is higher. Places that are located in heavily populated deaf areas could easily transform into a deaf friendly place the more employees learn sign.
ASL has a big benefit because you may end up encountering someone else who may need it along the way. Colleagues, friends, family members, even children could be impacted by your ASL skills whether it is through direct communication, assisting with accessibility, or simply just storytelling. ASL can take you far!