For one group of entrepreneurs, technology may be the great equalizer.
Deaf people across the country are more likely to be unemployed, not get hired and either leave or lose a job due to discrimination, but Charlottesville’s Dominic Lacy says new technologies are leveling the playing field.
Lacy is the chief innovation officer for Communication Service for the Deaf, the nation’s largest deaf-led social impact organization. He also leads the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit’s social venture fund, which acts as an incubator for deaf persons starting up their own businesses and supports businesses that focus on hiring deaf persons.
“One thing technology has done for us is to be an equalizer for the deaf community in general,” Lacy said. “It has helped change how we communicate and negotiate between individuals and between deaf persons. For businesses, it can create a form of communication that helps overcome barriers.”
Lacy knows of what he speaks. With limited hearing, Lacy uses an internet application that allows conference video connections that include an American Sign Language interpreter to create a seamless interview conversation.
That same technology, known as video relay service, is used in many deaf-owned business across the country. It allows those who know ASL to communicate with each other or with those who hear with the advantage of being able to see facial expressions and body language.
“By our nature, deaf persons are problem solvers and we work to overcome barriers,” Lacy said. “It’s something that we do every day, and as technology advances, we take advantage of it.”
Lacy has serious business chops. The Southern Methodist University graduate has a bachelor’s degree in business and political science. He worked for 14 years as a senior manager at Accenture Strategy, a consulting firm that assists corporations in implementing new technologies, developing business models and streamlining operations.
He joined Communication Service for the Deaf in January 2018 to apply his expertise on behalf of deaf-owned businesses.
There is a need. University studies across the country and statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Labor show that nearly half of deaf people in the United States are not actively seeking employment. That compares with about a quarter of those who hear who are not in the workforce.
For those who are in the workplace, statistics show deaf people are just as likely to work full time as their hearing peers and that they earn similar salaries.
“Employers may not want to hire employees who are deaf because of a misperception that it would cost more money to hire a deaf person,” Lacy said. “But deaf employees tend to stay with an employer longer, so the cost of recruiting deaf employees can be offset by hiring someone who is loyal.”
For San Francisco-based Mozzeria Pizza, loyal employees, plus innovation, multiplied by technology pays dividends.
The business is deaf-owned and staffed by deaf employees. A menu featuring ASL directions for ordering at the restaurant is combined with a video relay ordering system for call-in orders.
Customers call and give their orders to an unseen interpreter who relays it by video to an employee who replies with ASL back to the interpreter, who then speaks it back to the customer.