Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Worldwide, more than 466 million people have disabling hearing loss, a number which the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates will rise to more than 900 million by 2050. WHO estimates untreated hearing loss poses an annual global cost of 750 billion international dollars, a figure which includes health costs, educational support and loss of productivity and societal costs. In developing countries, adults with hearing loss have a higher unemployment rate.
The latter is a fact entrepreneur Dhruv Lakra discovered in his home country of India after a chance encounter with a young deaf boy on a bus in Mumbai. Thanks to an exchange with paper and pencil, the boy was able to reach his destination and Lakra was introduced to the type of struggles the deaf experience in a hearing world.
In response, Lakra founded Mirakle Couriers, an award-winning logistics company focused on providing quality employment for India’s deaf population. Within two years, Mirakle Couriers grew to two branches delivering more than 65,000 shipments per month and employing more than 70 deaf employees. In 2016, they caught the attention of e-commerce giant Amazon and now work exclusively for them.
“Generally, you hear that 1% of the workforce is differently-abled. We’re the opposite. Only a small percentage of our staff is able-bodied,” 37-year-old Lakra said in an online article published by Quartz India. “The idea was to radically change how deaf people are employed and to figure out whether we can have an inclusive organization.”
Meanwhile, in the United States…
Although it’s against the law to discriminate against individuals with disabilities in the United States, many companies still shy away from hiring those who are deaf and hard of hearing. And though employer fears regarding costs associated with accommodations and integration are usually unfounded, a recent study published in the New York Times found that employers are 34 percent less likely to hire individuals with disabilities. According to Communication Service for the Deaf, a nonprofit whose mission is to cultivate opportunities for success, under and unemployment among the deaf population is 70 percent.
In spite of the negative statistics, some progressive companies — both large and small — provide good examples of workplace inclusiveness.
Deaf co-owners Nick Buchanan and Mario Essig say their business was inspired one night when they both looked up at a starry sky and witnessed a shooting star. As part of the Deaf community, both were very aware of the unemployment crisis shared by the deaf and hard-of-hearing (HOH) population and wanted to break barriers by sharing their talents in the marketplace.
Pepperbox Coffee, their handcraft coffee service opened in Austin, Texas in 2017 and currently employs four baristas (2 deaf and 2 hearing) as well as an intern from the Texas School of the Deaf who is HOH. Nick says communication is his biggest challenge when attempting to network with local businesses.
“Often I rely on paper and pencil and that does not usually create a warm relationship,” he explained. “While people are generally very encouraging of our business and want to help, it’s the nature of that communication that I end up getting short answers instead of lengthy and meaningful information, as well as (the potential of) getting more people involved.”
Despite the challenges, the co-owners are currently working on the next phase of their fledgling business, which includes providing catering services for local events and businesses. Nick says they eventually hope to move from their walk-up window located on the corner of Marathon and Medical Parkway into a brick-and-mortar building. For now, they’re taking it one step at a time.
“Being able to manage our books and hire the right baristas at the right time is critically important in the early phases,” he said, “so we can get it straightened out for the long run.”
In comparison, on-demand transportation company, Lyft, relies on technology to bridge the gap between their hearing and non-hearing community.
“Lyft has always been committed to empowering both passengers and drivers who are hard of hearing or deaf,” the spokesperson said. “We partnered with the National Association of the Deaf in April 2017, to make the Lyft app more accessible for drivers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Through the partnership, and with feedback from our community, we’ve built new products to further champion an inclusive community.”
Part of these updates include a visual notification for their deaf and HOH drivers which flashes the words “NEW RIDE” on the car’s Amp. Additionally, their passengers receive an automatic SMS notification that their driver is deaf or HOH.
Lyft says the recent updates have been met with enthusiasm by their community and that driver and passenger feedback will drive future efforts to further improve the ride experience.
“We appreciate the hard work and loyalty of our deaf and hard of hearing drivers,” a spokesperson said. “Through partnerships with organizations like NAD, we’re working to empower our deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers, paving the way for smoother rides for both drivers and passengers.”
Diversity is good business
Regardless of the size of the company, a diverse workforce has many advantages. Companies which actively go above and beyond legal requirements to employ those who are deaf or hard of hearing and make accommodations to help them be productive attract loyal employees with valuable skills. No matter how you look at it, that’s always good for business. And, making sure that all people, regardless of their hearing status, have the opportunity to earn an living wage and contribute to their workplace is good for society.
If you have hearing loss that is affecting your work or relationships, don’t delay getting help. Call one of the hearing clinics in our directory and schedule a hearing test today.