Make us your home page
Instagram

Deaf business owners overcome obstacles and prejudice

NEW YORK

Soon after customers arrive at Mozzeria for the first time, they notice something's different about the restaurant: Virtually every staffer is deaf.

Owners Russ and Melody Stein also are deaf, and have run their San Francisco restaurant since 2011. They've managed to have a thriving business by overcoming the obstacles deaf people often face when they become business owners, including stereotypes about what deaf people are capable of doing.

"We have the same skills as a hearing individual," Russ Stein says.

Like the Steins, many deaf business owners face challenges that those who can hear may not. They often encounter prejudice. Many don't have the resources they need. And while the Internet has made it possible for them to connect with vendors, bankers, customers and government offices, it's not as accessible as it could be.

For instance, the Small Business Administration started a videophone service this year enabling deaf owners to communicate via sign language with agency employees and making it easier to get help and information about loans and other SBA services. Previously, owners had to use teletype services that were slower and didn't offer the human interaction that video relay does.

But at the same time, few online videos and online seminars designed for small-business owners are captioned or interpreted using American Sign Language.

Better resources are increasingly important because deaf people have the same ambition and ability to be business owners as those who hear, says Tom Baldridge, director of the business administration program at Gallaudet University. There's a growing interest among Gallaudet students in entrepreneurship, matching the increase in business schools across the country.

Gallaudet, which serves deaf and hard-of-hearing people, is giving students experience in running businesses like campus coffee shops. It also has hired a consultant to help the it introduce the idea of business ownership into all its academic subjects.

"A lot is happening right now beyond a few courses in entrepreneurship," Baldridge says.

But when the hearing world comes into contact with deaf business owners, the reactions are mixed.

The Steins have encountered discrimination from people who hear and don't want to make accommodations to help those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The couple has run into resistance when they asked for help at local government offices, including times when they were trying to get permits required for running a restaurant.

"We have had our rough moments," Russ Stein says. "There have been times when I had to ask for interpreters, and I was made fun of; I was looked down upon."

But most vendors adapt to working with the Steins. For instance, Mozzeria's wine vendor has helped them learn more about the restaurant business. As for customers, some seem awkward when they first come in, but they soon relax and enjoy their meals. "They learn to overcome their fear," Melody Stein says.

Deaf business owners overcome obstacles and prejudice 11/25/15 [Last modified: Thursday, November 26, 2015 6:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Water Hogs: During drought, hundreds of Tampa Bay homes guzzled a gallon of water a minute

    Drought

    When Amalie Oil president Harry Barkett plunked down $6.75-million for his Bayshore Boulevard mansion, he picked up 12.5 bathrooms, a pool, a hot tub, an elevator and a deck bigger than some one-bedroom apartments.

    During one of the worst droughts in the Tampa Bay region's history, hundreds of houses used more than a gallon of water a minute. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times

  2. Gov. Scott's tough talk on Venezuela may not turn into economic action

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — To show his solidarity with Venezuelans, Gov. Rick Scott held a rally in South Florida and repeatedly promised to punish companies that do business with the Nicolás Maduro regime.

    Gov. Rick Scott held a rally July 10 at El Arepazo restaurant to show solidarity with Venezuelans. Scott has said he wants to punish companies that work with the Nicol?s Maduro regime.
  3. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is being asked to help the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board get $500,000 from the state so it can stay open beyond February.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally

    Business

    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  5. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members

    News

    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]