Erika Linstaedt solves problems for a living. As a customer service representative, she’s there to help. And she’s offering something new; an innovative and much-needed type of customer service. Erika and her co-workers are providing customer support exclusively in American Sign Language.
Erika works with CSD’s Connect Direct, which was started in 2017 to provide a way for companies to better serve the deaf community. Connect Direct eliminates the need for third-party translation, and creates a business environment where all spoken and signed languages are equal. “I’m thrilled that our customers have the opportunity to communicate with us directly in their native language, ASL,” said Erika.
It has become standard for American customers to have the option to choose whether to speak to a representative in English or Spanish. However, there is not an equivalent option for the 2-3 million Americans whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), despite it being the nation’s third-most popular language.
That’s where Connect Direct comes in.
Robert Giuntoli is a Center Manager for Connect Direct, and last month he oversaw the opening of the United States’ first-ever call center that provides customer support directly in ASL over video, all without the need for an interpreter. He calls it “a revolution in the making.” That’s because existing options for ASL speakers rely heavily on third-party interpreters. When an ASL user wants to communicate with a company, they will often use a video relay service (VRS) where an interpreter fluent in both ASL and English attempts to negotiate a conversation between the ASL-speaking customer and the English-speaking representative.
The existing method, while helpful, still comes with its own problems. For one, the interpreter may not be an expert in the industry language, and therefore unable to accurately relay the information about the problem at hand.
Connect Direct solves these problems by partnering directly with companies to hire and train customer support representatives who are fluent in ASL. Deaf and hard of hearing customers can use video to call a customer service representative, who will help address general customer inquiries, billing questions, tech support, appointment reservations and more, all in their primary language. By using Connect Direct, companies can show they are becoming more sensitive the diversity of their customers.
“I have seen how appreciative the customers are when using Connect Direct to communicate directly with various service providers,” said Robert. “They feel more valued and respected as they were able to communicate directly with a bona fide representative of a service provider that can communicate with them directly in their first language, ASL.”
Connect Direct is helping companies decrease call times, save money, and reduce customer frustration.
Connect Direct is also making an impact on deaf employment. “Connect Direct and CSD are at the forefront of a new industry that will create many new job opportunities for deaf people,” said Robert Giuntoli. “In fact, we’re hiring right now!”Robert Giuntoli describes Connect Direct and the ASL Customer Support Representative position.
Relay services revolutionized communication. In the beginning, relay meant that deaf people could make TTY (teletypewriter) calls to anyone on the phone, whether or not the person they were calling had access to a TTY. And later, relay meant that deaf people could use video to communicate in ASL. CSD was leading each of these innovations, from providing 24-hour relay services all the way back in 1981, to beginning video relay trials in 1991.
And now, we’re introducing the next step… eliminating the need for a third party! We can now provide direct communication with our cutting-edge technology.
In relay calls, every time a deaf person wants to communicate with a customer service representative, for example, they must access a third party operator and rely on their ability to relay information from written text or ASL to the intended recipient – and vice versa. It’s time-consuming, increases room for error, and is impersonal. It’s not a preferred method of communication.
Our new ASL Now option means that deaf people can communicate with a CSD customer service representative directly in ASL! You can video chat with our ASL Now reps anytime between 7 AM and 7 PM CST, Monday through Friday. Our staff is made up entirely of deaf employees who are fluent in ASL, and we are ready to take your calls.
Craig Radford, director of Connect Direct, says, “ASL Now provides the caller with a truly authentic customer service experience, unhindered by communication barriers.
If you have any questions about CSD, simply visit our “Contact Us” page and select the “ASL Now” button on the right side of the screen to begin your chat!
Leading companies are recognizing the need for this service, and understand that you as a customer have the best experience when you are able to communicate in your native language. Connect Direct will be rolling out this same model at many other places as well – ASL Now at CSD’s call center is only the beginning! We look forward to continuing to expand this service to new companies, new cities and new states.
Research has shown that offering direct ASL-based customer service results in three to five times more deaf callers, while average call lengths decreased by over a third. If there is a company you wish offered this option, let them know! And if your company is interested in providing customer service via direct communication, contact Vannessa LeBoss here.
CSD continues to innovate and find new ways to make communication as seamless as possible. We look forward to chatting with you!
CSD has a tradition of bringing in the top Deaf talent from around the world, to help ensure that we can make a positive social impact. And the center of that is our Talent & Culture team, who recruit new employees and provide many services to current employees, including providing training and development. Talent & Culture creates a virtual environment where CSD employees are engaged, motivated, and inspired to do the best work possible.
Talent & Culture Manager Amy Hardy says, “My goal at T&C is to set up all CSD employees for success. CSD is a training ground and a proving ground. It’s where our employees can grow to maximize their potential, and a place where employees can thrive.”
CSD is the largest Deaf-led social impact organization in the world, and also an all-virtual company. This means that rather than having a brick-and-mortar office building where our employees work, we connect online. We work together in the virtual sphere – email, video-conferences, and more. Talent & Culture Representative Lisa Bayless says, “CSD is a virtual company because we want our employees to strengthen the many different communities in which they live. Here at Talent & Culture, we encourage CSD employees to volunteer, serve, and lead in their local communities.”
One example of this kind of encouragement is the “Live Here, Give Here” initiative. “Our goal is to strengthen local Deaf communities,” says Hardy. “Through ‘Live Here, Give Here,’ our employees give back to their communities.”
Some examples of employee activities via “Live Here, Give Here,” include leadership in local organizations like Deaf Women of Austin, the Bake a Wish Foundation, and Minnesota State Academies. CSD has a large workforce with a lot of geographic diversity; employees can be found throughout the United States and even in New Zealand.
Ultimately, Talent & Culture is about cultivating opportunities for Deaf success. When asked about her favorite part of her job, Hardy says, “Interacting with our employees. Team CSD is the heartbeat of our organization. Every member of the team is inspiring and makes me want to be my best.”
CSD Unites co-hosted an event celebrating the diversity and leadership of the African diaspora. Attendees watched presentations from individuals representing the mother continent and its diaspora. The fantastic presentations educated us about the status of Deaf folks in specific regions and encouraged intellectual discourse on doable and sustainable solutions.
Event presenters included Isidore Niyongabo, founder of International Deaf Education, Advocacy and Leadership (IDEAL). Originally from Burundi, Niyongabo shared his passion for advocacy on his mission for access to education and a better quality of life for Deaf children and youth in sub-saharan Africa and globally through IDEAL.
Kriston Pumphrey, the newly hired program manager of CSD Unites, brings his energy and passion to further the program’s impact. CSD Unites’ mission is to use equity and social justice principles to support issue-based mobilization in the Deaf, Deaf Blind, Deaf Disabled, Hard of Hearing, and CI-using community to address crucial needs, and enhance the current work of organizations and stakeholders in the community through capacity building.
Pumphrey is excited and motivated about the future of the program: “It is my hope to continue to identify individuals and organizations that align with the focus of CSD Unites. By creating and holding space, we can welcome others to participate, to share their thoughts and engage. I believe that when we do the work to build real relationships, we truly become stronger together. Rather than just being mere recipients of services and grants, communities need to take the lead in the development process by identifying and exchanging resources. Only communities know their local conditions and issues and they are best placed to decide what their priorities are.”
The event was an amazing opportunity to connect and collaborate. Through making these in-person connections, we increase our collective knowledge and skills, building capacity and strength within our Deaf communities worldwide. We are so grateful to all who attended. Special thanks to fellow cohosts, Gallaudet’s ASL & Deaf Studies Department as well as Gallaudet President Office’s sponsorship in making this event possible!
If your organization wants to join in Unites’ work, we want to know about it! Please contact us at Unites@CSD.org.
What kind of stories do you see about Deaf people in the news or in your social media feed? What sorts of words, language, or images do you notice are associated with Deaf people?
Are they stories of woe and despair turned into hope? Are they stories about overcoming adversity and challenges? Are they stories of people not letting being Deaf stop them from being whatever it is they want to be?
That can feel positive, but these stories often have a dark flip side – an unseen narrative that implies that being Deaf is not something to celebrate, but something to get past, to overcome.
For the millions of people who consume stories like this, unconscious bias can creep in, creating and reinforcing damaging misperceptions about Deaf people. Biases based on inauthentic, negative representation can affect everything from personal or professional relationships to the likelihood of being hired for a job.
That is why CSD is undertaking a new initiative designed to address inauthentic representation, and the biases and misperceptions it perpetuates. Our new #DeafinMedia campaign will foster a healthy dialogue geared towards positive change. The campaign will be led by Jenna Beacom and Tyrone Giordano, with the support of CSD’s PREP team, and will be living mostly online and in the social media spheres.
CSD CEO Christopher Soukup says, “I am proud of the culture that we have cultivated at CSD, with Deaf and hearing people working seamlessly together. We already know here at CSD that Deaf people have incredible value to offer the world—something that the world at large is slowly learning as well. With every story we tell about our community and the people in it, we can accelerate this learning.”
#DeafInMedia will engage the public by interacting with the stories about us that are circulating out there. #DeafInMedia addresses three main areas: representation of Deaf people, Deaf professionals who work in the media, and audiences that consume media on a daily basis. #DeafInMedia is meant to celebrate good portrayals as much as it is to critique problematic ones, all in the name of positive social change.
Tyrone Giordano says, “In two decades of working in news and entertainment media, I’m beyond convinced of the power of telling stories to create positive change, especially when stories about Deaf people are told by ourselves or with our active participation.”
Let’s advance the conversation about Deaf people, and ensure that the stories told about us accurately reflect who we are: human beings who contribute to the wonderful diversity that is all of collective humanity.
Visit the #DeafinMedia website here: www.deafinmedia.com
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month!
NDEAM goes back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October of each year as, “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
How can you support NDEAM?
- Join a CSD Works webinar this month supporting employers who want to hire Deaf and Hard of hearing employees. Register or learn more about the October 22nd session here or the October 24th session here .
- Download our the new e-guide from CSD Works! Good communication with Deaf people includes understanding how to use sign language interpreters – whether that’s on the phone, in-person or over video. Our e-guide, “All About Interpreters” is a great way to learn more about how to best support Deaf employees communication needs in the workplace. Download it here.
- Show employers your #DeafEffect. Check out the NEW Featured Jobs webpage here. Apply for a job, upload your resume, or share with your friends and family who might be interested.
- If you live in Texas, sign up for the Job Club to participate in a free online 6-week training program. Get interview practice, résumé feedback and more in ASL with Deaf professionals. Great for high school seniors or recent college grads! Learn more here.
- Visit our Let Us Work webpage, and share on social media! The video introducing Let Us Work can be found here.
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