It’s true, H Street in Washington D.C. is getting a new Mozzeria!
This will mark the second ASL-centric business on H Street in Washington, D.C., joining the Starbucks Signing Store that opened to great fanfare last fall. Mozzeria and other deaf-owned eateries have shown that putting deaf customers front and center can lead to success. Not only are these businesses thriving, but they are providing opportunities for deaf people to find employment.
Creating these kinds of opportunities is part of why CSD established our Social Venture Fund (CSD SVF) in 2017. The CSD SVF is the first-ever social impact fund and incubator for deaf-owned businesses in the United States, and intends to help address the 70% unemployment and underemployment rate among deaf Americans. Mozzeria was the first partner in this initiative, with the goal of reproducing the successful business model in other American cities. Since then, the CSD SVF has brought in four more partners, most recently National Deaf Therapy and Bus Door Films.
Construction of the Mozzeria location in D.C. is planned for the fall. Hiring will begin in early 2020, and then it will open in the spring of 2020. The location was selected with many favorable factors in mind, including the availability of many deaf people who are already experienced in the food service and hospitality industries.
Meanwhile, the search for the perfect Mozzeria location in Austin continues! As soon as the Mozzeria team finds the right space and has reached an agreement with all appropriate parties on the space, they will announce the location and the timing of that opening.
For general information and updates about Mozzeria, including information about employment opportunities, please sign up here.
CSD SVF is growing! Bus Door Films (BDF) is the fifth business partner of our Social Venture Fund. Deaf-owned BDF is an early stage creative production and filmmaking business focused on providing quality video services for both deaf and hearing clients, and increasing the deaf artistic talent pool behind the camera.
Bradley Gantt and Ruan du Plessis, BDF founders, started their collaboration when they were just fourteen years old. “I had just moved from South Africa when I met him,” says du Plessis, “And we experimented with cameras like the webcams on our computers. Then we began working together professionally after we graduated from high school.”
BDF is a new startup providing comprehensive and high-quality creative production services for both deaf and hearing clients, including advocacy groups, nonprofits and corporations. The two former CSD employees have compiled an extensive list of video and film production credits, including work with ASL Films and CSD’s recent “Beyond Inclusion” film starring Nyle DiMarco. They are also joining a new feature-length film shoot this fall.
“Bus Door Films is poised to become an exemplar of the values held by the CSD Social Venture Fund,” says Christopher Soukup, CEO of CSD. “We have known Bradley and Ruan for several years and continue to be impressed with the quality of their creative work. Bradley and Ruan have already proven themselves with their previous work at CSD, working on contracts with government agencies and other private and public organizations with a high degree of client satisfaction. More importantly, their vision to expand deaf talent behind the camera is beautifully aligned with ours in addressing critical gaps in employment, and their presence will help increase authentic representation and the numbers of deaf people working in the creative production industry.”
Key BDF services include: film and video production both in-studio and on-location, editing, sound, visual effects, live event capture and streaming, and consultancy and advisory services.
“We are very honored CSD has named us as one of its SVF partners,” Gantt and du Plessis say. “We recognize that while onscreen deaf talent is becoming increasingly visible today, it is equally important to have deaf talent behind the camera to help drive the creation of content that more closely includes real deaf perspectives, and not just for deaf audiences only. CSD’s support will allow us to accelerate our vision and we are very excited to be working with them.”
The CSD Social Venture Fund (CSD SVF) is the first-ever social impact fund and incubator for deaf-owned businesses in the United States. CSD created this multi-million dollar fund in 2017 to help address the 70% unemployment and underemployment rate among deaf Americans.
“We really enjoy seeing the people who come to work with us hone their own skills,” says Gantt. “That creates a larger pool of talent. I want us to push our quality level even higher, and show people that we can be as qualified as HBO or Netflix – the kind of quality you see in Hollywood films. It’s our goal to get there – not just us two, but everyone collectively. I want us all to make things happen.”
CSD SVF is growing! National Deaf Therapy is the fourth business partner of our Social Venture Fund. NDT is a national web-based mental health platform fully dedicated to serving the deaf, deaf and blind, deaf and disabled and hard-of-hearing communities with a nationwide network of deaf therapists.
Co-founder Amanda Sortwell Crane says, “Our focus is group practice, a mental health service for the deaf and hard of hearing community members. The service is done virtually, using an online video platform. This is important because many members of the deaf community know each other, creating a situation where we have difficulty finding a licensed therapist who doesn’t already know us personally.”
Founded by professional licensed therapists and longtime friends Amanda Sortwell Crane and Megan Erasmus, NDT launched in March of 2018. Sortwell Crane and Erasmus, both deaf, identified a significant gap in the market: mental health services rarely satisfy the needs of the deaf community. The two Gallaudet University alumnae launched NDT with one key goal: eliminate the unnecessary barriers deaf people continue to face and provide easy access to professional mental health services – help deaf people “find a therapist like me.”
“We’re switching from a more medical setting to a more humanistic interaction from home,” explains Erasmus. “We work with Independent Contractor therapists from different states around the country. The goal is for clients to have options of therapists to choose from.”
“Everything we do at CSD supports creating a world where all deaf people are valued,” says Christopher Soukup, CEO of CSD. “National Deaf Therapy’s efforts through both the career opportunities it provides deaf therapists, and the services rendered to patients under their care, will directly contribute to the overall economic, social and mental well-being of the deaf community. This aligns with the vision of the CSD SVF, which goes beyond ensuring the viability of deaf-owned businesses by amplifying their ability to create positive social change.”
CSD SVF is the first-ever social impact fund and incubator for deaf-owned businesses in the United States. CSD created this multi-million dollar fund in 2017 to help address the 70% unemployment and underemployment rate among deaf Americans.
“We are very excited to be working with CSD,” said Sortwell Crane and Erasmus. “CSD is a leader and innovator and we are very honored to be working with them to advance both economic opportunities and wellness for our community. We know there is a void in the market and we have a big vision for our company. CSD’s support is crucial to helping us grow quickly throughout the country.”
NDT offers a multitude of web-based mental health services through a secure eTherapy video platform. Clients can choose between therapist-led or group sessions for individual, couples and family. NDT also offers group support circles, community and school training and additional specialties, including: disaster relief; trauma sensitive group yoga; pregnancy and post-partum issues; self-harm and suicidal thoughts; holistic and wellness counseling; sexual/gender identity; and severe mental illness and impact on family members.
“We want to be able to reach those living in rural areas who are looking for mental health services, as well as those who live in cities with a higher deaf population, which means less privacy, so that’s not fair to them,” says Sortwell Crane. “We want all deaf people to be able to choose a deaf therapist they are comfortable with. That’s the big goal.”
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.”