Podcast Ep. 79: Engaging Deaf Customers and Employees Continued

Nov 4, 2021

In this special bonus episode of The Forum Podcast, Vannessa LeBoss (Communication Service for the Deaf) and Craig Radford (Communication Service for the Deaf) answer questions from listeners that attended our September 16, 2021 webinar Engaging with Deaf Customers and Employees.

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Vannessa LeBoss and Craig Radford answer questions from our listening audience around these talking points:

  • Organizations & consultants that can help us create that successful program
  • Costs associated with DVC
  • Service available for targeted hiring to the deaf community
  • Where to find ASL training for our staff in order to better serve our internal and external customers
  • Recommendations for DVC software or organizations who offer this software
  • Recommendations for larger organizations to implement DVC
  • Resources for improving customer intimacy within the healthcare setting
  • Firms that work directly with deaf/hard of hearing people that companies could partner with to get our job posting into the deaf community

For additional context and insight into this topic and conversation, watch the replay of Engaging with Deaf Customers and Employees.


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

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Ben Rue: Hello, and thank you for tuning into this special Forum on Workplace Inclusion podcast: Engaging with Deaf Customers and Employees Continued with Vannessa LeBoss and Craig Radford of Communication Service for the Deaf. I’m Ben Rue, program manager here at the forum. This is a continuation of our September webinar, Engaging with Deaf Customers and Employees. If you haven’t watched that yet, I would highly recommend you do. There were so many great questions that we weren’t able to get to in the webinar, that Craig and Vannessa were gracious enough to come back and answer a few of those.

Let’s get started. Hi, Vannessa and Craig. Thank you both so much for coming back, we’re so excited. We had so many great questions at that wonderful webinar that I’m so grateful for you, and I’m sure our attendees are grateful that you were able to come back and answer some of those questions we weren’t able to get to.

Vannessa LeBoss: Thank you for having us back.

Ben Rue: Of course.

Vannessa: Quick introduction again, I’m Vannessa LeBoss. I’m the director within Communication Service for the Deaf, and the division I work in is Connect Direct, which is a direct video calling program. I have been working within the deaf community and [00:02:00] language communication services for about 22 years.

Ben Rue: Thank you.

Craig Radford: Hello, I’m very happy to be here today. My name is Craig Radford, I’m vice president for Communication Service for the Deaf. I’m responsible for emerging markets within CSD. I oversee three different divisions. I oversee Connect Direct. I also oversee Gridcheck interpreting platform, and our new telehealth program that we’re looking forward to launching in 2022. Very excited to be here. I know last, we talked about direct video calling, DVC, and I wanted to give a brief overview or a vision of what DVC is.

The federal government is actually really pushing to make direct video calling available. What it does is it allows a deaf person to call directly to a trained deaf representative who’s fluent in American Sign Language, without using a third-party interpreter to interpret that communication. That way, a deaf person or a sign language user can get all of their communication needs satisfied directly in their first language. I’m looking forward to answering your questions today.

Ben Rue: Great. Thanks so much for that recap. Without further ado, let’s hop on into our first question. The first question, are there organizations/consultants that can help create successful programs?

Craig: Absolutely, that’s something that we do. We have an organization, Connect Direct– That’s what Vannessa was talking about a little bit earlier, and what we have are just resources to support that exact effort. We set up this company four or five years ago, and we’ve seen an absolute amazing change in the community. It’s a turnkey solution where we train and hire deaf people. We have a technological [unintelligible 00:03:55] platform, we have quality assurance that exists within our [00:04:00] program, and we make sure that we serve the deaf community by offering that.

Vannessa: Our direct video calling program, which is called Connect Direct, it– We opened the first all-deaf contact center in Austin, Texas. Before the pandemic hit, all of our representatives were in there full-time, and now we do also have secure telework environments because of the pandemic. That center is amazing, it is completely deaf-led. All of our agents are deaf, our supervisors are deaf, our quality assurance managers are deaf, and we have a lot of success bridging that gap with us and hearing organizations to provide that customer support in sign language.

Ben Rue: That’s so awesome. That is amazing. I remember one of the questions that were answered during the webinar was about hiring deaf people as opposed to hiring hearing people who are just proficient or fluent in ASL. That’s really awesome to hear that you all are doing that. Are there additional costs associated with DVC?

Craig: Yes. Costs are truly dependent. They’re dependent on multiple factors, for example, how many calls you’re processing. You have to recall, you’re already paying hearing representatives to take these calls. That’s something that you’re already paying for. When a deaf person calls through the Video Relay Service and they connect to your hearing representative, you’re paying for that time to cover that time for those calls that are coming through the VRS.

For us, we’ve noticed that with direct video calling, call times have reduced by 42%. That’s going to free up those English-speaking representatives who handle, and allow them to handle their English-speaking calls. The costs associated with that can be redirected into direct video calling. Also, you’re doing a good thing– Remember, the deaf community is 70% under or [00:06:00] unemployed, so for us, it’s a situation where we can create jobs and provide a great customer experience for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

Vannessa: The other expenses that might be involved, it’s just the technical platform, and we have that. I think we’ll talk about that in another question. I saw the list, there’s a lot of questions, but there is a video technical platform. Essentially, it functions as a menu tree, the exact same way that your current voice-activated customer service numbers work– Press 1 for this, press 2 for that. We do have a platform that allows calls to be routed to specific agents, and it takes calls and lets you divide current customers and future customers, so you can really track how your customer support program is being impacted within the deaf community.

Ben Rue: Thank you for that. That’s really great. What service is available for targeted hiring to the deaf community, speaking of hiring?

Craig: There are a lot of services that exist out there. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but CSD, Communication Service for the Deaf is one of the largest social impact organizations in the world. As an organization, we’re an umbrella organization truly for a bunch of different businesses, and Connect Direct is just really one part of that CSD family of businesses. We also have another division called CSD Works. CSD Works, their focus is creating jobs, job placement, making sure that we’re working with companies who want to hire deaf and hard-of-hearing professionals to provide training, that sort of thing. We have an enormous pool of deaf and hard-of-hearing candidates who are looking for work. We’ve filtered them, and we can help place them to make sure that you get a qualified person within your organization.

Ben Rue: That’s awesome. Vannessa, is there anything you’d like to add to that?

Vannessa: I’d love to say we’re mission-driven. As a nonprofit organization, and like Craig said, the largest [00:08:00] social impact organization for the deaf in the world, we are completely mission-driven. At the end of the day, we want organizations to implement these services, and we want to be that support. We have a turnkey solution, we want to make sure that it’s done right. Sometimes companies might go it alone, and they don’t have that deaf expertise–

Craig said Connect Direct is about four or five years old, but CSD as an organization I think is 47 years old. We truly have that expertise to make sure that it’s being done the right way, and implemented correctly, and really covers that 360-view of how things need to happen, versus just, “I’m going to hire some deaf people to help with that percentage rate we heard about.”

Ben Rue: Thank you for that. I didn’t realize you were the largest in the world. That’s awesome. The next question, our company is looking for ASL training for our staff in order to better service our internal and external customers, any suggestions?

Craig: CSD does offer training and consultation, so if you’re looking to provide ASL training internal to your employees, for me and for us, I think that’s great. Increasing that communication between your deaf and hearing employees and customers, that builds a bridge of communication, but if you’re providing ASL training for your employees to provide customer support completely, it’s truly not a long-term solution, something like an ASL class.

There’s a lot more involved in the deaf community. It’s a cultural community, learning a language takes years and years and years to manage, and when you really get into the deaf community, that becomes part of who you are, that ability to connect with the deaf community. That alone is extremely powerful, and that’s truly the best solution– A long-term solution, but in terms of just being able to communicate, we’d be happy to provide training and education in ASL, absolutely. [00:10:00] For providing customer support, our suggestion is, obviously, to consider hiring deaf people, deaf people working in American Sign Language, or contract out to an organization like our organization to be able to support your organization as a resource.

Ben Rue: Do you have any recommendations for DVC software or organizations who offer this software? Any recommendations for larger organizations to implement?

Craig: Absolutely. It’s important that people know that the Video Relay Service has been around for– Gosh, roughly like 20 years. There are 210,000 video phones that have been installed all over the country. Those are what we call legacy video phones. Those legacy video phones, how they work is they have the ability to connect to a sign language interpreter, who will relay the call between the deaf and the hearing participants in that call.

Now, if you set up a platform, that’s great, but you need to be able to bypass the interpreter, right? The only way to bypass the interpreter is to register a third-party neutral organization that’s set up by the FCC that allows a video phone to access and lookup phone numbers that are registered within that system, within that database. That allows you to connect directly to another video phone, so you have to have that access. If you set up a new platform, you need to be able to access that server, and you have to get a certification. You have to get a license from the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, to be able to do that.

At Connect Direct, we do have that certification, and we also do have that platform. That interoperability is really important, and it’s expensive to develop. Oftentimes, [00:12:00] it’s just more cost-effective to be able to contract that out with a company like ours who already has access to that database. We are run by and for deaf people, so we’ve done the research, we’ve done deaf focus groups, historical research, that sort of thing, to develop what is essentially the right [unintelligible 00:12:17] platform for the deaf community. If you’re considering setting something up on your own, I do strongly encourage you to reach out to us for consultation, and we can support you in figuring out what the best platform is to fit your need.

Ben Rue: Awesome, thank you. I was going to say, my best friends, both their parents are deaf. I remember going to their house when I was young, and their video phones, their legacy video phones, I just found them so cool and– Yes, fun memories.

Vannessa: I’ll add one thing. The nice thing Craig was talking about, the video phones, which is what a lot of deaf households rely on, but our platform also allows us to connect, and we talk a little bit about this in the presentation, through WebRTC technology. We can register your phone number, your organization’s phone number, and connect directly from videophone into the deaf representatives, and at the same time, any of the generation that wants to just– They’re on their mobile device, or they’re on their tablet or anything, laptop, they can also just be on your website. They can see that you offer direct video calling, they might see the “ASL Now” button we showed. They can click on it, and through that technology, they can also connect.

The nice thing about our platform is it’s the only one that does both. There are platforms out there that can do WebRTC, but not also with the video phone combined, and you’d be ending up buying two separate platforms, so we do love that all-in-one solution.

Ben Rue: Nice. Yes, who doesn’t love an all-in-one solution? [crosstalk]– Oh, sorry.

Craig: Sorry, I just wanted to add something really quick. As far as video phones go, a lot of VRS providers, [00:14:00] Video Relay Service Providers, have developed softwares or apps that you can download onto your telephone, and softwares that you can download onto your laptop computer to be able to communicate through your webcam, but those softwares and those apps that you download still require a connection to that third-party neutral server to be able to communicate directly.

Ben Rue: Good to know. Thank you so much for that. Do you provide resources for improving customer intimacy within the healthcare setting?

Craig: Yes, is the short answer. It’s funny that you ask that, because we’re currently in the process of implementing a telehealth program.

Ben Rue: Oh, that’s awesome.

Craig: Roughly a year ago, at CSD, we decided to set up a hotline for COVID-19 completely at our expense. We just wanted to do this for the community because we knew it was the right thing to do. There are a lot of members of the deaf community who had questions with regards to vaccinations or what to do around COVID-19. What we did is we collected resources, and we trained our representatives to be able to answer questions that people would have in terms of COVID-19. From that idea, we saw this incredible response, really high demand, and we thought to ourselves, “Look, we should build ourselves a network of medical professionals.”

We are actually looking to launch our telehealth program in January to provide healthcare directly in American Sign Language. To increase customer intimacy, yes, of course. We do offer consultation, how best to work with your deaf and hard-of-hearing patients, absolutely. We feel like that’s a very sensitive and very important topic. Today, our goal is to reduce ER visits, and to attempt to reduce costs to insurance companies, [00:16:00] costs in the medical system in general, and to reduce that will help everybody, will help all of us. Then it’ll help companies, it’ll help deaf patients get better services and better care, so– Yes, I’d be happy to sit and talk about that forever.

Vannessa: One thing that amazed me about the telehealth program, as I’ve been seeing it in its stages developing, I’m in Connect Direct, but I really love to see what’s going on there, is how many deaf medical professionals we’ve located, over 200 around the country. If you’d have asked me a couple of years ago, “How many deaf doctors do you think there are?” I’d have been like, “None, one, two, three– I don’t know.” I would have probably thought I could count them on one hand, but we have found just myriads of nurses, and physicians’ assistants, and doctors, and MDs that are deaf and can communicate in ASL. That telehealth program is just going to be a dream come true for just thousands, potentially millions of deaf patients around the country.

Ben Rue: Definitely, that is so amazing. Thank you so much for starting that for COVID. It’s so awesome to hear that it’s developing into something so much bigger, and that’s going to help so many more people. To your point there, the deaf community– Like I said, I grew up with best friends [unintelligible 00:17:19], so I was pretty involved in the deaf community. I knew their parents, and I knew they worked in various fields, but other people who aren’t like me or don’t have that privilege, don’t really know how big and varied the deaf community really is. Thank you both so much for all you’re doing.

I’m so sorry to say that this is our last question, but I think it’s a really great question to end on. Before I do that, I do just want to thank you both for coming back, and like I said, continuing this great conversation, and sharing about the great work that you’re doing for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Thank you so much. The last questions [00:18:00] that we are going to be tackling today are, are there any firms that work directly with deaf/hard-of-hearing people that our company could partner with to get our job postings into the deaf community, into this wide varied deaf community?

Craig: Yes– I should start with saying thank you, Ben. Thank you for that. Like I mentioned earlier, CSD is this umbrella organization. We do have a specific division, and their responsibility is to take care of exactly this. The name of the division is CSD Works. We’ve spent years and years and years building this division and building a pool of candidates that are professionals in various different fields, those diverse fields. If a company is looking to hire for a specific position, absolutely, feel free to reach out to us. We can have that conversation and try and figure out what your criteria is for a particular position, and we can work to find somebody who meets that need.

Remember, like we’ve said, we’re the largest social impact organization in the world for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and we have very, very strong social media presence with the deaf community, we have very strong relationships with the deaf community. We also work with a lot of other nonprofit deaf-owned organizations across the United States as partners, and we work with them in their areas of expertise. If you need a job for a specific area, a specific city, we can reach out to those nonprofit organizational partners, the ones that we’re working with, and make sure that we find somebody in your area, and that we get the right fit to fill your job. That’s one of our areas of expertise.

We’ve seen over the years where somebody would join our organization, and develop, and grow, and sometimes they’ll jump from our organization to take another job, but they start with CSD. For us, that’s great because we’re about creating opportunity, we’re about creating jobs, we’re about giving the deaf and hard-of-hearing [00:20:00] community exposure and experience, and to raise them up to become what they’re capable of as equivalent as their hearing peers.

Vannessa: I don’t think I can add anything to that. [chuckles] Thank you so much for having us back. Again, we really look forward to– We’ve already had quite a few reach-outs from individuals and organizations from the presentation, and we are just really happy and excited to partner with you or answer any other questions you might have if you reach out to us.

Ben Rue: Wonderful. Thank you both so much. I was going to say, Vannessa, that’s going to be hard to follow– [laughs]

Vannessa: [unintelligible 00:20:36]. I’ll just mute myself, it’s fine. [laughs]

Ben Rue: Thank you both so much, again, for coming back. I’m so happy to hear that so many organizations are reaching out and taking advantage of the wonderful services that you’re offering. Thank you again, and we hope we can continue to work with you in the future. Thank you so much.

Vannessa: Thank you, Ben. You’re welcome.

Ben Rue: Have a great day. Bye.


Thank you so much, Vannessa and Craig, for coming back for this wonderful podcast, and answering these important questions, and thank you to our listeners for joining. If you’d like to learn more about engaging deaf customers and employees, you can contact Vannessa and Craig at vleboss@csd.org, and cradford@csd.org. New episodes of the Forum Podcast are available at forumworkplaceinclusion.org/podcast. Episodes can also be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and Stitcher. Thank you again for listening. Have a great day.

Speaker 1: Thank you again for listening to the Forum on Workplace Inclusion podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast to get updates on the latest episodes. Also, tell us what you think by reviewing our podcast, we’d love to hear your feedback. For more information, visit us at forumworkplaceinclusion.org, or search “Workplace Forum” on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Thank you very much, and have a great day.


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