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Do you know what it means to be deaf-friendly? Well, one aspiring Seattle entrepreneur who recently launched a new business, deafREVIEW, is providing a platform for businesses to learn what that means as well as provide an outlet for the deaf community to share their consumer experiences. Meet Melissa "echo" Greenlee, the visionary behind deafREVIEW. Echo has participated in the Access Fund's Individual Development Account Program for Business Equipment where she was able to save and earn money towards the cost of starting up her business, which she launched in March 2012.
In just a few short months, deafREVIEW has received over 150 business reviews in Seattle and its surrounding areas. Reviews have fallen in categories such as doctors, restaurants, coffee houses, movie theatres, retail stores, bars, banks, grocery stores and even an attorney. Out of those 150, most are positive reviews – a wonderful message about the spirit behind the deaf community; giving praise where praise is deserved. Echo shared, "as a person with a disability, simple things on a day to day basis – like how you are treated when you order your latte – really make an impact on your well-being." And for the businesses that make it a positive experience, echo wants to support, share with her friends, and give her continued business to.
By and large, reviewers on the site have been sharing the experiences that have made their day. But it is also a place where deaf individuals can share frustrating experiences. Every business that is reviewed receives a postcard directing them to their review. And for the businesses that receive negative feedback, deafREVIEW includes information on how a business can improve in being deaf-friendly along with a few resources for further education which includes tips on communication, ASL, business incentives and more. It's not just a rate and review website, it's much more than that – a platform for education and advocacy between deaf consumers and businesses. Oftentimes, it's just a lack of education and familiarity that businesses have… being more deaf-friendly can simply mean slowing your speech down, making eye contact or writing things down on paper.
With Seattle as its flagship city, deafREVIEW plans to launch in other cities across the U.S. Future plans also include "cultural sensitivity" training as well as some ADA training by local deaf advocates.
Echo moved to Seattle from South Lake Tahoe, CA after falling in love with the Pacific Northwest and all that it is has to offer – water, mountains, trees, diversity, and a large deaf community. She became an entrepreneur after working for a variety of organizations where she felt like she was limited from moving up. She wasn’t going to let her success be defined by what hearing organizations thought she was capable of. Communication barriers in the work place made it difficult to gain respect in a hearing dominant workforce.
Being an entrepreneur has certainly been a good fit for echo. But without the IDA program, it would have been a much longer road.
“There were things that I needed for my business such as technology, including our hefty website development fees. The Access Fund was a good fit. It allowed my savings and match to contribute to building the website. I don’t know how I would have been able to do this without their help. It may have been a few years of savings to be able to afford the website build, but the IDA program allowed me to do it in 1/4th of the time.”
Echo’s advice to entrepreneurs with disabilities is to become "your own best advocate. You know what your needs are. There is no cookie cutter approach. Each person and their needs are different.” Thanks for the words of wisdom, echo, and good luck to you and deafREVIEW!
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