When you think of the words ‘Deaf Guru’ the image that springs to mind is some of the legends of the deaf world, people who have that special ability to bring the world to life in their signing hands.
People, perhaps, like Jerry Hanifin (who once signed the entire film ‘Speed’ as dramatically as the real thing in just 5 minutes), and the Deaf Comedians he worked with, or deaf stand-up comic John Smith.
An initiative at London’s new O2 store launched yesterday – a Deaf Guru advising their customers – isn’t quite what I visualised above, but it’s nearly as good.
Last week I wrote a Guardian blog arguing that telecommunications companies had left deaf people trailing far behind. Well, this goes some way towards showing that some people working in the industry are genuinely trying to provide a better service for deaf people.
Abigail Gorman (pictured above) will be their Deaf Guru, working in the store five days a week. She’s a deaf Londoner, and fluent in BSL. Abigail will serve both deaf customers (who can book an appointment directly with her) and hearing customers too (through an interpreter). Presumably she’ll be living up to her billing by providing some life advice too (!)
Joking aside, essentially, she’ll be, like other staff in the store, selling phones. The difference is, because she’s deaf herself, she’ll be able to explain the phone or contract clearly to deaf customers in their own language. Another benefit is that she’ll be showing hearing people, whether staff in the store or their customers, how to communicate with a deaf person.
For hard of hearing people, the store also has hearing loops and personal listeners. It features a lift to allow people to easily access the lower level, and they’ve also worked closely with the RNIB to become fully accessible to blind and visually impaired people.
The store is run by Telenomics Ltd, who said: “We want to make these devices as accessible as possible to the sight loss and D/deaf communities by offering the best level of service that we can. This includes educating our staff on the devices and applications available, putting them through Sight Loss and Deaf Awareness training, and having a member of staff who is fluent in BSL.” Word is that if it takes off, Deaf Gurus could be employed at other O2 stores.
I wish more companies would follow O2’s lead in providing these kinds of services in their shops. Not only will the company be providing a more equal service for all their customers, they’ll be showing people how to be positive about accessibility.
It’s also great for their business, because deaf and disabled people will know they’ll get a better service in that store than anywhere else. And if it increases their profits at the same time, who’s to complain? O2’s Deaf Guru seems to me to a pretty good definition of a win-win situation.
It’s just a shame my current mobile phone contract with Three doesn’t run out until next year…