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Washington Food Market Becomes Hub for Deaf Community

Washington Food Market Becomes Hub for Deaf Communityi
October 03, 2013 3:51 PM
A year-old food market in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood has become a unique hub of shopping and dining for the city's Deaf community. VOA's Michael Lipin reports on the key elements that help to draw many hard of hearing customers to Union Market.
Washington Food Market Becomes Hub for Deaf Community
A year-old food market in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood has become a unique hub of shopping and dining for the city's Deaf community.

One feature that draws many hard of hearing customers to Union Market is the ability to communicate with staff members like Thadeus Suggs. The 23-year-old lunchtime food vendor from Seattle interacts with them easily because he is fluent in American Sign Language.

Suggs, who also is Deaf, began working at the historic market weeks after it opened in September 2012, following a major renovation.

Since then, Suggs has been on leave from his undergraduate studies across the street at Gallaudet University - the only university in the world specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students.

With the help of Gallaudet interpreter Carolyn Ressler, Suggs explained what he likes about his job.

'Deaf Mecca'

"One nice thing is it is so close to Gallaudet, which by the way is the 'Deaf Mecca'," he said. "And with that, we are providing services to the Gallaudet community as well as the community at large. I think they benefit from it, as do I."

Suggs can read lips and interact with people verbally, as well. His boss at the TaKorean store, Ross Mayhood, said that makes him a well-rounded communicator.

"He is probably the most valuable member of our staff. And he has been a big part of how popular we are with the Gallaudet crew. There are maybe 10 to 15 people that come in every day and specifically just want to deal with him."

Deaf employees make up about 10 percent of the market's workforce. They also attract regular customers like Cary Barbin, who works at the nearby Gallaudet Clerc National Deaf Education Center.

"I love the fact that this is a sign language environment," said Barbin. "Many of the employees sign, so I can order my food in American Sign Language, and with that, there is not much of an issue."

Employment hub

About 8 million Americans have 'difficulty hearing', according to a 2012 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau. It defines the term as "experiencing deafness or having difficulty hearing a normal conversation, even when wearing a hearing aid."

The Washington Metropolitan Area, where Union Market is based, provides those Americans with some of the best job opportunities in the country. The Census Bureau says 64 percent of working-age area residents who are hard of hearing have jobs, versus the national average of 49 percent for working-age people with difficulty hearing.

Market employee David Uzzell, a recent Gallaudet graduate who is Deaf, said many people in his community also work for the U.S. government.

"They are very good about hiring Deaf employees in the federal system," said Uzzell. "Educational institutions also predominantly hire Deaf students and graduates."

Friendly design

Another attraction of the market for the deaf community is its user-friendly layout.

Gallaudet planning director Hansel Bauman encouraged the developer to build a 'deaf space' that is sensitive to Deaf people's needs.

"In terms of visual language, [they want] to be able to see one another and communicate clearly while they are walking," said Bauman. "What that means is, you're not looking at the path forward. So you need a little bit more room, you need to have pathways that are clear of obstructions."

Union Market has tried to incorporate several aspects of deaf space into its design. There is lots of light, all the vendors are in one big room, and the aisles between them are wider than in a typical store.

Developer Steve Boyle, managing director of retail real estate company EDENS, said those features also have a broader objective.

"The market itself really was meant to be an anchor for the community," he said.

"So whether you can hear or not, whether you are white or black, whether you are old or young, we have always seen Union Market as a special place for all folks in [Washington] D.C. It was not truly designed around deaf design principles, simply because we do not really understand them the way we need to - yet," said Boyle.

Overcoming barriers

Alena Francis, another Deaf employee, said dealing with some customers can be challenging.

"When they find out that I am deaf, it kind of throws them off a little bit. And sometimes people react very harshly and it is kind of hard. They will ignore me and just walk away."

But hard of hearing worker Emily Stemper said most people she encounters at the market are more understanding, even the staff.

"The hearing people who work here are all willing to learn sign language," she said. "And even if they do not know much, they still try, or they use the paper and pen method, or even gestures."

Stemper, a Gallaudet student who is on leave, said that positive attitude toward the Deaf community makes the market unusual among U.S. retailers.

"You don't really see that outside of D.C. or the Northeast area [of the United States]. So it's really nice," she said.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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Comment Sorting
by: KatP from: DC
October 17, 2013 10:07 PM
Nadine, you do not know what you are saying. Deaf with big D is well known by Deaf as a sign of pride in Deaf culture and use of ASL not oralism. There is no need to explain that to hearing in this article because it is not upon teaching Deaf culture it is about a restaurant that is Deaf friendly...they sign to Deaf customers. It has ZERO to do with political correctness, as a SAD matter of fact, hearing refuse to say deaf/Deaf or HOH (hard of hearing) as they think the medical term of "hearing impaired" sounds more gentle. It in actuality is an oppressive word and pisses off Deaf who sign. "foreign" meaning? If you mean "international" then Deaf around the world get why the D is capitalized.

As for the peeps in the video, I go to Gally and recognized two Deafies and one terp. :)

I know the written transcript is supposedly same thing as spoken but....can you turn off sound and watch video AND simultaneously read all that?? NOPE. Neither can video being about Deaf-friendly places to ironically NOT Deaf-friendly to view. Captions do not take long, REAL ones, and to respect the Deaf viewers you should redo it with captions. Just saying...equality man.
In Response

by: Michael Lipin from: Washington
October 18, 2013 1:55 PM
Kat, the Deaf-friendly video version with English (and translatable) captions can be seen here:

by: M from: DC
October 03, 2013 8:55 PM
Stephen, the text of the article is the transcript of the video. Not the same as captions, but fyi.

Nadine, Deaf is often used to refer to those who share certain cultural norms including the use of American Sign Language (ASL).
In Response

by: Nadine
October 04, 2013 3:25 AM
It would have been appropriate, then, for there to be some explanation of "Deaf vs. deaf" in the article, especially as that would have tied into the theme of DC being a Mecca for Deaf culture/employment. To be honest, though, it doesn't seem right -- it's not consistent with the AP Stylebook, is it (usually used by VOA)? Seems unnecessarily political/PC to capitalize the adjective in this report. I totally understand the argument about there being a deaf sub-culture, mind you. Just doesn't make sense to use Deaf in this article, especially as VOA is traditionally meant for foreign audiences.

by: Stephen Goforth from: San Diego
October 03, 2013 4:55 PM
Captions on the video would be good for your deaf readers--especially since the story is focused on the deaf community.

Stephen Goforth
In Response

by: Michael Lipin from: Washington
October 04, 2013 1:12 PM
Stephen, this TV report can now be viewed with English subtitles on the VOA Learning English YouTube channel:

by: Nadine from: Hawaii
October 03, 2013 3:15 PM
I'm just curious: Why is the word "deaf" always capitalized in this article? It makes it seem like someone who is deaf is a citizen of a country named Deaf (e.g. I am American; you are Deaf) or an adherent of a religon named Deaf (e.g. I am a Jew; you are a Deaf").
I don't see news reports about someone with vision problems saying things like: "Joe Q. Public, a Blind employee, works ..."
In Response

by: AJ
October 04, 2013 9:10 AM
Actually, I recently found out that some people with Autism do capitalize their identity - because it's their identity, not a diagnosis. The same goes for Deaf people. I dunno if this applies to other disabilities as well but since some Deaf and Autistics (not sure which is the appropriate term) do this, logically others would as well.
In Response

by: DCJayhawk45 from: Denver, CO
October 03, 2013 8:58 PM
Nadine - because the individuals interviewed and referred to as Deaf self-identify as culturally Deaf. Washington, D.C., has a large number of people who identify as Deaf, including at Gallaudet University, because of the shared experience of deafness and use of American Sign Language. So it is appropriate for a reporter to identify them the way they identify themselves.

To those who identify as Deaf, it IS a significant, self-defined cultural identification, much like Latino, Jewish (which is not necessarily a religious identification, FYI), or many other forms of shared identity.

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