Many of us use apps like Facetime or SnapChat to connect with friends and family. But at a restaurant in South Austin, video messaging technology is helping deaf employees communicate.
Bradley Veres and his coworkers are prepping crepes for a long line of hungry customers. They’re stuffing the sweet ones with fresh strawberries, spreading tomato sauce and pesto on the savory creations. In this busy kitchen, you won’t hear the staff yelling any orders. Veres is deaf, and so are all of his coworkers at Crepe Crazy. Speaking through an interpreter, he explains how they communicate with customers.
“We just start pointing at things and they naturally just follow along. If they don’t want a certain item, then they’ll point to that item and just shake their heads no. It’s such a nice thing because since the day we opened, we’ve never had a problem with customers who don’t sign.”
Thanks to some helpful tools, the staff is also in constant communication with each other. They use a smartphone app called Glide, which lets users record and send instant video messages to their friends. It’s basically like texting, but with video.
“It’s very helpful for updates with food, updates for specials of the month, or any special thing that comes up. We’re able to communicate about it efficiently and quickly.”
Veres likes that the app allows him to communicate face-to-face and message his coworkers in sign language.
“For deaf people, particularly, English isn’t their first language,” says Sarah Snow, Glide’s community manager. She recently presented the app at SXSW Interactive, and hosted a meet-up for users at Crepe Crazy. Snow says Glide wasn’t designed specifically for the hearing-impaired, but once it launched, she started getting a lot of feedback from deaf users.
“And then I started to engage with them, and I put out my first video in sign language, and it blew up. And like ever since then, the community has just grown and grown and grown. Today we have 20 million installs, and a few hundred thousand of those are from the deaf community.”
The National Institutes of Health estimate that close to 1,000,000 people in the United States are functionally deaf. It’s a population Snow says is underserved by other video messaging apps.
“They can’t get on a phone call, so really the only way they can communicate is through video. And video calling is a hassle. You need to schedule a call, so what we did is we broke that barrier with video communication.”
It takes all of five seconds to send a message on Glide, which Snow demonstrates on her smartphone.
“That’s how easy it is. You press record, and if your friends are online they’ll watch it in real time. If they’re not online, they can go back, press play, and watch it whenever it’s convenient for them, just like that.”
Crepe Crazy owner Inna Giterman uses the app to communicate with friends and family, so it only made sense to incorporate it into her business.
“It was such easy communication, such great communication access for us, and our business really relies on the Glide communication. We use it every single day,” Giterman says.
She and her husband started Crepe Crazy as a food truck, setting up shop at local festivals and fairs. As the business grew and they had to hire more employees, they naturally gravitated toward hiring deaf workers. It made for easier communication in the kitchen. Three months ago, the family opened a restaurant on South Lamar. Giterman makes it a point not to advertise Crepe Crazy as a deaf restaurant. She wants to be known first and foremost for her food.
“We all do use sign, and that’s how we communicate behind the counter, and our customers notice that, but we don’t make a production of it being a deaf-owned business," she says. "It’s just easy and friendly, and we’re thrilled with that.”
Giterman says she’s overwhelmed by the positive response they’ve received, and business is booming.
“We’re thrilled that there’s not any struggle for the deaf community as they come in, that they can order at ease, and it just shows that deaf people can do anything.”
Giterman says some customers who don’t know sign language may be hesitant or confused at first, but the staff always finds a way to communicate.