Texting for Accessibility: How a Deaf Dog Groomer Overcame Communication Struggles

My name is Sarah (Seri) Dukart, and I own a pet grooming business called The Grooming Gallery in Dickinson, ND. I have been in business for 20 years this coming October. One of the biggest struggles for me as a business owner has centered around my disability; I am deaf and have cochlear implants in both ears. This is a wonderful disability to have in my line of work to be honest, as we should all be so lucky to have the option to shut off annoying noises around us. Unfortunately, my hearing limitations also affect my ability to interact with my clients when face to face is not an option. I rely heavily on speech reading and visual aids, because my hearing loss, due to my childhood spinal meningitis, was so severe that hearing aids did not give me speech comprehension.

Sarah Dukart and a group of dogsI’ve always loved animals and after college, I decided to fill a much needed niche in my community as a dog groomer. Dog language is very visual, and it seemed like a perfect fit for me. However, this business did come with it’s own struggles. I relied on family and friends to make phone calls for me to book appointments which often resulted in overbooking or misunderstandings because they did not know how to screen the dogs properly for booking. I would often end up with a 100 pound hairy dog breed booked into a 20 minute time slot vs. a 4 hour slot that is actually needed for a breed of that size. This could have been avoided if I had been able to book these clients myself, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I appreciated any help I got.

Read Part 1 of the Texting for Accessibility series

It’s always been frustrating to not be able to discuss issues directly with my clients. Important information gets lost in translation when someone else is speaking for you or relaying information back to you. Remember the game of Telephone played as a child in school. A phrase is whispered to each child in turn, and by the time it reaches the last person, it has been mangled from its original. This is what happens any time you have a “go-between” communicator, and was a constant source of frustration for all involved. Many potential clients are intimidated when they find out I am deaf. They assume they need to know sign language to communicate with me, or fear they won’t be able to understand me. Being able to text with them allows me to put them at ease before we even meet in person and allows our relationship to get off to a great start.

“My shop is noisy, even a hearing groomer would have trouble booking an appointment over the noise of dryers, clippers, and barking dogs. Being hearing impaired is not a requirement for preferring or needing a text based service.”

People live in a world of instant gratification, and I lost a lot of business by not being able to respond immediately. Over the years, email and text became more common and it really helped being able to communicate with clients directly instead of relying on friends and family. However, people instinctively choose the phone when booking appointments with a businesses. Other communication options such as sending a social media message or emailing were often ignored in favor of a phone call. In an effort to be more accessible, I started giving out my personal cell phone number to clients to get in touch with me but that proved to be another issue as it was intrusive to my personal life. Additionally, I was having to advertise two different phone numbers-my business number for calls, and my personal number for texts.

A little over a year ago a family member recommended Zipwhip. It has proven to be an invaluable tool for me. My clients know they can either text or call me at my business number and they will get a much faster, personal reply from me if they choose to text. They only have to keep one number saved, and my advertisements are less cluttered with non-essential information. My answering machine even informs clients they can reach me much faster if they text, and my business cards and social media accounts advise this as well.

As a result, almost all of my clients now text me directly to book appointments, notify me of conflicts and to ask questions. I don’t feel bad ignoring these messages during non-business hours, since Zipwhip offers an out-of-office Auto Reply feature. Customer feedback has been very positive, especially since I also use the service to text clients appointment reminders. They are used to interacting with me via text message in multiple ways.

When I was young, my biggest dream was something that is now an absolute norm in society.  I wanted nothing more than to be able to communicate quickly with the people in my life in a manner that was readily available, instant and didn’t require the use of my ears.  I would have given anything to be able to pick up the phone just like everyone else. Now, that dream is a reality. I can communicate with almost anyone instantly, and people don’t even WANT to use the phone anymore. It’s all about texting.

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