Accessibility Button
“I’m deaf. I lip-read to hear you.”
Printed in fall, 2017

A deaf girl working in retail wearing an accessibility button that notifies customers she is deaf.

Emily’s a warrior spirit who also happens to be deaf. We first met early one morning during our first day of training for an outdoor retailer. She arrived at the back door of the store ahead of me but was struggling to enter via an intercom system. I recognized her situation, helped her out, and together we entered the building. She ended up being the youngest in a large group of new hires and I was the oldest, a detail that didn’t stop us from discovering we had a lot in common and becoming fast friends.

We worked in a multi-tasking customer service environment that could be incredibly taxing yet Emily did it with such competence the majority of people she interacted with, including most of her coworkers, didn’t realize she was deaf. She has implants that vibrate sound and expert skills in lip-reading. Still, it soon became apparent that the invisibility of her disability was becoming a communication barrier in the public service environment.

Emily first tried wearing a button that read, “ASK ME ABOUT MY EARS!” provided by a company called Cochlear. Unfortunately, the messaging wasn’t very practical for the task at hand. There was no guarantee the public would ask, nor did she have the time or desire to elaborate on such a broad topic numerous times a day.  With her permission, I absconded the button with a promise to return it after a wee “graphic design” makeover. 

Handset metal type layout of a proof concept for an “I’m deaf” accessibility print.

While she waited for me to problem solve a few concepts, management added the universal hearing impaired symbol to her name tag. If a customer noticed it they would respond by raising their voice. Unfortunately, this solution wasn’t the right fit either, in addition to giving her a bit of a headache. Emily’s need to hear wasn’t about volume, it was about visual description. At last, I completed the “signage” makeover and gifted the button to her without an obligation to wear it and hoped it would help.

A button made by Cochlear reading, “Ask me about my ears” beside a redesign reading,”I’m deaf.”

A few weeks later I dropped by the store for an errand when I noticed her working behind the counter and wearing the button. I stood off to the side and discretely observed how the customers interacted with her. To my joy, not only did they notice it but they were also reading it and doing exactly what she needed; making sure they faced her as they spoke so she could read their lips. Success, back-flips and happy tears! She gave me her blessing to share this story – one I thought was a good example of creating something that’s not just necessary and useful but also beautiful.

“I’m deaf, I lip-read to hear you” custom designed accessibility finback button.

Antique moveable type delicately handset in a balanced letterpress composition. Put to rest on fine printmaking paper.

Imperfectly handmade and 100% human-powered on a 1890s C&P Platen Press in Toronto, Canada.

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