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Deaf and self employed? Jane says - Think! about it

Posted Oct 30 2008 6:02pm

A friend Jane is a fashion designer and is hearing impaired. She had a sample sale this weekend in Brick Lane, so when I was bribed with home made organic carrot cake - couldn’t resist this - I was persuaded to accompany her. I didn’t take much bribing did I, he he he.

Jane’s business, Think!, is based on fair trade, which means workers are paid a living wage rather than an unfair wage, and a portion of this is ploughed back into the local community. Traditional skills are retained and a contribution is made towards reducing global warming. Jane uses organic cotton, where the farmers don’t use pesticides - better for them and for the end-user. Pesticides kill and injure thousands of people every year. You can read more about fair trade and Jane’s ethical policies on her website. She has made many trips to India, sourcing all her textiles and labour from there.

I was on the way and Jane sent me a text with directions - ‘come out of Shoreditch and turn right, then right again to the Truman Brewery.’ Heh, good one Jane!

Jane was absolutely inundated with customers and she has done a superb marketing job, tying in her logo and values into her memorable brand of organic fair trade clothing. Jane has now joined our ‘SH club’, appearing on See Hear last year. I asked her a few questions about what it’s like to be self employed and deaf.

Being self employed, what has been the hardest thing to cope with when you’re deaf?
I can’t hear on the telephone very well and that has had a detrimental effect on my working life. Instead I rely on email and fax. I find that most people use email anyway, it’s a case of persuading them to adopt my chosen method of business communication rather than theirs. I also use a virtual office, which is a useful tool for deaf people.

Has the fashion world adapted well to your hearing loss?
There are companies out there that will go that extra mile for you, and there are some that won’t give you the time of day when they find out you are deaf. It’s not so different from any other type of business. You need tenacity, you need to keep working at getting your contacts and making them work well for you.

How do you cope with networking and the social side of business communications?
I find it very difficult to cope with social events as they are too noisy and hearing people under estimate how difficult it is to lip read a group of people. So I don’t network in this way, I prefer to talk to people on a more personal basis even though this means I have to network that much harder.

If you had your time over again, would you change anything?
I do regret not taking up some opportunities I was offered after doing my degree in fashion design. But that’s hindsight for you!

Do you have any tips for other deaf people who want to be self employed?
Go for it. If you are determined and really keen on your idea, do persevere, as it’s really great to work for yourself. Do take up any offers that come your way, no matter how busy you are. And keep at it.

Jane has proved that deafness need not be a barrier to success. She says nothing can beat the thrill of working for herself. Darren took her for a coffee break and as they walked down Brick Lane, they spotted a lady who had bought a Think! coat earlier, and she was wearing it - what a blast!

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