National Week of Deaf People (NWDP)

Deaf Ecosystem Vodcast: Sharon & Anna-Louise on being Deaf business owners



Okay, I started my business in 2020 on February. I realised that it was time to start up the business after many years of working. I realised that I needed to show leadership for example, Deaf people can be leaders, Deaf people can be their own bosses, Deaf people can support other Deaf people. We can be the trainers as we are already experts in the field, we are born Deaf, we know what we are talking about! So why is it not possible to be trainers, be leaders, be empowering, be innovative!  

I provide support work services, translating services, mentoring services and consulting services especially with parents. I often talk from my own personal experience advising parents not to do what my parents did, but to do things that we all prefer as Deaf people as we all know what it is like to be Deaf. It is important to use us & our knowledge – hence the reason why I have set up my own business.  

So all these are the reasons why I have set up my business. 

Sharon: Wow!  

Anna-Louise:  I have been doing this for two and half years now and the business is still going strong. What about you, Sharon? 

Sharon:  Actually, very similar to you. My business is still in its infancy, it was established in 2018 so it’s been four years now. What I do is similar to your work, my reasons why I established the business are very similar to yours as I noticed that there were gaps in the Deaf community when it came to support work services. I was seeing a lot of hearing organisations taking over opportunities thinking that they knew what was best. I felt frustrated to see Auslan being dismissed; I was seeing a lot of families with Deaf children were choosing speech focus, not having the option to learn Auslan. I started to see a decline in children with their 

Anna-Louise: Yes, declining..  

Sharon:  language development. So I started to teach sign language with those children and noticed a huge benefit. How I started was actually a little bit of a sad story, I used to work in employment services for many years. 

Anna-Louise: Same here. 

Sharon:  For around 20 years. My last job was with a huge company and unfortunately my employer was very discriminatory against me, because I was Deaf.  

Anna-Louise: *nodding head* that’s common! 

Sharon:  So I actually left my job, and I needed counselling. It was the first time in my life that I felt ashamed to be Deaf. It threw me off, mentally and emotionally. It was through the break in between jobs, that the Deaf community supported me, they knew what was happening.  

Anna-Louise: *nodding head* your people 

Sharon:  They also knew that I had experience in the employment field, so I started helping with CV’s, cover letters and job applications. I started to be busy again and realised that there was a huge gap in that area where Deaf people couldn’t just go to any disability employment service provider due to the communication breakdowns. 

 Anna-Louise: and limitations in communication.  

 Sharon: What about you? 

Very similar to you, I forgot to add before that I had a business partner and we had this vision plan to teach Auslan, empowering Deaf people but then COVID-19 hit and we didn’t expect that. So we didn’t start off well with Auslan teaching as we had to adapt to different ways such as using Zoom. We had to change our vision, my business partner started to teach Auslan online but realised that many people didn’t know how to set up Zoom on their end. So that meant they needed support so we split up the business and she set up Auslan teaching and I set up support services.  

My services were in high demand, being booked out and I couldn’t attend to every client and I needed help by employing other staff and they had their role within the business and the business started to grow from there, providing support work and that wasn’t expected! My business partner didn’t want to do support work, it wasn’t something they wanted to do. They preferred to teach Auslan only and they taught in TAFE and university.  

Sharon: Their passion, their strengths. 

Anna-Louise:  Yes, following her passion. I was happy for her. From there, the business grew so quickly with only providing support work, with very little Auslan teaching. I have one or two staff who teach Auslan. Also our business grew in the aged care field. There wasn’t enough…  

Sharon: That’s a big gap. 

Anna-Louise:  people. Yes, its hard work seeing older Deaf people not being able to do things or they are very lonely. People feel very emotional working in that area, there is not enough education to let Deaf people know that they can go to Aged care homes and visit Deaf people there or who provides that service?! There’s no one out there! In Victoria that is, where I am. Covid….  

Sharon: I wanted to ask, is there NDIS for people over 65 years of age?   

Anna-Louise: No,  

Sharon: so its through My Aged Care? 

Anna-Louise:  through hospitals and yes, that (My Aged Care). So, hospitals started to book us, that’s how we grew and they tell us that we provide fantastic services. The older clients put a lot of compliments for our services and we have established a good relationship with hospitals who have said that we provide excellent services. That’s what caused our business to grow.  

Sharon: Great for older people to have access to their language which is Auslan.  

Anna-Louise: I find that when people ask me how many staff I have, I always ask if that question can be changed – how many Deaf staff do I have?  

Sharon: *nodding head* 

Anna-Louise: Many people assume that I have more hearing staff and my answer is always no. I only have one hearing staff, the rest are Deaf. I often get shocked reactions. 

Sharon: Wow, that’s good! 

Anna-Louise: total shock, as they are not used to seeing the number of Deaf staff in a team. That’s why I have set up my business, to encourage more Deaf employees.  

Sharon: Rally interesting, I remember my family, who are mostly hearing, I have one brother who is also Deaf, actually thought I had a hobby! It was really interesting. 

Anna-Louise: Same! 

Sharon: They actually.. 

Anna-Louise: Hearing culture, not used to see Deaf people having their own businesses. People with disabilities cant!  

Sharon: Yes, when I started to work from home, people would interrupt me when I was working online. They don’t realise, still even today!  

Anna-Louise: *head nodding* still the same! 

Sharon: Actually recently in the newspaper, well yesterday in the newspaper.  

Anna-Louise: Well done! I saw that article, wow! 

Sharon: Thank you! I am excited, very honoured 

Anna-Louise: An award for your business, wow! 

Sharon: Really excited, we were nominated in the local business awards. Actually its this one *pointing to an award from behind* 

Anna-Louise: *hand applause* 

Sharon: We are finalists, we haven’t won the award yet. We don’t know yet. 

Anna-Louise: Still, the nomination itself is an acknowledgement of your hard work. 

Sharon: We have the business… absolutely, very honoured to be a finalist. Its actually funny as my father saw the newspaper article. He is 80 years old. 

Anna-Louise: Aww! 

Sharon: yes, aww! 

Anna-Louise: Reading the newspaper is old school! 

Sharon: He read the article and said that I had a lot of people in my team. He asked me if that the team was mine? My business?  

Anna-Louise: you pay these people!? Really? 

Sharon: Yes! It was really interesting, I feel that a lot of hearing people…..  

Anna-Louise: shocked  

Sharon: they don’t realise that we can do it! 

If you could go back to 2020 and you had the chance to start the business all over again, what would you do differently? Do you feel that you would have done it the same way or make some changes?  

Anna-Louise:  I think it would be the confidence, do not have that doubt. To be confident. A lot of people told me that I needed to study in business, I told them to shut up. 

Sharon: Yay! 

Anna-Louise: We are not analysing how many cars we are selling, how many tyres we need to sell, all that logistics of finding factories to supply etc. It is a different thing - this business is Deaf-led from a Deaf approach. Sorry but we need to tell them mind their own business! We are following the reasons why we have set up the business, following our gut instinct and our hearts.  

Sharon: yes, I agree.  

Anna-Louise: So its confidence in that belief. I had that doubt for nearly a year, I felt not confident and I felt upset that I had made the wrong decision to quit my job and was it the right decision to start my business. I shouldn’t have wasted that time, doubting myself! I could have set up the business better without that doubt; making better decisions from the get go. Hiring the right people, I had some telling me that that person wasn’t right for that job, I had to tell them that these people needed a second chance. They had hearing people control them in the past and hearing people trained them when they had different approaches, ways and values to them. I told them that they are Deaf,  you already know it and that they had the instinct. I gave a lot of opportunities to the Deaf staff that I hired; I didn’t take notice of their CV’s. Instead, I allowed them to tell me what they could do, when previously I would be following what I read on their CV’s and their lack of qualifications. But really, they can do it.   

I wish I followed that method more in the beginning. Is it the same for you? 

Sharon:  Um, I remember when I was thinking about starting my business; I had some people coming up to me saying that I needed to have meetings with them first.  

Anna-Louise: *head nodding* 

Sharon: I sat down with one person, I think what was like an all-day thing just talking  

Anna-Louise: Wasting your time! 

Sharon: about what? A business plan!  

Anna-Louise: No?!  

Sharon: I realised later that I didn’t need a business plan 

Anna-Louise: throw it out of the window! 

Sharon: Because a business plan is good only if you need a bank loan, to explain my vision for the business, eg how many staff will I have, how much money I will create etc. Really, to start this kind of business, you don’t need to do that. 

 Anna-Louise: It just happens over time. 

Sharon: When I started my business, I would later realise that I needed to add specific services or make changes to existing services  

Anna-Louise: evolving, yes 

Sharon: It was always changing, so a business plan if you want a loan or have  

Anna-Louise: loans or investors 

Sharon: yes, investor to support the business. It is different. So I think it’s important, well I think it was a waste of time for me really. 

Anna-Louise: Yes, same as you and its something like 50 pages long and it wasn’t even relevant to this business at all!  

Sharon: So, yeah.. 

Anna-Louise: People were worried! 

Sharon: I think for anyone who were thinking of starting a business, to really think about why they need a business plan. A business plan is good if you what to show such as applying for tenders or something like that. So really need to think carefully about the purpose of a business plan. 

Anna-Louise: That can come later, not really needed for the beginning.  

Sharon: Yep, later. 

Anna-Louise:  You start with your passion, following helping people. Well, it all depends on your business and what it is, I think with my business, I am following my passion; my superpower where I feel that I can help people and that grew from there into what it is today. If you didn’t have that passion, you can’t work seven days a week, you can’t work long hours, it will fail.  

Sharon:  Yeah, its not easy. So now when I go to different workplaces for Deafness Awareness Training, I make them fit in with the Deaf world because I am little bit over having to try and fit into hearing workplaces. Why isn’t it the other way around, to fit in with the Deaf employee? It’s time that workplaces start accepting the differences, for example Deaf staff to feel that they can email in their own ways, not in formal English. They need to work out the email; they can find a way to communicate with them. The Deaf staff need to be allowed to be themselves not having to use EAF to have the email corrected for the hearing workplace. I strongly encourage workplace to reflect on how they can make the workplace a better environment for the Deaf staff.  

Anna-Louise:  I find it very difficult to try and promote my business, it is a struggle to try and reach out to let people know that I am available and I am here to support. I find that I am stuck, however I am lucky that word of mouth gets out that I provide a good service, that I help people and that I care about people. The feedback is great, that the clients are happy with the services. I am now trying to work on my weakness which is marketing, especially on social media like Facebook and Instagram. Hopefully a website soon, but I find it difficult to film myself, I get embarrassed! I know that Deaf people don’t like to read a lot of English so I am trying to make sure that my website is different. What about you? 

Sharon: I understand how you feel, I don’t like to film myself too. But my staff wont, so I have to do it! 

Anna-Louise: Same! Oh no! 

Sharon: I have to tell them that they have to be filmed! Come on!  

Anna-Louise:  Not feeling comfortable in front of the camera and saying what needs to be said is difficult! I know everything, I know all the words, I know my own business and what we provide!  But when the camera is on, I get stuck!  

Sharon:  Yeah! Yeah. Also I don’t want the business to be about me but my team. It’s all of us, not just me! So I am trying to encourage my staff to show their faces a little bit more. I went through a very difficult time from the previous job so I was very slow in starting up the business. I didn’t want to promote too much, I only wanted to focus on a small amount of clients and build on from that, especially with my confidence. I had a Facebook page but that was the time when my confidence was at its lowest. I recall having a Facebook page but it wasn’t active as I was nervous.  

Anna-Louise: Click “post” and put it out there online! 

Sharon: I doubted myself a lot, I knew I wasn’t ready. My counsellor pushed me to start getting the business out there, telling me that I could do it. When the time came to be online, the response was actually amazing, the Deaf community gave their full support. 

Anna-Louise: Beautiful!  

Sharon:  It gave me the confidence, I am so grateful to have an amazing Deaf community behind me. It’s been really lovely to see people supporting each other.  So we started being online, it was a slow process as I wanted to focus on the clients that I had already. In the second year of business, it started to get busier and I didn’t really promote my business. I didn’t have a Facebook page until the third year of business before we even had the website set up. It was only because I started to work with Government organisations providing Deafness Awareness Training and they preferred to see my services through a website. So we were a bit forced to set up the website. 

Anna-Louise: A shove to the head! 

Sharon: It needed to look like a legitimate company. So we set up that.  

Anna-Louise:  Hey, funny because three to four years ago, you didn’t need a website for the business but now you needed one to prove that you do provide these services. Sometimes it feels like, hang on, give us a moment, we are still trying to catch up with the whole process of having a business such as learning about tax, training staff, establishing contracts, invoicing systems and so much more and then there’s the website on top of all that! 

Sharon: I needed to watch YouTube videos to teach me how to do invoices!  

Anna-Louise: Same!  

Sharon: I remember being frustrated trying to learn from scratch, but I am grateful that I did that even though I have staff to do this but I know how, especially if that staff left.  

Anna-Louise: Foundations 

Sharon: I had a staff that was away on holidays to Turkey for one month, fortunately I knew how to do their job. I have a staff member, who looks after our marketing side of things,  

Anna-Louise: Beautiful  

Sharon: For a few years, it was just me and I didn’t have time to focus on that. So now I have a marketing officer who looks after that. The only disadvantage is that she posts things about me! I have to tell her no! Its more about them, out there! But I know it’s nice to have that, people want to see positive stories, see inspirational videos of kids signing so it’s good for people out there to have access to that.  

Anna-Louise: Some Deaf people are asking me if that I felt big Deaf organisations are our competition? I always say, no because their services have different values to mine, not personal, hearing led by hearing directors, all services provide differently. I think we both are community centric based, we know our client’s stories, we have this personal touch as we know their names, when we meet with them we know who they are straight away. I feel that is respectful and valuable, do you feel that is the same in Sydney? 

Sharon: Yes, definitely.  I am always mindful of NDIS and their vision that the clients have choice and control. I always keep that in mind, when we are unable to provide the right services or our services is not a match but I will still help connect them with another Deaf led business. Yesterday, I had a client who contacted me wanting support work and my business does not provide that yet so I referred them to another Deaf organisation who could provide that. I think we need a more variety of Deaf led services, competition can be healthy. 

Anna-Louise: Yep! 

Sharon: Previously there would be just one Deaf organisation 

Anna-Louise: One that controlled everything 

Sharon: which meant they had the control. They didn’t follow what the client wanted, the organisations did what they wanted  

Anna-Louise: The client didn’t have options, now there are options!  

Sharon: The clients were stuck. It all means now, that I could join a bank and decide that I didn’t want to use that bank but join another bank but I could always go back to the other bank later.  I think that it is good that way as it helps me realise what was provided well before with the other bank, makes me appreciate the services that they provided so I would return in the future. It helped me learn about each bank and their services. So that’s why I think its good to have healthy competition to support each other.  

 Anna-Louise: Speaking of competition, it helps me improve my service and its delivery and vice versa. The Deaf client benefits from it all! 

Sharon: Exactly!  

Anna-Louise: I think its fantastic, that’s why I am not worried. The future? I hope to see more Deaf leaders, so we can learn new skills from them. We can be part of that community, leaders in the Deaf Auslan community. Maybe we can see some kind of Deaf Oscars, who has the best business,  

Sharon: Why not!!  

Anna-Louise: Who has the best Auslan business? 

Sharon: We can collaborate on that, to set it up! Why not!? 

I was watching something on a Deaf organisation page recently, talking about the power of speech. It was about a girl who was presenting about her experience with cochlear implant. Everyone commented on how she spoke well, congratulating her on that accomplishment. That made me feel sad,  

Anna-Louise: too focused on that. 

Sharon:  because we have the power to use our voice as well. Maybe my speech is not perfect, but that should not identify who we are. It would be nice to see people encouraging others to use their voice regardless of how it is spoken or signed 

Anna-Louise: Auslan voice or speech voice 

Sharon:  So the future, I would like to see children being free to either speak or sign not having to choose one pathway only. Getting accolades if they speak only, why aren’t children being accolated if they sign well!? Being told that they are amazing for learning Auslan as a language, as its more challenging for them to learn because teachers don’t use Auslan in schools, Auslan isn’t broadcasted on TV, they have had to learn both languages at the same time – I think its amazing that they use their voice in different situations. So it would be nice to see in the future, where one can go to mainstream coffee shop and the barista can sign, see parents who have a Deaf baby using both languages. It’s a bit like when I went to school and I studied subjects such as English, Maths and Science, what if they removed Art. That would cause uproar as I love Art! So it’s a metaphor for parents who have a Deaf baby to choose speech therapy, cochlear implants, hearing aids etc, what about Auslan? It would be nice to see that option, maybe the parents will choose not to have that option which is fine. It is important that the option is there for the family to choose.  

Anna-Louise: Aunts and uncles 

Sharon: So in the future, more awareness about Auslan.  

Anna-Louise: Also I think in the future, the parents will know that their child can do anything as we have more Deaf role models – we are here! The Deaf child can do anything, no matter what barriers once they set their mind to achieve whatever following their passion.  

Sharon: I feel.. 

Anna-Louise: At the moment parents feel that their Deaf child does not have a future, unsure what the future holds for them. Can they be a plumber? That’s why when I try… well at the moment here at home there are renovations and when hearing parents call me and they ask me how I communicate with the electrician. I tell them that he’s Deaf, and that surprises the parents! So I introduce the Deaf electrician to the hearing parents, and explain that Deaf people can be plumbers, painters or whatever. Recently I had some parents who were shocked to find out that I wasn’t hearing! They thought I was using Auslan with them to make them learn quicker! I would like to see in the future, that this becomes the norm, more acceptance and understanding knowing that their Deaf child can do anything! Just like boys and girls can do anything equally. 

Sharon: Yes, exactly! That’s the dream I also have.  

Anna-Louise: *head nodding* 

Sharon: Well….   




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