Deaf entrepreneurs carve out new employment opportunities for their community in U.S.
Updated 22:57, 12-Jun-2019
Giles Gibson

Unemployment among deaf people in the United States has historically been much higher than unemployment in the overall population. And while unemployment is now at its lowest level in about 50 years in the U.S., many people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing still struggle to find a job. 

According to the National Deaf Center at the University of Texas in Austin, only around half of deaf people in the U.S. had a job in 2017, compared to three quarters of hearing people.

One group of deaf entrepreneurs is trying to change that, at least in rural West Virginia.

These people are building a new eco-friendly resort and the tradespeople they’ve hired all belong to what Jane Jonas and her two business partners call the "deaf ecosystem."

For now, Lost River Vacations is just one small cabin in the woods, built by deaf contractors, deaf plumbers, deaf carpenters, and deaf designers. Jonas says the idea for a business revolving around deaf people came to her after she opened her own web design business, in which she quickly learned the business world is difficult for deaf people to access.

A deaf artist decorates a sign for the Lost River Vacations. /CGTN Photo

A deaf artist decorates a sign for the Lost River Vacations. /CGTN Photo

"People associate strongly with sound, and there is the sense that you must be able to hear and speak to be able to function. When people find out, 'oh you can't hear, you can't speak,' they feel like they cannot communicate or interact with you. They just break down on the spot, and it's incredibly hard to break through that," she said.

A report by the National Deaf Center also found that deaf people are more likely than the general population to own their own business. It adds that owning a business enables them to bypass challenges and biases in the workplace.

"There are a lot of deaf people with larger companies. For example, there’s a lot of people in the federal government, that have deeper pockets that can afford interpreting services or maybe contract out those services. Whereas with self-employment, you’re actually creating opportunities for yourself," said Ryan Maliszewski, director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute at Gallaudet University, an institution of learning, teaching and research for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Washington, D.C.

Lost River Vacations is doing its best to create those opportunities for members of the deaf community in rural West Virginia. They’re now getting the cabin ready for its first guests and hope to raise enough money to build nine more cabins in the next few years.