Deaf Awareness Month 2021

September is Deaf Awareness Month, a time of celebrating and raising awareness about the language, culture, and diversity of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) community. In celebration of this month, we are featuring Texas creatives Mindy Schallau and Kerri Clark and sharing their tips for deaf etiquette, navigating the pandemic, and working with Deaf or HoH creatives.

Deaf Etiquette During COVID-19

The pandemic has made communication difficult for everyone, especially those who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. In order to make it easier for people to communicate, we wanted to share some of the best ways to communicate with others. For more advice and insights, check out Deaf Etiquette on Instagram.

-Ask for their preferred method of communication. Not every Deaf or HoH person speaks English or lip-reads.

-When it comes to masks, again, the best thing to do is ask whether or not you should take your mask off. Some people do prefer to lip-read and some prefer to write. Here are two quotes that show very different opinions on mask etiquette. 

“I prefer that they remove the mask so I can read lips. That’s what I rely on the most, and ASL and listening with my cochlear implant come second. I would love it if every single person had a clear mask.” -Kerri Clark

“I don’t have a cochlear implant and I don’t lip read. I may only catch a word or two when lip reading but I don’t depend on it. I prefer someone to communicate with me via paper and pen, text on phone, or use basic ASL with me if they know some.” -Mindy Schallau

-Get the person’s attention gently. A soft tap on the shoulder or waving your hand nearby are good methods to get someone’s attention.

-Sign language is not universal. There are over 300 different sign languages around the world!

-In noisy places… Move to an area with less background noise. Talk louder and more slowly. Rephrase, don’t repeat.

Melinda Schallau

Profoundly deaf since birth, Melinda Schallau grew up attending mainstream school and relied on interpreters for communication to get through education. After she was placed in a music class by accident in middle school, she took other elective classes faithfully to avoid it. That’s when she fell in love with art which led her to the career path as the graphic designer she is today. Melinda is a designer based in Austin, Texas and a member of the AIGA Austin chapter. 

What does being part of the deaf or HoH community mean to you?

We are very diverse in our experiences from different backgrounds but we share several things in common at a level of understanding. It means a lot to me to be able to show who I am through American Sign Language (ASL) and to communicate with my deaf friends in ways I couldn’t with hearing friends.

How does being deaf or HoH impact your creative work?

I have never been promoted in more than 10 years and that started to impact my mental health sometimes. I’ve struggled to a point of realization that I’m not easily given new opportunities to grow despite the fact that I create great work. I really want to contribute to my fullest but I face some barriers which can be frustrating. I feel that needs to change.

Effective communication is very important to me. I use alternatives to communicating with others through email and Slack chat at work because they have a limited budget for an interpreter. However, since written English is my second language, design briefs can be confusing sometimes. I have to ask questions and request design feedback until I completely understand. Sometimes I’ll receive an apology when I point out that it wasn’t clear enough and they will take the time to chat with me on Slack which is much appreciated.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

My boss complained to me that a customer called, saying they were not impressed with the sample packet received in the mail. I saw that as an opportunity, so I asked if I could take on a challenge to redesign the sample packet and she accepted. I worked directly with my boss who gave me critique and feedback on my work for several weeks and turned it around into an impressive presentation as a large brochure. The brochure included a variety of paper types and sizes and was inserted in an envelope that could be mailed to customers. It was my proudest accomplishment to solve the sample packet problem while meeting the company’s budget.

How has your creative practice evolved over the past 12 months?

As always, I do my best to look at design trends, practice creating personal illustrations, networking with others through AIGA, and learning new things. I took a Breaking Ad class (offered by ADHouse NYC) this past spring that taught me about side hustles and how they would help land us new jobs. That’s when my Instagram platform, @deafetiquette, was born because I wanted to use my graphic design skills to teach hearing people the do and don’ts of deaf etiquette and to spread deaf awareness in the workplace and beyond. I’m thankful I took this class because it gave me an opportunity to create a new logo and branding for an important cause I’m passionate about.

What unexpected joy or inspiration did you discover over the past 12 months?

I discovered a joy in taking prompt challenges! I found it to be a really fun way to come up with new illustrations to create. My favorite illustration was a red cardinal inspired by a prompt that calls for all shades of red. You can find it on instagram at @creativeseedink.

What deaf or HoH designers, artists, writers, or other creatives do you admire? And why?

I admire Brittany Castle, a deaf artist, who runs her own business called 58Creativity creating illustrations and impressive short animations using handshapes in ASL. I love her work and her unique style. She has inspired me to think about exploring my own illustration styles and studying hand illustrations with a goal in mind to create some deaf-related work. I think it’s important that we deaf creatives use our valuable talent that is authentic on deaf and HoH topics.

Where do you find inspiration?

When I have a creative block, I often find inspiration by surfing graphic design blogs and researching certain topics I’m not familiar with that are related to my current project to develop new concepts.

What’s next on the horizon?

I’m currently searching for a new job at a design firm. I am breaking away from the real estate industry so I can become familiar with new industries, create design solutions for them, and growing new skills. I’ve recently joined a mentorship program at AIGA Austin, so I’m looking forward to getting started!

By Sabrina Smith
Published September 30, 2021
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