Welcome to the Becoming Buoyant podcast, where we’re all about sharing our stories as entrepreneurs with chronic illnesses, making the invisible visible and breaking stigmas along the way.
In the thirteenth episode of Becoming Buoyant, Erin Perkins shares about her journey as a deaf entrepreneur and how she found her calling as an advocate for accessibility. If you’re looking to make your small business accessible to everyone, this is the perfect episode for you!
Welcome to the Becoming Buoyant podcast where we’re all about sharing our stories as entrepreneurs with chronic illnesses, making the invisible visible, and breaking stigma’s along the way. In each episode, you’ll learn from expert guests exactly what it takes to build a meaningful and sustainable business without sacrificing self care. We want you to shine your bright light on the world, friend, and are honored to be part of your creative life giving journey. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Emilie: In today’s episode of Becoming Buoyant, I am joined by Erin Perkins of Mabely Q. She is a business owner that serves her clients with business management and graphic design services, as well as an educator, and honestly, a go-to person in the creative industry for all things accessibility related. She has an amazing resource on how to make your business accessible, especially when it comes to the aspect of serving those with any sort of hearing or visual impairments. She knows everything you would need to know, on what types of technology you can use, very easily, very inexpensively in your business to make sure you are serving the widest audience possible and I cannot wait for you to hear her story.
Emilie: Hi Erin, thank you so much for agreeing to come onto the Becoming Buoyant Show. I’m really, really excited to have our conversation today, and get to know a little bit more about you, what kind of health hurdles you’ve gone through, your experiences, and then also what you do as a business. So tell me a little bit more about yourself.
Erin: So excited to be here because I love what you do and I think it’s amazing. So I own Mabely Q, and the premise of my business is online business management, strategic, and also graphic designer. I’m one of those people that like to do it all. But lately I’ve been wanting to expand part of my business that focuses on educating people and helping them about accessibility, because I am deaf. And so that has been a small obstacle in the online industry, but it’s been a really amazing experience thus far.
Emilie: I love that. I feel sometimes our test can become our testimony, and what we have struggled with in the past we can really help others through. And so I’m just so excited to hear more about what you have done in this direction. Now if you don’t mind me asking, were you born with hearing loss? Or was that acquired later?
Erin: So I was born deaf, and it actually took my parents a few, maybe two years to figure out that I was actually deaf, because I would still respond to some of the hearing tests, but there were like all right, we’ll just let it go. And they put me on hearing aids, there was speech therapy, and I also took sign language as a kid. They also took sign language, they made sure we had all the assets as possible, because the problem is that doctors don’t really educate families on that. They’re more of like, “Here you go.” And they didn’t have nobody that they’d ever met that was deaf before, so they really put forth. And then when I was 21, I actually found out I had another condition that tied into that. I don’t talk about it a lot, but it’s called Usher Syndrome. Usher, as in you have usher of the wedding.
Erin: So Usher Syndrome, it is something that also affects my vision. So I have hearing loss, and vision, so I have tunnel vision. Normal people have 180 degrees, just perfect old vision. I only had 50 degrees. So sometimes people scare me when they stand next to me, and I look over, and I’m like, “Oh, somebody’s there.”
Emilie: Oh, okay.
Erin: So, it’s not something… but it could get worse as I get older. But because I didn’t find out until much later in life, I think I was able to adapt really well to that. So that’s why I’m pushing the accessibility thing, because I want to be a part of this world as much as possible, and if I don’t have that, how can I be a part of it?
Emilie: Absolutely. And I mean if we look back at time, before computers, before a lot of technology, it was a lot more difficult for people with hearing, or vision impairments, to get equal access. And now there’s amazing technology out there that’s actually not a huge burden for businesses to implement, but it’s just a matter of being intentional, I think, about choosing to be accessible.
Erin: Yeah, it’s definitely. That’s what I’m finding. I feel with the corporate world, they have to do it because it’s the law. But because I’m so immersed in the small business world, I really want people to choose to want to provide equal access to everybody. I feel it has a lot more incentive and meaning, and I don’t want them to feel like it’s an obligation, because I understand, as a small business owner there are some financial obligations that I don’t want people to go, “Whoa,” just to make sure they provide accessibility to everybody. So I’m very mindful of that and it’s really just teaching people about making this a positive process, but it’s a progress. It’s not going to be one and done at all.
Emilie: Yeah, you can’t start off intending for perfection.
Erin: Yes, definitely.
Emilie: Well, we all know that perfect is not really a real thing, so it’s good to have that, almost that permission to say, “Slowly and surely we’ll get there. And as long as we’re trying, to go in the right direction, we’re making progress. It’s good. It’s really good.”
Erin: Yes, definitely. I think a lot of people are surprised at how I’ve been more empathetic about it. I think because I always had to make do throughout my entire life. I mean when I was a kid, I didn’t really watch TV until the 90s, because the captioning wasn’t really accessible on the TV. And you always had those separate little boxes, and it was just like… for sure, because it wasn’t great. Even nowadays, it’s still not that great. And I’m like, “Oh my God.” You know what they cannot do, and it drives me crazy, they never caption the weather reports.
Erin: Barely. The local news here, the Fox channel, will caption the whether report. And I always watch them because they are. But if you are on CBS, or something, it’s like well, why do you think that people don’t need to know the weather? It drives me crazy.
Emilie: That is one of the most basic reasons why people started watching TV in the first place. You would think that they would start with the obvious things, like the weather, the news.
Erin: Yeah. It’s just one of those things like why do you not caption the weather report?
Emilie: Maybe they’re assuming that because you can see a little sun, and a cloud, that gives you everything?
Erin: If you think about it, the weatherman is usually one of people’s most favorite people on the news.
Emilie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erin: Like, you think about it, people love the weather reported. People love that, so that’s just my perspective.
Emilie: Yeah, I love that. I think it’s so funny because, when it comes to accessibility, often it’s not even difficult to implement, but it’s just often overlooked. So I know you have a free guide that you’re sharing with this audience, and I’m so grateful that you had created it in the first place. And I cannot wait for people to dive in and really understand what it takes to create an accessible business. It just, it literally gives me goosebumps and I’m in Florida. I should not be having goosebumps right now. It’s awesome.
Erin: Yeah, so what really got me started was just… Well one, I had to come to terms that being deaf is a huge identity, and I always said it was such a small part of me. But the more I progressed, and I had a lot of personal growth this year, and I was like, “No. This is a big-” It played a huge role in my life. I feel like because me and my oldest sister were born deaf, our family actually ended up in a much better place than if we were born hearing. I just really strongly believe in that, some people might disagree with that. But I feel we’re just really lucky to have, and ended up where we ended up. So I realized, once I came to terms with that, and then I was like, “All right, I need to do something more.”
Erin: So I did the survey in June, and I was really impressed I got 130 people to respond to it. Which is amazing, because most people said, “I can’t even get five people to respond to my survey.” I’m like, “Really?” I didn’t know that. I mean, I was… I wanted 500 people. But, I’m happy with 130. Once I got all the information, it was really just by learning the genuine response of people. People were honest, and they were like, “Honestly, it’s time and money.” I’m like, “All right, well let me create a guide that at least helps them take one step forward, so they can move that forward.” And I feel the response has been really great. And then I’m just, really right now, at the point of educating people. Just see if I can help them in some way to make their business more accessible, so it’s been a great experience so far.
Emilie: I love that. And now this might be a question that you might be a little unprepared for, just because I didn’t give you the question in advance, but I’m curious. For people that need accommodations in technological ways, maybe for vision, or for hearing, or other things like that. I wonder what percentage of the population that actually is? And then what are people missing out on because they’re not providing accessible businesses? They’re missing out on a huge amount of incredible clients that they could be working with.
Erin: Well, this question did come up, it’s like people are saying that because they don’t want to eliminate an entire population. Most people don’t realize, but that business owner, they’re actually… Really, most deaf people tend to start their own businesses versus working for a company. To them, it’s easier. The deaf community has built their own ecosystem.
Erin: I could have been a part of it. I am a part of it. I’m helping some deaf businesses, but I find that there’s so much more money in the hearing community. And I’m like, “Why can’t we bridge the gap?” Just connect the two, because that’s some really smart deaf business owners out there that I think they have the potential. And we really just want to uplift everyone. And I mean the population… I mean there’s trillion of buying power that comes from people with disabilities. Six trillion dollars. That’s the money people are missing out on.
Emilie: Okay, so I know I said that I didn’t give you this question in advance, and you might not be prepared, but you are way prepared with that number and I am blown away. I’m kind of speechless and I’m supposed to be the host of this thing here, and you left me completely speechless.
Emilie: So for somebody who is completely well, and capable, and has no health hurdles whatsoever, and they’re running a business, if they’re choosing not to have an accessible business, they can be missing out on massive opportunities, because there’s a wonderful population of people that are, frankly, just being ignored.
Erin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah it is, and I don’t want people to feel like, “But I don’t want to.” If they don’t want to, fine, they don’t want. I’m not going to judge you any less for that. That’s your choice. That opens the door to other people. But that’s why I’m saying, if you want to it’s awesome, because you are missing out on some amazing people that, I mean, my friends who all… I love my friends. The main thing is they’re really smart. We all have something to offer, so if we can’t have the same level playing field, I feel like we’re both missing out.
Emilie: Absolutely. I think that’s so awesome that you are trying to bridge that gap between the hearing and the deaf communities. It’s so inspiring in so many ways. So now I remember, a little bit earlier in our conversation, you had said something about being born deaf was actually kind of a gift. So I would love to hear a little bit more about that, and how you feel maybe you’ve grown as a person over the years, because of your hearing condition, not in spite of it?
Erin: Well, I feel my parents have always pushed me to do better, or be better. And I did go to a deaf school until sixth grade, and then they said, “Hey, you have the option of going to a public school. You don’t have any interpreter in the class.” And I actually ended up being bullied at the deaf school, because I was considered hearing, which means… Yeah, because I speak well.
Erin: My parents just wanted to make sure of that. And so that’s why I made the choice, because it was going to help me education wise. I’m like, “I’m going to be challenged more.” I was always a top of the class, at a deaf school, and way ahead of everybody else, because I had access to parents that spoke English. I could pick up that. And my parents did sign language, not a lot of deaf… A lot of deaf kids are born to hearing parents, and not all hearing parents make the efforts to communicate with the kids. And that is still a struggle to this day.
Erin: And sign language, to me, is one of the best ways to have access. A lot of my friends in college, actually when I met them, they didn’t know sign language, because… and they’ve always made do. So when they came to college, they learn sign language there. So it just really depends on the town. I am fortunate, my parents were able to do that. I mean, I would always like, “Well I can’t get bad grades.” When I got my first B in college, I had a melt down. I was like, “Oh my God, my dad is going to kill me.” He didn’t kill me per se, but he was like, “You need to do better.” But, “I’m busting my ass here.” So it’s funny. So even with that I had to end up at a nine to five job, in the corporate industry. And it was fine, but I always felt that I was degraded by my boss.
Erin: And the sad part is, I stayed there for 12 years, because it was the comfort level of having that salary, and having costs in turn, and all the benefits. But then they restructured, and they laid me off, and at that point I was just like, “I’m going to figure this out myself. It feels easier to do my own business than it will to work with somebody else.” Because I felt like when I was applying to jobs… I don’t know if you’ve applied to a job recently, but now you have to… You can have the option to check the box whether or not you have a disability, and stuff that. I feel like even though it’s an option, I feel you still need to do it.
Erin: And if I don’t do it, and then they find out I have a disability, then they’ll be like, “Oh.” And if I say no I don’t, and then I lied… I just felt like all odds were against me.
Erin: And its like what if I do? Owning my own business felt a lot easier, and a lot more fun. The people that I’ve met in the last two years alone have been phenomenal. And I did this… So there’s an organization I’m a part of, it’s called Tide Risers, they don’t have anything to do is rising tide society, but Tide Risers. I know people get confused sometimes. And Tide Risers is really about personal development and growth, and had to do with your identity.
Emilie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erin: And from anywhere until April, I was going through some of that. And I was like, “Well dammit.” Being deaf had played a huge part of my life, and so somebody in my group, she was like, “Well, are you okay with always battling the line? Or are you just going to…?” And I’m like, “No, I’m just going to do what I do.” And she was like, “Well, you either need to be okay with it, or never be okay with it.” Light bulb went off, I’m like, just accept that you had deaf, and make the most of it, and go forth.
Erin: And I feel like from that point on, I went from zero to a hundred. Now, I mean, I feel I made huge strides. I made it in the top 20 for Rising Tide Society, so I’m super excited, because I feel this is my moment now. I’m going to take that and run with it, because I think it’s super important. I want to speak on as many podcasts as possible, I want to do as many summits as possible, just get out there, and just make people want to do this.
Emilie: I love that. That is so inspiring, and I feel just because we may have a health condition doesn’t mean that automatically gives us the platform to talk about something, or to become an advocate. But I feel like sometimes, just like being an entrepreneurial person, sometimes that’s just so inside of us that we know we want to do something really good for humanity, and we want to help other people on a really, really big scale. So I really appreciate that you are going to very extreme lengths now that you have accepted your life as having a deaf condition, being that’s what it was. I love that you’re now taking that, and saying, “Here’s how we can improve the world from this, the story.” So it’s really cool.
Erin: Yeah. I mean there’s actually, I noticed that you hate, that you don’t like using the word disability. I’m the exact same way, because I don’t view it as a disability because I’ve had this my whole life. I don’t know what it’s like to be hearing. I think that it’s awesome that I can tune out everything. Because, at night, I have my times where I’m not going to listen to anything for the rest of the day. I live in peace.
Emilie: I love that.
Erin: (silence) … disability or diversability. One of my friends, he worked at Boeing, and he said he’s been using the word diversability.
Erin: I was like, “Huh?” I like differently able, something.
Erin: Because I feel like diversability is also a cool word. So I’m trying to make those words part of the norm, as opposed to people saying, “Disability.” But it’s tricky.
Emilie: I think that’s such an interesting thing that you bring up, because the concept of a disability… You know in Latin, the D-I-S part of it means unable, and I think that it comes on a spectrum. Each one of us who has either a chronic health condition, or some sort of health condition that is… it’s limiting, but it could limit to different degrees. It’s not totally incapacitating. Do you know what I mean?
Emilie: That’s the thing that I think is unique, is that I’m okay with using disability. Not everybody is. Do I use it for myself? No, not really. But could I? Yeah, I could. I’ve just never thought about it too much. I think that we are all uniquely able. That’s what I to say, is that we’re all uniquely able to do different things. And for me, I don’t feel like I fit in a very traditional box, but I can do some really amazing things in my own environment, in my own space and in the ways that I need to do it. With my own time, I feel really on top of the world. So do I call it a disability? Not entirely, because I don’t feel like I’m lacking anything. I just may need a little bit different accommodations.
Erin: Yeah, exactly, like I just need a little help doing something. I just need… like, I’m not saying that, oh, I can’t do that. It’s like, I can’t. But, I’m going to make the effort, and I think there are some people in this world that, unfortunately, do make us look bad. But I figure, if I can do something to offset that, that’s what I want to do. I don’t do this to create sympathy, I don’t want pity. I don’t want people to feel like, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” I’m like, that is the worst thing. When somebody say, “I’m so sorry.” And I’m like, “I didn’t tell you I’m deaf, because I want you to apologize.” Or, like save me from whatever it is, because there’s none of that happening. I’m telling you I’m deaf just so that you can make, we can make adjustments to make sure things go smoothly.
Erin: And then it’s as simple as that. But, there has been some people that…
Emilie: You know, I think sometimes people feel really awkward talking to somebody who has a disability, or they haven’t really encountered that situation before, so they don’t know what to say. So instead of saying, “Oh, okay, how should we communicate?” It’s like a, “Oh, I’m so sorry that happened to you.” You’re like, “That? It’s just who I am. It’s fine.”
Erin: I’ve encountered that so many times in my life, and it’s like, people go into paralysis mode. And I’m like, just give me a pen and a paper, like do you not understand what this means? I mean, especially in the DC community, I’m still shocked when people are like, “Uh?” I’m like, there’s a huge deaf community here, you’ve had to have met someone. But for the most part I feel like it really is just about educating, and treating people with kindness, and being like, “Awkward? Okay. Let’s make this less awkward.” And you’d go from there.
Emilie: Yeah. I mean we’re all normal people. We just might have a little bit different challenges than the next person.
Emilie: But frankly who doesn’t have challenges in life, right?
Erin: Yeah. Everybody.
Emilie: So we didn’t really talk a whole ton about your business. I would love to hear a little bit more about that? And then also what is something you wish you would have learned when you first started your business, when you hopped out of the corporate world?
Erin: So I do graphic design, and business strategies for my clients. So I just help my clients with the backend of their business, because they are super busy, they constantly have clients coming in. Many times I help them run the entire backend, from email, invoices, customer service. And I love it, because it’s all done online, and I can just get things done. I also do graphic design for them, just to maintain their brand. I went to school for graphic design, so I’ve been doing that my entire life, but wasn’t quite ready to let that go yet. But because of the accessibility thing, I’m actually going to put the graphic design part aside, because I feel like I really need to focus on this next part of my business, which I’m hoping will be more of consulting business on how to make the platform more accessible. And it’s still in the beginning stages, but I think it will be really good for everyone involved, that I do that. What I’ve been doing actually makes my clients think they’re like, “Oh.” But I’m not ready to lead them yet, I still love doing that stuff for them. I have the best clients.
Emilie: Yeah, and that’s okay, because when you have room for new clients to come on board, you start with new services. You don’t have to continue with the things you were offering in the past, now you just move forward with what you want to do for the future. But you can still keep the good ones.
Erin: Exactly, I mean I remember I was telling some of my clients that once I finish branding… three clients that I’m working with branding, and I’m like, once I finish that, that’s it. And they are literally paralyzed with fear. Like, “What? No.” I’m like, “But I need too. This is something that’s really important to me.” And I feel like when I first started my business two years ago… Wow, it’s been almost two years since that. Huge life changes. I don’t know if I would do anything different. I’m glad I did the things that I did. There was maybe one post that wish I didn’t do. But for the most part, I’m really glad I did things the way I did, because I feel it’s progressed very naturally, and I’ve been able to maintain. The biggest advice, I would say, is don’t be afraid to fire your client if you need too.
Emilie: Oh wow. Yeah, if it’s not a good match.
Erin: I’ve had to fire one. And then another one, they were great, but I think we came to the time where our vision just didn’t align, and we let go, but we still support each other. But they are happier with what they’re doing, and they’re still supporting me in other ways.
Emilie: That’s great. That’s great that you can still have that good relationship even though you know it wasn’t a good business fit. I think too often we can become people pleasers and we want to make sure that everybody’s happy, but if it’s not a good fit, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you have to be in business together, maybe, it just means your friends instead.
Erin: Yeah, exactly. It was funny because I feel we both came to terms with that at the same time. And I was like, “You’re not utilizing me the way I feel you should be.” And they’re like, “Yeah, but we’re trying to do this.” And I’m like, “Okay, well so can we part ways?” They did ask me to continue doing something. And I was like, “I don’t feel that is a good use of my skills.” So I think that once they realized that, they respected my decision. But I think it was still a really good experience to work with them.
Emilie: Yeah, I think all of that makes a lot of sense. I’m so happy that your journey has taken you down this particular path. Because not only is it inspiring me, but I’m sure it’s inspiring all the people that are paying attention and tuning in now. And now I could totally get down on a different track altogether about how to create accessible events, but maybe we should save that for another time? If you would be interested in coming back on the podcast for the season two. I really, really would love to hear from you about creating accessible events, and in more of a physical space type of a thing, to make sure that people feel welcome and able to get, literally get into the doors, and feel like they’re supposed to be there. And that it’s okay for them to be there without any hurdles, or having to ask for too much. Because sometimes, I think, even having to ask for accommodations can be enough of a hurdle for people to say, “Maybe I’ll just stay home.”
Emilie: So I would love for you to come back on the podcast, if you would join me. But for this episode I’m just so glad that we were able to connect, and I could hear your story, and learn so much more about accessibility, and that we’ll be able to check out your guide. I can’t wait.
Erin: Definitely. I love talking about inputs and events, so that’s also super important as well. Especially as business owner, you need to get yourself out there, because I’ve seen if you make connections in your local community, you really got… I mean, the connections I’ve made in my local community have been phenomenal. I have both online, and local, and everybody really, really needs that, and I can understand the fear of putting yourself out there. And you’re like, “Uh?” So I would definitely love to talk to you about that as well.
Emilie: Yay, I’m so excited. Thank you so much Erin, for joining me today on this episode. I am leaving feeling so much more energetic about getting my own business in line, especially with the guide that you provided, that is going to be printed off as soon as we’re done chatting, and I’m going to go through it and just use it as a checklist. Where am I? A couple of steps as I go, and just make sure that I’m going in the right direction. So thank you so much.
Erin: Yay. I’m so happy to help you and your audience as well. And if you ever have any questions, feel free to email me.
Emilie: Hey friend, thank you so much for tuning into today’s episode of Becoming Buoyant. It means the world to me when I can read all of your comments and reviews. So if you’re listening on iTunes, please go to the leave a review section, send me a sweet little message, and if you really love the episode, you can leave some stars. Hopefully five would do the trick. If you’re watching on YouTube, make sure like this episode if it resonated with you. Leave a comment, if you have some suggestions on other people that might want to come on. And of course, let me know what you think. And then I make sure to subscribe on either platform. Subscriptions mean the world to me. It tells me that what we’re doing here, on Becoming Buoyant, it makes a difference. So I hope you have a wonderful day ahead and I hope you tune into the next episode of Becoming Buoyant. Take care.
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