DEI Feature: Meet Vü
Approximately 48 million people in the United States are hard of hearing, yet less than 500,000 people use sign language. That’s a mere 1% of just the hard of hearing community, not to mention the rest of the population. It’s no wonder that hard of hearing folks are not receiving the visibility that they deserve, so we’re proud to uplift and amplify these stories.
Vü is a remarkable startup within our community that is working tirelessly to enable hard of hearing people to live uninhibited in the real world. They strive to empower and encourage people to find their voice in a space where they previously could not. Engaging in those important conversations is crucial to providing them with opportunities that they may not have otherwise.
We were privileged to sit down with Alexandra Cartier to discuss the future of this company, the mission behind it, and the overall benefits of making the world a more inclusive place. Her insight and experience is as incredible as her company, and we were so honored to speak with her about such a crucial issue.
It’s obvious how little light is shed on the hard of hearing community. What do you wish more people were more aware of when it comes to what is going on within your community?
Alexandra: It’s key to remember how important accessibility is. For example: not providing closed captions makes it so the wide spectrum of folks with hearing loss can’t participate. People will look at you like you’re deaf or dumb, and having masks during COVID has made it all even worse. Advocacy on a global scale is crucial; we have unique needs, and we end up missing out because we are wearing hearing aids. Keep in mind, those that have these disabilities are the ones doing the work- asking for closed captions, wearing the aids, etc. A lot of us have some limitations and are still ready to work, but society doesn’t understand that. Then the stigma follows, of course. The discrimination starts at the hiring and interviewing process, and that’s a huge struggle. We are trying to be successful, but aren’t given the chance. This goes with everything: classrooms, boardrooms, everything. Vü is trying to bridge that gap, enabling anyone the opportunity to participate. It’s a painful process to know that hard of hearing folks aren’t given the same chances, and we want to spread the opportunity so people with disabilities have the chances in the first place- so we don’t have to play catch up or get lost in translation.
No one wants to sit idly by and just ignore this community of people that have so long gone unnoticed. What else can we be doing?
Alexandra: In order to be inclusive, always be aware of the needs of folks that are being included: closed captions, a translator, whatever the need is. It’s not limited to those that are hard of hearing, it’s for everyone. There are so many factors: people mumble, have accents, or speak too quickly. Being aware of those that are contributing is so necessary, and keeping in mind the needs of others. Not only for the hard of hearing, but everyone. Some deaf don’t have the ability to read lips, some do, but nothing is universal. Understanding how important it is to speak clearly and enunciate, this is just one way to make the world a more inclusive place.
COVID has really thrown a wrench into the business world, but obviously it would have a huge impact on the hard of hearing community. How have you been able to successfully maintain a business during such turbulence?
Alexandra: It’s been a challenge, I also work for another company, and communicating over the internet for work has been very difficult. Not even due to masks or COVID, in general communication is so important yet so challenging. A lot of us that had jobs, lost our jobs, and struggle to find another opportunity because of our disability. I have been truly fortunate, however, it’s still troublesome to communicate with my team virtually. Their communications lag, and there’s no real way to share a screen with closed captions. It’s exhausting, we end up with eye fatigue, I even took a few months off because of it. My performance wasn’t as high because of the fatigue, and I ended up being micromanaged as a result. I can’t operate at my best, which is why my company is coming out with communication cards, to show people the best way to communicate with us. We are coming out with options, that way the hard of hearing can share without having to explain. Keep in mind that accessibility is not friendly in big corporations, and the isolation leads to anxiety and depression. You want to do well at work, but there’s an overload that ends up taking control. Some superiors consider those that are hard of hearing as dear and dumb, simply because we communicate differently.
Despite all of the negatives in the world, there will always be something to be positive about. What have you found brings joy to people right now?
Alexandra: Encouraging people, smiling, and being sure to take the time with people. I think it comes down to letting people be who they are and being a friend when they need it. Providing folks the opportunity; everyone should have a job, a home, and be safe. There’s no reason for anyone to struggle when we have the resources.
You are such a bright light, and your success is on a steep upward trajectory. Where do you see yourself going in your next life chapter?
Alexandra: The sky’s the limit. My dream has always been to solve problems, and now I can continue to make that happen. I grew up with engineering, and here I am, 20 years later, despite people putting me down. My next chapter is getting people excited to join, getting this on the market, and encouraging accessibility in other areas. I want to see this expand and go global. We are all only human, and we should take the chance to sit back and really listen. We want to see it become a well rounded experience universally.
We want to hear more about your story, as you have such a profound perspective. What do you want to share about your experience?
Alexandra: I wish people would ask us more questions; asking people how they prefer to be communicated with. Hearing impaired is considered an insult, but people don’t know that… so ask us, say, how do you identify yourself? It’s a show of respect. My experience is for people to learn sign language or ask folks what works best for them, rather than judging and going in without consideration. We simply would like people to talk to us, ask meaningful questions, be yourself and be gracious about it. If you want to receive respect, show respect. It’s duality, showing love to receive it, it’s about giving too. We ask a lot of questions because we have to catch up to understand the conversation, we might miss things. How the language is being spoken in general is just different.
You have such a power in yourself, it’s inspiring to anyone that comes into contact with you. What is your greatest inspiration?
Alexandra: I love diversity and different cultures. Travelling and education is very important to me, but it’s my faith that has gotten me so far. I love my family and those supporting me, they drive me to where I need to go. I definitely derive satisfaction from accomplishing things, then heading to a new place to see the ocean. It’s about sailing to new horizons.
It’s so clear that the work Alexandra and the team at Vü are doing is vital to the well-being and success of the hard of hearing community. With what seems like millions of obstacles, Alexandra cannot be deterred, and her passion for inclusion permeates into every aspect of her life. Vü is breaking barriers and creating a future where hard of hearing folks are not only included in the conversation, but able to spark up their very own.