Whether it be a product, experience, or space, meaningful representation starting at the beginning of a design process is the foundation of building an inclusive world — a practice that is often overlooked, especially for disabled communities. This video explores the importance of foundational inclusion for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHOH) community. As part of our ongoing partnership and in support of Starbucks’ goal to showcase their pursuit of an inclusive world within their own walls, we sought to provide mostly “hearing” audiences with the empowering education needed to shift mindsets and inspire them to become allies to the Deaf community.
Our approach to and execution of this story reflected our video thesis: designing with proactive inclusivity is the only way to ensure true success and access. From the onset, we recognized that centering a Deaf main character required Deaf representation in front of and behind the camera, and made it a priority to hire a Deaf director to guide the piece and ensure our narrative was authentic and inclusive. We dove deep into research on the state of equity and access for the DHOH, embedded with members of the community, and brought in professor Sarah Coppola to provide deeper historical and academic context for viewers. The inclusion of the Starbucks Signing Store allowed us to visually show the epitome of the type of inclusive space we discuss in the story.
This production was one of the most profound learning experiences we have ever had, as we navigated the many requirements for a Deaf-oriented interview, shoot, and post-production process. At every turn we faced the need for an adjusted workflow, which gave us a glimpse into the exorbitant amount of effort it takes to be a Deaf person in a world designed solely for the Hearing. For example, while our Deaf subject and director could speak American Sign Language (ASL) with one another for the interview, we needed them each to have their own interpreter and to mic each interpreter in order for our creative director and crew to be able to know what was being said. We also needed an additional interpreter to translate for our clients sitting in video village. We needed to take frequent breaks because interpreting is such a physically demanding task, and we needed to ensure that we stood in circles when speaking with one another on set so that everyone could see and sign with each other.
Post-production was also a process unlike any we had experienced before, and gave us a better understanding of how frustrating it is to have a language barrier between Deaf and Hearing. We needed transcripts of the interview to be done by ASL speakers, but these translations didn’t always match those of our interpreters who were on set—giving us an appreciation of what it must be like to always have someone else putting words in your mouth. Editing was difficult without editors who spoke ASL because what is being said in the mic is typically at least a few seconds behind what is being signed. We spent countless hours Googling specific ASL phrasing to ensure that our cuts were properly timed to our subject’s hands and not the interpreter’s voice.
Audiences loved this video, as evidenced by the incredible online performance. We garnered over 5.2 million views and 12.6 million impressions and overperformed across every platform. Time spent on this video on the Vanity Fair O&O site was more than 2.5 times longer than our benchmark. Our Facebook video completion rate (VCR) was 130% above benchmark and our engagement rate was 300% above benchmark, and on Instagram our engagement rate was 290% above benchmark.
The fact that people millions of people saw, watched through, and engaged with this video means that millions more people now are more aware of and empathetic to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing experience — and will hopefully make an effort to be more inclusive in their own lives.