Convo Responds to Hashtag Controversy

By Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman

Convo Communications Director of Brand Communications, Leila Hanaumi, met with The Deaf Report for an open dialogue in response to the discussion that is currently trending about the hashtags #DeafTalent, #POCDeafTalent, and #BlackDeafTalent. Convo has been paying attention to the events that have been unfolding. After the most recent article featured in The Deaf Report, ”Reunite the Community In the Fight Against Hollywood,” Convo accepted the invitation for an interview with us to explain their formal position on #DeafTalent.

Convo's Deaf Ecosystem Spotlight, in partnership with The Daily Moth, is intended to be a platform shared with different components of the Deaf community on topics they care about. The conversation about not using an umbrella term to depict talented individuals in a variety of backgrounds has had an influence on the marketing team and their perceptions within Convo over the past year. One such initiative Convo undertook was a meeting with various POC community members for direct feedback on how they could unpack underlying privileges that may be explicit or implicit within the company. “We do pay attention to what’s happening in the community,” Hanaumi stated. “We are always listening.”

Hanaumi mentioned that the marketing team and other members came together for a thorough review of all their past and current posts on Convo’s official social media accounts. It was discovered that the umbrella hashtag known as #DeafTalent has been used more than other specialty hashtags. As a solution, Hanaumi stated that the marketing team “has started and will continue to work on modifying the hashtags in older posts, and continue the same practice in current and future posts”  so when users look up a specialty hashtag, there will be more post results that appear under that particular hashtag.

One of the ways that Convo has tried to present more of a focus on diversity is Melmira, with Melissa Elmira Yingst as the hostess. Melmira’s show is one of the few platforms that initiates conversations in ASL about some topics that may be considered difficult or uncomfortable for community members to discuss, but are nonetheless important to bring to light. “"We saw how much Melissa had to contribute to the community and, through our collaborative partnership, Melmira was formed."  Hanaumi commented.

While many community members know of Convo, it is often forgotten that Convo is a very small portion of the VRS industry. Convo currently provides three percent of the VRS services billed to the Federal Communications Commission, and yet Hanaumi emphasizes that they (Convo) “do a lot of things to educate the community because this is [their] community.”

The delivery of VRS services is the main way Convo has and is bringing in revenue to “support projects and other endeavors that would benefit the Deaf community”, Hanaumi said. She went on to add that VRS is only the first step in their plan, as Convo is exploring other venues for continuing to make meaningful contributions towards social changes focusing on “how people communicate with each other in different ways.”

The human connection is a key part of Convo’s culture and philosophy, part of that involves an ongoing unpacking of privileges. Convo believes that accepting and learning from feedback given to them by the community they serve is important for any organization or person, as it gives way to assessment and growth that benefits all involved.

While being a small company, the ecosystem of Deaf-owned businesses is the main reason why Convo is able to survive the fight as a stakeholder in the VRS industry and reach its tenth birthday--even though the major VRS providers have already been dominating the hardware market. Initially Convo has had a primary focus on Mac users, and that focus will be shifting in the near future. Convo is committed to doing the work internally to become more inclusive, and that includes the products they provide.

Convo’s willingness to participate in a continued dialogue about unpacking privileges is evident in the conversation they had with The Deaf Report. Convo continues to show their attitude in how they are open to receiving constructive criticism as well as additional suggestions for solutions in regard to their work currently in highlighting marginalized community members. Participation in bringing about social change cannot occur without the ability to engage in difficult conversations within our community.