Chase Bank has opened up its first official store designed to serve the deaf and hard of hearing community.
The bank, which opened in late January, is located on the corner of H and 5th Streets in Northeast D.C., about one mile from Gallaudet University.
“As a bank, we want to make financial services available to all customers, including people with disabilities and their families,” said Jim Sinocchi, Head of the Office of Disability Inclusion, JPMorgan Chase in a press release. “The technology and design of our new branch will allow the deaf and hard of hearing customers a chance to easily access our services if and when it’s convenient for them.”
The bank features new technology to better cater to its clientele, from a video remote interpreting service (VRI) and T-loop Bluetooth technology which allows employees to speak directly with customers, to digital screens with captions enabled.
The artwork in the new branch was created by a teacher that teaches deaf students.
More than half of the branch’s staff are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL); three employees are deaf, and two are hard of hearing.
Diana Jimenez, the branch manager, has been working with Chase for nearly four years now, but this project has been quite unique. “I learn so much from [my employees] every single day. From signing, to the way we interact, to the way that I deliver messages is so different but, it has taught me a lot,” she said. “Even though I’ve been doing this for a long time, I’ve learned a lot over the past six months that I’ve been doing this project.”
Before becoming the branch manager, Jimenez did not how to communicate using ASL. “Now I can ask simple bank questions now which I wasn’t able to do two months ago.
JP Morgan Chase has also announced a $250,000 philanthropic commitment to Gallaudet University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute to allow stronger job opportunities for their deaf and hard of hearing students.
“I welcome Chase Bank to what we call the Signing Ecosystem – the growing number of businesses here and across the nation and the world that recognize the value of deaf and hard of hearing people as customers and employees,” said Roberta Cordano the President of Gallaudet University.
“We are especially pleased that Chase worked with our Office of Campus Design and Planning to facilitate an accessible environment, and with our Career Center on staffing. Chase, in turn, has shown its commitment to Gallaudet through a generous grant to support financial literacy, mentorship, and career pathways for our middle school, high school, and college students,” she said.
The funding will go towards mentoring services, an entrepreneurship and leadership workshop, and online ASL and Deaf Culture trainings for prospective employers.
Brandi Rarus, the executive director of university communications at Gallaudet University acknowledged that sign language in the workplace offers important opportunities to the hard of hearing community.
“By putting sign language and deaf space design front and center of this branch, Chase is honoring the longtime proximity of deaf people and Gallaudet University,” she said. “The use of sign language also equalizes the customer experience for deaf people and provides employment opportunities to a very talented but underrepresented pool of people.”
Paula Sorto is the Lead Associate of Operations at the bank and is hard of hearing. She’s originally from Colombia, where the opportunities of work for the deaf and hard of hearing community is scarce.
“Chase have given me the empowerment to serve the diversity community and give that empowerment back to the community,” she said. “I want the world to see that our deafness does not stop us from being successful in the workplace. It’s a dream come true for me and the deaf community to see that Chase as a company is making a difference in our lives.”
This isn’t the first establishment on the H Street corridor, though, that caters to the hard of hearing community.
In October 2018, Starbucks opened up its first ‘Signing Store,’ just a block up from the location of the then-future Chase Bank. The deaf baristas at that store wear aprons that spell out Starbucks using ASL hand symbols and are able to take customers’ orders using digital notepads.
And later this Spring, Mozzeria, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria based in San Francisco that is owned by a married deaf couple, is coming to the corner of H and 13th Streets. Mozzeria only employs deaf individuals.
Joseph Olmo is a bilingual multimedia freelance journalist in the Washington D.C. Metro area. He is a digital storyteller and content writer for DCW50.
He can be reached @josephmolmo