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Kingston entrepreneur promotes inclusion through sign language training

Leah Riddell signing the word ‘play.’ The shirt Leah is wearing is designed by Alice Lo and titled ASL Volume – Deaf. Submitted photo. 

Leah Riddell, the owner of Signable Vi5ion, is a certified sign language instructor who promotes inclusion, communication, and sign language training in the workplace. 

Unlike other ASL training services, SignAble Vi5ion is less a learning platform and more a community built on inclusivity. SignAble Vi5ion seeks to teach everyone ways to make their communication visual and inclusive. Think of a cashier or an employee able to communicate with a customer who has a communication barrier effectively; Think of a grandparent beginning to lose their hearing and navigating the world differently; Or the parent of a deaf child who now wants to learn ASL to communicate with their little one —- Leah aims to help everyone she can become effective and inclusive communicators.

Learning from her own life’s experiences and observation, she wanted to help others who struggle to communicate, or whose mind processes information differently, don’t have a vocal cord, or those who speak English as a second language, and prefer to use their mother tongue unless communicating the basics.. Communication accessibility and physical accessibility are equally important, she said.

“I continue to see well-intentioned businesses attempt to honor accommodation requirements, but miss the mark on basic human interaction,” Riddell said. “I founded my business with a goal and intention to cultivate inclusion within businesses, to improve awareness, knowledge and understanding of varied communication needs. I chose this direction because I like to shop, eat, and travel.”

Leah Riddell with brows raised asking a yes/no question (ASL linguistics). Submitted photo.

SignAble Vi5ion was founded two and a half years ago with a mission to provide a variety of tools in inclusion communication training and teach American Sign Language (ASL) to businesses and organizations. Riddell provided staff training with a colleague Caylan McMullan of BriConnect at a Tim Horton franchise in Milton; they had customers who were deaf and struggled to communicate. 

She also recently taught sign language virtually over the winter to 10 fun-loving seniors and their staff at Kingsbridge Retirement Community for an hour weekly across 10 weeks. The retirement home has a deaf resident and wanted to engage with him and ask all the right things when he is being served or socializing. There are many benefits to learning sign language; you can communicate in a loud, noisy factory from afar, Riddell expressed.

“They learned everything from donuts to kinds of drinks in sign language. Since then, their service has flourished into a positive environment; it wasn’t just the deaf community that benefited from it; the staff and the seniors recognize some signs are universal,” said Riddell. “For too long, the disabled community has been overlooked by local businesses, when, in fact, we are a powerful purchasing base.”

According to the Royal Bank of Canada, people with disabilities have an estimated spending power of about $25 billion annually across Canada.

Riddell also provides online ASL classes, which will be starting up again in September, as well as one-to-one sessions for anyone interested. Anyone can sign up or suggest their bosses have their team take the corporate training. Industry focus ASL modules are provided on her website, with new modules coming every month. 

Riddell gives massive credit to Tara Cleavland, a website designer and developer in Toronto, helping her maintain course modules. Along with that, she makes her sign language illustrations for the websites, as decent stock photos on the subject matter could be are rare, and those available are often misleading.

Riddell works with businesses and teaches their employees how to respectfully address and interact with customers or coworkers, including those who might be deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, autistic, foreign language travelers, and new Canadians, to name but a few. She also offers supporting resources such as infographics, visual resources, inclusivity training, and ASL Instruction.

“Learning another language is no easy endeavour. SignAble Vi5ion’s affordable and easy-to-navigate training modules provided me with basic ASL techniques and industry-specific phrases that made incorporating ASL into our everyday operations accessible and fun,” said SignAble Vi5ion client Alix Carr-Harris, owner of Haymaker’s Coffee Co. on Wolfe Island. “Even the kids dived into the training!”

Like Carr-Harris, fellow client Erin Ball of Kingston Circus Arts pointed to the unique, informal-yet-complete way Riddell teaches as why her methodology is so effective.

“I have been taking ASL lessons with Leah on and off for a couple of years. Her sense of humour is everything. She makes it fun and easy to remember because I remember her jokes,” Ball said. “Leah is kind and compassionate and really cares about people. I have learned so much about Deaf culture, Deaf access and best practices from Leah. I can’t wait to keep going.”

For more information on the modules and training visit: https://www.signablevi5ion.co

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