Episode 16 Transcript

Published: Thursday October 5, 2023

The Power of Communication: Celebrating NDEAM with Dustin Giannelli

Dustin Giannelli: Championing DEI and Turning Disabilities into Superpowers


Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.

Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.

Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I am Alycia Anderson. I am so excited for our guest today. We have got Dustin Gianelli. We met, gosh, I do not know a couple years ago at the… I think on LinkedIn or something.

We are both in the diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility space and advocacy in corporate America.

He is the CEO and founder of Hears Dustin LLC. He is a DEI+A public speaker who happens to be profoundly deaf. We are going to dive into that today. I am so excited. Dustin, thank you so much for being on.

It is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and I am so honored that you are one of our expert guests that are going to be sharing some time with us in October. So, thank you so much for your time. I know you are busy.

Dustin Giannelli: Thank you so much, Alycia. Like you said, we are friends at this point, so it is just like we are hanging out over a podcast. And I could not be happier to be here.

Alycia Anderson: Yeah, we are. We are hanging out a lot. It is really nice to have you as a friend and supporter and colleague. I feel like we bounce a lot of things off of each other as we are growing our businesses. And so, I am really grateful for your friendship. I do not know. I think I want to start with your motto and then we will look in the rearview mirror a little bit of who you are and you can give us all that goodness. But your motto in life is. “Be on offense.”

Dustin Giannelli: So, I really, you know, at a young age developed this mindset of being on offense with the help of my grandfather, right. My grandfather was actually a double amputee, and he had one hand and one leg.

So, growing up at a very young age, for as long as I can remember, that was normalized in my household, right. You know, I helped him get dressed and put on his hook, and you know… put on his leg and put on his pants and his shirt and help him get dressed and help him walk down the driveway or get a glass of water. Whatever he needed that was normalized, you know.

And at this point in my life, I was a hearing individual. I was 2, 3, 4, 5 years old. It was not until I was 5 that I was actually diagnosed with profound. hearing loss and as soon as you discovered it in the hearing test that I was profoundly deaf.

I already had this mindset that oh what does that mean? OK, I have to wear these hearing aids. OK. It seems like they are the same thing as glasses. Glasses help you see. And hearing aids help you hear.

OK, cool. Let’s do it.

And that was my mindset at a very young age. It allowed me to understand where I struggled and where I succeeded. And, where I succeeded allowed me to figure out how to help myself in different situations where I struggle. Right. So, it goes both ways.

Alycia Anderson: And as you were like losing your hearing.

Dustin Giannelli: Gradual loss…

Alycia Anderson: Gradual.

Dustin Giannelli: And on the audiogram which is a graph that can tell you how deaf you are, right. How much hearing loss you have. It goes from the top. Mild, mild-moderate, moderate, moderate-severe, severe, profound… profound.

Now you see the frequencies and the decibels, and as my graph immediately drops and what that means around the 500 to the thousand decibels. I have a high pitch frequency hearing loss.

So, without my hearing aids, I cannot hear any beeps, alarms, whistles, birds chirping, babies crying.

It is more difficult for me to hear, generally speaking, a woman’s voice versus a male’s voice, and it is challenging in times.

So, the hearing aids help amplify volume. Does not necessarily make speech clarity perfect. It helps. But it certainly is still an everyday challenge where I on the back end rely on my lip-reading skills.

Alycia Anderson: It is fascinating that audio gram chart that you have on your website, which listeners should go and check it out because that was a really great visual for me to understand or begin to understand what. Being profoundly deaf. Like what? What is the definition to that? What does that mean? Because I did not know either myself. So, I am learning constantly from you.

Dustin Giannelli: I think the graph will explain you know the degree of your hearing loss. What comes with that can be different for everybody that is profoundly deaf.

There is 50 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans in this country alone. 50 million out of 330 something million people in the country. That is a… that is a big population right there. Right.

In the world, there is 432 million out of 7 billion, right. An even bigger population. So culturally differences, right, there is so many people in this world with different backgrounds and different degrees of hearing loss and all of those stories are valuable.

Alycia Anderson: 100% and I think knowing its prevalence is so impactful too.

Dustin Giannelli: I think we can all agree. You know, there is so many accommodations for people of all types of disabilities and abilities. But let me give you an example of a major accommodation that was created specifically for the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Closed captioning.

Now everybody uses. Everybody uses closed captioning. In fact, 82% of people that use closed captioning are not deaf or hard of hearing. So, what Is that telling us? That tells us that the human world is adapting to solutions made for the non-hearing world.

And that is called innovation because when we put all of our minds together, the next phase of innovation happens. New products are created, new light bulbs are turned on, and new people are working together where you never thought you would work with somebody who is capital D deaf.

Now let us get into that. Alright, so. capital “D” Deaf is the deaf culture, right? People that are associated with deaf culture, meaning their primary language is sign language. For the most part right and they may or may not speak verbally. As you can tell, I am a verbal communicator.

And they are very much a very tight community. Right. And for folks like myself, lower case “d” profoundly deaf. There is moderately deaf. There’s slightly deaf or severely deaf, lower case.

This population may or may not be a verbal communicator, but where we associate ourselves with. All people, verbal communicators, and sign communicators. We may or may not rely on sign language, but for me personally, I know a little bit. I have forgotten a lot, but I know and I took a course in college and I have kept up with it, but if you do not practice just like anything else you forget a lot.

So, that is my personal standing, if you will, where I am a verbal communicator. I know some sign I have different apps and solutions that I can communicate with all sorts of people, but sign language is not something I am fluent in.

Alycia Anderson: I think it is so interesting to learn about the cultural differences of the communities and that crossover. What are the tools that you are using to kind of help you navigate your hearing loss? And also, what is some of the etiquette that people who do not have hearing loss could be conscious of whether it is at work or in life. What about technology?

Dustin Giannelli: Technology, you know, I am using apps that I can make phone calls with a stenographer live on the other side to type up what is being said. You know, in this position, if it is not a zoom call or Google meet or Microsoft team, I cannot lip read. I need something, right. And I do well on the phone with or without the apps, but it is challenging and it can be what is the word? You can… you can be nervous to some certain phone calls, especially if it is the business, you do not want to mess it up just because you cannot hear.

So, I use the apps that there is a live stenographer, stenographer, or automatic speech recognition on the back end, and it types up what I say. Another in person, live app is I can get live captioning. I can also live translate. With people that do not speak English predominantly, and if they speak Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, anything I can be speaking in English and translate to Portuguese, they can be speaking in Portuguese, it will automatically translate back to English.

I mean, there is some technology out there that is absolutely amazing and guess what. Yes, it may or may not have been made just for the deaf and hard of hearing community. It is for everybody!

Alycia Anderson: I think that is one of the cool, coolest conversations that we are all of us are having that are in this disability advocacy space is the innovation piece. And when you start connecting those dots, right, like closed captioning, it was developed for people who are hard of hearing or have hearing loss. Or are profoundly deaf, or all of it, but it is something that we are all using universally because it is the path of least resistance, right?

It is like it is a way for us to use tools and services and technologies. And when we are thinking outside of the box and creating opportunities for development. Of technology or infrastructure or whatever that fits all abilities. Then we find these like beautiful, useful tools that everybody is using. Let us take a quick break. You are listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia.


Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia, I am Alycia Anderson. We have got Dustin Gianelli. He is the CEO and founder of Hears Dustin LLC. He is a DEI+A public speaker who happens to be profoundly deaf.

It is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), what can employers do today that would be helpful for people who are in the deaf community that are working in a corporate work environment?

Dustin Giannelli: I left the design industry and I found a company right here in Boston that is all about video accessibility, closed captioning, and all things translation and audio description for folks that are blind, it helps make video accessible.

I joined that company for a year and a half, and by then I knew it was time to start Hears Dustin. I had the professional experience and the connections and the relationships and the confidence to help bring awareness because I know how valuable it is today.

So, all the accommodation that I utilized my whole life pretty much came back in this industry and I still use them today and one of the things that I am thankful for my previous employer to have gotten for me was. A Roger Microphone. Which it is something I can carry around. I can put it on the conference room table. I can put it on the restaurant table. I can have you clip it on your shirt and its Bluetooth directly to my hearing aids.

Alycia Anderson: Oh wow. Amazing.

Dustin Giannelli: There is a lot of different assistive listening technology that helps a ton.

Alycia Anderson: So, talk about your business a little bit.

Dustin Giannelli: Here’s dustin.com. You know it is HEARS. So of course, a pun on here is Dustin with XY and Z. Right here is Dustin. I love sharing my first… you know firsthand experiences of what it is like being profoundly deaf and different situations.

The different technology I use I but I more so love partnering with brands that are focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility and making their community and their culture better. Because of it. I love helping companies excel and. continue that journey.

By learning about my experiences and others, you know it is not just about the deaf community and it is not just about me, I will tell you that. It is about all of us. It is about the disability community and the ability community.

So, at the end of the day, it is about being human.

Alycia Anderson: I like it. What is happening this month? I know you have a big month.

Dustin Giannelli: So, coming off of last month’s Runway of Dreams. That was just absolutely amazing.

Alycia Anderson: What is Runway of Dreams explain that?

Dustin Giannelli: The Runway of Dreams is a new look Fashion Week event; it is a fashion revolution. They call it. And it is this organization Runway of Dreams that started in 2014 and a woman by the name Mindy Scheier. Was a fashion expert and she has a son who has… how do you say it muscular dystrophy.

Alycia Anderson: Yup.

Dustin Giannelli: And she realized… And he helped her realize… her son. How she can revolutionize the fashion industry? So now all these brands that sponsor the event showcase adaptive clothing, and all the models have different types of disabilities.

Alycia Anderson: And you are one of the models.

Dustin Giannelli: I was one of the models representing the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

Alycia Anderson: That is amazing. Congratulations on having that opportunity and being in New York and New York’s Fashion Week.

Dustin Giannelli: And you ask… you know, this month you know of October for a National Disability Employee Awareness Month (NDEAM), yeah. We get a lot of speaking engagements and keynotes at different events and you know, talking to employee resource groups of different corporate companies and I am part of the valuable 500, which is another organization that is 500 CEO’s and their companies committed to ending disability exclusion.

And they have a valuable directory. Valuable directory is all sorts of resources companies accessible, right that provide tools to make that corporate company more accessible, whether it is on the digital side or you name it.

So being part of the directory I have some engagements through them and you know it a, it is an exciting time for me really in my career to do this for myself. I guess you could say by myself, although I never feel alone and I know there is a team behind everything I do and I would not be here today, if it was not for so many people that have supported me and helped get me to where I am.

Alycia Anderson: Congratulations. It has been really cool to see you fly. So, I am so proud of you. Congratulations.

Dustin Giannelli: Thank you. Thank you for saying you are proud of me because I feel people say it to me, you know, every now and then but I go out of my way to say who I am proud of to them, as much as I can, and you already know and I have said it to you. I am so proud of us.

Alycia Anderson: I know.

Dustin Giannelli: You know and LinkedIn is such an amazing community, and again, you never know who you are going to meet but at this point, you can meet anyone you really want.

Alycia Anderson: We are going to put in the show notes, but how do our listeners find you? Book you? Learn more about all your goodness.

Dustin Giannelli: hearsdustin.com you will find a lot of different resources, and uh past LinkedIn posts and things like that. LinkedIn, connect with me on LinkedIn. Dustin Giannelli. HearsDustin. You can go to my Instagram. More of a personal side, but it is an open page and It just kind of tells you… it shows you my everyday life. From stories to post and weddings that I attend, a lot of my friends, you know, so a lot of my personal life. You can find me on Twitter and. TikTok as well.

Alycia Anderson: OK, so did we miss anything that you want to share?

Dustin Giannelli: The Michael Jordan story.

Alycia Anderson: OK, please tell the Michael Jordan story.

Dustin Giannelli: One summer my parents surprised my brother and I, my older brother. To go to a basketball camp. I went to Michael Jordan camp. And it was a week-long camp. The campers went from all over the world, they had college age, you know, students as coaches and I mean it was awesome.

It was so organized. You… playing basketball, doing drills all day long, lunch in the big cafeteria with people you do not know. You are sleeping overnight and everything. I mean it was incredible. I did not even know this type of camp existed. And my parents were at the hotel through the week or a couple engagements Michael Jordan organized the parents were invited. One being an auditorium speech.

Michael Jordan was giving an hour-long keynote speech on a stage in a big auditorium where all the students were in the front and all the parents were in the very back. And then he starts talking and I realized I could not hear anything.

I could not make out a full sentence, and I could not read his lips because I was too far.

At that time, right, this is 22 years ago. There was no screen focused on his face. There was no live captioning. I did not have the best seat. I did not have my microphone, and my parents and my brother were not there to accommodate for me.

The counselors are walking up and down the aisle, standing there on the side, and all I had to do was say, “Excuse me, I am deaf and I read lips. May I sit up front?”

But instead, I was too embarrassed. I was with my new teammates and I pretended to laugh and I pretended to smile the entire hour.

Be on offense, was a pun to basketball and it reminds me that I need to help myself.

In a different scenario my parents are not always going to be there for me, and the counselor is not going to know how to help all the different campers, right.

So, it is up to me, and that is why I encourage all of us to be your own best advocate.

Alycia Anderson: At the end of this podcast, we have a pushing forward moment. What is the pushing forward moment? What is the motto? What is the little nugget, “be on offense?”

Dustin Giannelli: That is, it… That is, it… That is why you and I are talking today.

Your message of pushing forward my message of being on offense is really the same motivating tone.

It is the same meaning made by two very different but similar people.

Alycia Anderson: Totally Dustin. Thanks for just being such a great friend. You are so awesome.

Congratulations on all your successes. Congratulations on bringing so much light and love to the world and to your customers and clients. And I am sure family and friends and everyone in your circle.

And thank you to our listeners once again. For tuning in and being a part of these amazing conversations with us, this has been Pushing Forward with Alycia, and that is literally how we roll on this podcast.

We will see you next time.