2022.12.17 Christmas Celebration 0998
Daniella Reyna started working at Streetcar 82 Brewing Co. during college.
Courtesy of Olga JaramilloS

According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of U.S. workers say focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion at work is a good thing. To meet this need, an increasing number of local and national businesses are bolstering their diversity training. Curious as to how our community supports those with diverse abilities, I sat down with entrepreneur and Gallaudet University graduate Daniella Reyna and interpreter Jacqueline Shelton to learn about Reyna’s experiences as Vigilante Coffee Company’s first deaf employee.

Originally from Uvalde, Texas, Reyna moved to the area to attend Gallaudet, where she majored in business administration and minored in entrepreneurship and management. While working at Streetcar 82 Brewing Co. during college, she saw how spent grains would often go to waste at the brewery. 

“It was the Hispanic in me,” said Reyna. “We were taught not to waste anything growing up.”    

An entrepreneurial epiphany hit her: She’d use the grain to make and sell all-natural dog treats. In spring 2022, Reyna pitched her idea in Gallaudet’s “Shark Tank”-style business competition and won first place. 

Since launching Reyna’s Dog Treats, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “People said, ‘You broke my dog — he won’t eat anything else!’” Reyna noted. 

Reyna at popup
Daniella Reyna sells her all-natural dog treats at a small business pop-up market on Dec. 17, 2023, at Lost Generation Brewing Company.
Courtesy of Brandy Nicole Holder

Despite her strong entrepreneurial skills and customer service experience, Reyna had a hard time finding another job after graduating last May (she continues to work at Streetcar 82, which maintains an all-Deaf staff). 

“Deaf people struggle to find jobs not because of their deafness,” Reyna said, “but because society is unwilling to work with them and on their levels of understanding of deafness.” 

Indeed, this challenge is reflected in national employment rates. According to a recent analysis of U.S. Census Bureau information by the National Deaf Center of Postsecondary Outcomes, the employment rate for hearing individuals in the U.S. is 72%, whereas 48% of deaf individuals are employed. 

Last August, Reyna started as a cashier at Vigilante, where she says the staff and managers are very supportive. Management provided a smaller menu customers can point to when ordering and a digital writing pad so Reyna can communicate with co-workers. She’s also found that people in Hyattsville are already educated about diverse abilities, which makes her job easier. 

According to the coffee shop’s founder, Chris Vigilante, how to integrate accommodations and best communicate with Reyna started with a simple conversation. For her interview, he and Reyna decided together to meet in person and use text apps to talk back and forth.

The coffee shop already had the digital board for communicating with customers who are members of the Deaf community, Vigilante said, so it was easy to implement with Reyna. 

There wasn’t much additional staff training, according to Vigilante. “Just making it clear to all of our team members that we’re an inclusive company and that it was all of our jobs to work together for best communication to succeed as a team,” he said.

But providing customer service can still be challenging, according to Reyna. 

“So often I have to be brave,” she said. “I have to wave you in and say, ‘Come in, I don’t bite!’” 

Reyna added that sometimes people will ignore her and try to speak to a hearing staff member who is running the café.

“That hurts my heart, but that’s OK because they don’t know what to do,” Reyna said. “As long as they open their mind and try to engage, it is OK.” 

Reyna said she is grateful for managers who are willing to understand and learn the etiquette of communicating with deaf people and for staff who can sign a few words. She noted that she has a few customers who have learned enough American Sign Language since meeting Reyna that they can now hold a conversation with her.

According to Reyna, society needs to discard the harmful view of deafness as an undesired loss or deprivation. She sees her deafness as an integral part of her identity. 

“I don’t say ‘I can’t hear.’ I say ‘I do not hear’ because I choose not to hear,” Reyna said.

As a child, Reyna wore cochlear implants, which allowed her to play in her school band, listen to music, and speak with her family. Eventually, she said, she decided to forgo them. 

“The more immersed I became in the Deaf community, the more [the implants] felt worthless to me,” Reyna said. “Now I choose to hear with my eyes because I value my identity as a deaf person.” 

As far as how employers can make adjustments for deaf employees, Reyna said, “It’s not rocket science. It’s just as simple as asking ‘What do you need?’ and meeting that need. Let us explain to you what we can or cannot do. From there it is easy finding common ground.”

Vigilante said he views Reyna as an asset to the business.

“She makes us a better team, and so many more people feel welcome here at Vigilante because of her,” he said. 

“Being able to tap into these communities of talented people is how we grow, it’s how we elevate and strive for the next version of our company,” Vigilante said. “There’s a huge pool of talented individuals just waiting for a great opportunity.”

Reyna hopes that her interactions with customers at Streetcar 82 and Vigilante help them expand their thinking around deafness. 

“As deaf people, we’re kind of doing our little part in society by simply existing,” said Reyna. “It is as simple as that.”