This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Chris Soukup, 38, is a third-generation member of the deaf community. As a child, he remembers his paternal grandparents visiting each week with a list of phone calls to be made by his mother, who could hear. In those days, before the relay services offered by companies like Communication Service for the Deaf, or CSD, the nonprofit that Soukup now runs, members of the deaf community were effectively prevented from communicating by phone.
Soukup’s life was also influenced by injustice. His grandfather lost his farm when a banker explained he didn’t believe a deaf man could operate a farm.
There are approximately 1 million functionally deaf people in the United States. As many as 14% of adults are deaf or hard of hearing, many of them over the age of 65. About 8 million are hard of hearing, that is, they have difficulty hearing a normal conversation even when wearing a hearing aid. About 70% of deaf people are unemployed or underemployed.
For more insights, be sure to watch my interview with Soukup in the video player above.
About 40 years ago, CSD was founded by Soukup’s father, Ben Soukup, who was also deaf. While many people assumed that the younger Soukup would follow in his father’s footsteps at the helm of the organization, he did not, at least not until he got to college.
Soukup started working full time at CSD after finishing graduate school. He joined the executive management team in 2007 and was appointed President in 2011 and then named CEO in 2014. He now manages a $38 million operating budget, all major business units and over 1,000 employees across the United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and New Zealand.
The organization is focused today on solving a single problem: unemployment the high unemployment rate among deaf people.
“We’re very focused on trying to combat that and to combat that in a multitude of ways by creating resources and programs and solutions that better position the deaf community to be successful in employment, to identify opportunities and to help match the supply of jobs to those who are actively looking for employment.”
CSD provides job training, resources and educational material in ASL to deaf and hard of hearing people through a Federal program. This effort is called CSD Neighborhood.
Early in 2017, CSD launched another program called CSD Works to place deaf people in career positions and help create deaf-owned businesses.
CSD recently partnered with Uber to help riders interact more effectively with deaf and hard of hearing drivers. The organization is also adapting training materials for those drivers to help them succeed as well.
Soukup acknowledged that the deaf community is becoming more diverse. Not only does it include people who are deaf from a young age along with people who lose their hearing, often as they age, there are those who have cochlear implants that allow them to hear well but who also identify with the deaf community. CSD is working to serve each member of this community.
About 95% of CSD revenue comes from providing revenue-generating services, including relay services, equipment distribution and interpreting. The organization also receives grants and donations and has investment income.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!