Survey Report




Liesbeth Pyfers

Published by



September 2018

Project number

KA2 2016-1-UK01-KA202-024361


September 2016– August 2018



Pragma, Hoensbroek NL

All requests concerning the reproduction or translation of all or part of this document should be addressed to Pragma,
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 EU flag Erasmus vect POS    The Deaf Enterprise Project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


To all the people who contributed to this report and to the Deaf Enterprise Project,

  • The respondents of the Deaf Enterprise Survey,
  • The trainers and participants of the Deaf Enterprise Workshops,
  • The Deaf Entrepreneurs who were willing to be interviewed by us and/or to be included in our Gallery of Deaf Entrepreneurs,

A very big THANK YOU!

on behalf of the partners of the Deaf Enterprise Consortium

Liesbeth Pyfers, 31 August 2018

Introduction & Conclusions

The Deaf Enterprise project was a pilot project undertaken by a small number of committed partners from 4 EU countries. The project ran from 2016-2018, with partial funding by the Erasmus+ programme (Project Number: 2016-1-UK01-KA202-024361.

The objective of the project was to develop and test an Open Educational Resource and a curriculum about entrepreneurship, specifically designed for deaf sign language users. In this report, you will find the results of one of the Project’s activities: the Deaf Enterprise Survey.

The overall conclusions of the project, however, are too important to hide them in a final chapter. Therefore, we start this report with the conclusions of the project:

  1. Deaf sign language users can be successful entrepreneurs, not only in the field of sign language services and products, but across the board.

  2. Deaf sign language users who start their own business or who want to start a business, face the same problems that all starting entrepreneurs have to deal with. These problems, and the available support for entrepreneurs, vary between countries.

  3. In addition, deaf sign language users have to deal with the barriers of communication with hearing people and access to written and spoken information. Mainstream information, training workshops, networks and other resources, both national and certainly those that are EU-oriented, as a rule do not take the needs of deaf sign language users into account. As a result, the majority of these resources are of no or limited value to deaf entrepreneurs (to be).

  4. Email, Skype, whatsapp, text messaging and related messaging solutions give deaf people access to online communication. In many situations, however, sign language interpreters are indispensable. Sign language interpreters who may not be available in sufficient numbers in all EU member states and/or whose costs may have to be born completely or partially by the deaf entrepreneur him-/herself, which may make their services even if available, inaccessible.

  5. There is a major need for training and other resources for deaf entrepreneurs. In the Deaf Enterprise project, we focused on deaf people looking for training at a very basic level. The feedback from both our trainers and the participants in the workshops is unanimous: it is important that the trainers are role models and therefore have to be deaf sign language users themselves. Furthermore, the language of communication during the training must be the national sign language. We do not know if the same requirements apply to more advanced training and resources.

  6. Last but not least, the conclusion that most projects end with: more funding, more research is needed! Several of the partners in the Deaf Enterprise Project are planning to continue to undertake activities to support Deaf entrepreneurs. For them, and for all others who want to undertake activities in this field, some sort of funding - whether national or European - is needed. As a pilot project, Deaf Enterprise was successful. As a resource for deaf entrepreneurs and trainers, it is useful. To promote and support the entrepreneurial spirit of deaf sign language users across the EU,it is no more than a small drop in a large ocean.

1. The Deaf Enterprise Project

Many Deaf sign language users are unemployed or working in unfulfilling and/or unrewarding jobs. At EU level a range of activities has been implemented to support individuals and educators to train potential and beginning entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship now is a priority throughout Erasmus+ and recognized as a key competence that enables people to develop the skills they need for life and work. To this end, entrepreneurship education strategies generally address active citizenship, social entrepreneurship, venture creation as well as employability (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2016. Entrepreneurship Education at School in Europe. Eurydice Report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union).

All or most of the mainstream resources in this field however, are not accessible to Deaf sign language users: texts do not meet their reading requirements, videos are not subtitled, examples, tools and other resources are inappropriate or inaccessible.

The objective of the Deaf Enterprise project (Erasmus+ Project Number: 2016-1-UK01-KA202-024361, 1 September 2016 - 31 August 2018) was to develop, test and implement an Open Educational Resource (OER) and Curriculum for Deaf sign language users of all ages, that meet their specific strengths as well as requirements. The Deaf Enterprise OER and curriculum was 'made to measure' for and by Deaf sign language users.

Because so little was – and is - available for our target group, we did not limit ourselves to young people; the project's output can be used by, or adapted for a wide range of Deaf sign language users: different age-groups, nationalities, interests and backgrounds.

At the start of the project, very little was known about deaf entrepreneurs in the EU member states. Although there had been a few EU supported projects about employability and deafness (see the Deaf Enterprise website for details), our project was the first of its kind to focus on deaf people who have started, or wanted to start their own business. How many deaf business owners are there in the member states of the EU? What kind of businesses do they have? Are there any specific barriers that they have to deal with, and if yes: what are these barriers? And: how do deaf sign language users deal with these barriers? Are these barriers – and solutions – the same across the board, or are some specific to certain trades or countries?

Answers to these questions would help us to develop a curriculum that would take the specific situation of deaf people into account, instead of, or in addition to, using what is known about mainstream entrepreneurship. Answers to these questions would also be useful to inspire and inform deaf sign language users, interested in setting up their own business. Last but not least, answers to these questions would help us identify structural barriers that deaf entrepreneurs have to deal with in one or all EU countries and might help point the way to solutions to help deaf entrepreneurs in all EU member states.

The Deaf Enterprise project used three different paths to find answers to these questions:

  1. We set up a database of deaf business-owners in EU countries. We used our networks, personal contacts and internet searches. We did not try to be exhaustive, but we wanted to collect examples of deaf business owners as varied as possible: from different countries, different trades or professions, different age-groups, and men as well as women. By the end of the project, we had a ‘gallery’ of 60 deaf entrepreneurs from 10 EU countries. For each entrepreneur we included a photo, a link to the website of the business, and relevant information about the business. The database can be found on the Deaf Enterprise website:
  2. We conducted extensive personal interviews with 10 deaf entrepreneurs (6 men, 4 women) in 3 EU countries: Denmark, the UK and Italy (the countries of the partners in the consortium). The interviews followed a standardized format, asking questions about the business of the person, strategies used, barriers that had to be dealt with, and lessons learned. Most interviews were conducted in International Sign, some in the national Sign Language of the interviewee. Most interviews were captioned in English, some also in Italian. All interviews were posted on the Deaf Enterprise website:
  3. We developed the Deaf Enterprise Survey to collect data from Deaf entrepreneurs from all EU member states. In this report, you will find the results of the Survey.

Other results of the project: the Deaf Enterprise Curriculum and the reports of the Deaf Enterprise Workshops can be found on the project’s website. 

2. The Deaf Enterprise Survey

The target group for the Deaf Enterprise Survey were deaf sign language users in EU member states who had started their own business or were planning to do this. Requirements for the Survey questions therefore were:

  1. The Survey had to be short and to the point or people would not be willing to spend time answering the questions.
  2. The Survey would have to be accessible to Deaf people across the EU.
  3. The Survey would be posted in English text, with translations in International Sign. Later, translations in Dutch, Danish, and Italian text were added, as well as a translation in British Sign Language.
  4. Because of possible language barriers, the questions had to be very clear, straightforward and easy to understand, even for people who are not fluent in English or International Sign.
  5. The questions would have to be relevant for respondents in all EU countries.
  6. Multiple choice questions would be easiest because people don’t have to write. The number of options for each question had to be limited, because of the translation of the questions into sign language.
  7. There had to be some open questions, so that people could freely input their wishes/questions/advice etc. Because of language difficulties, people would be encouraged to respond in their national language. We would use Google translate to translate their responses.

The Questions

We divided the Survey into four parts:

  1. Information about the respondent: what country, age, gender.
  2. Information about the business of the respondent: what trade, size, history.
  3. Information about barriers and support.
  4. The respondents’ advice for new deaf entrepreneurs and the Deaf Enterprise Curriculum.

See the appendix or the website for the questions and the translations.


We translated the questions into International Sign and British Sign Language, as well as in 3 written languages: Danish, Dutch and Italian. The International Sign translation was made by Frankie Picron of the European Union of the Deaf. The BSL translation was made by Luigi Lerose of UCLan.

FrankiePicron LuigiLerose


3. Results: The Respondents

Number of Respondents, per country


We used our networks and social media to disseminate the Survey. The total number of responses by the end of the project, was 50. In the table, you can see where the respondents live. Unfortunately, the number of responses does not allow us to compare countries, or subgroups of respondents.

Other countries: Ethiopia, New Zealand, and unspecified. Since our main interest is on the EU member states, we have not included the 3 respondents from ‘Other’ countries in the remainder of this report.

We assume that there are several reasons why the response rate is low:

  1. Relatively speaking, the number of deaf entrepreneurs is low. Nevertheless, in Italy and the UK 16 persons completed the survey. This may have been in connection with the additional publicity of the Deaf Enterprise workshops in these two countries.
  2. The questions were available in International Sign and BSL, as well as in 4 written languages (English, Italian, Danish, Dutch). Nevertheless, language may still have been a barrier for many sign language users.
  3. As all business owners, deaf business owners are busy people. They may not have been willing or able to make time to answer our questions.



The number of men and women who responded is almost equal: 25 men, 22 women.

Hearing Status

To make sure that our respondents were indeed deaf sign language users (instead of hearing sign language users or hard-of-hearing persons), we asked the respondents for their hearing status. One person indicated that he/she was a hearing person. We removed his/her data from the survey. All other respondents answered that they were deaf.



The majority of the respondents is between 20 and 40 years of age, so fairly young. Four of the respondents are between 51-60, 1 is 61+.

Preferred Mode of Communication?


For this question, respondents could indicate both “yes” and “no”.

It is important to note that we asked for the preferred mode of communication; we did not ask about the ability of the respondent to communicate in sign language, spoken language, and/or reading and writing.

All of the respondents prefer sign language, only 1 respondent says “no” to sign language.

35 respondents indicate that they prefer not to use the spoken language whereas only 11 do.

31 respondents indicate that they do not like to use reading and writing for communication, whereas 15 respondents say they do use reading and writing for communication.

It is clear that the majority of the respondents are indeed sign language users. We did not ask more detailed questions, for instance whether the preferred mode of communication depends on the communication partner, and/or the communicative situation.

4. What Business?

Do you now have your own business?


We asked the respondents whether they currently owned a business, owned a business in the past, or were thinking about starting a business.

Less than half of the respondents had their own business, now or in the past. Others were thinking about starting a business. For some of the remaining questions, we will report the results for the actual business-owners separately.

What kind of business do you now have?


We gave the respondents a number of alternatives to choose from; since some options overlap, someone can be in sign language services and media and tv for instance, respondents were allowed to select more than one option. In the table, you can see the numbers for the respondents who have or had established their own business (dark blue) versus the entrepreneurs who are planning to set up their own businesses (light blue).

From the responses, it is clear that many deaf entrepreneurs are involved in sign language services. This can be translation services, interpreting services, sign language teaching, mediating services, accessibility for sign language users, etc. These entrepreneurs have made their first language, a sign language, into their unique selling point: they are sign language users themselves, they know the target group, there are no barriers communicating with the target group. Although the numbers are small, entrepreneurs planning to set up their own business seem to favour Sign Language Services, and Media, Film & TV.

In the past, deaf people were usually trained for professions where they would have no or limited contacts with the mainstream, hearing population. This has changed. Based on formal and informal interviews and internet searches we know that there are also many deaf entrepreneurs who have built their business on the visual skills of deaf people: they are photographers, designers, graphic artists.

Again, partly based on our survey but also on the basis of our interviews and net searches, we know that deaf sign language users have their own restaurant or bar. Several of these use sign language as their main promotional factor. Many deaf business owners can use their knowledge of sign language is an asset.  Nevertheless, many deaf business owners target hearing markets, see below.

When did you start your current business?


7 respondents started their business before 2010, 10 after 2010. Unfortunately, the numbers are too small for any conclusions.

How many employees do you have (full-time equivalents)?


Most of the respondents own Small or Medium sized businesses, with no or a maximum of 2 employees. Only 2 respondents indicate that they have more than 11 employees -

The main target group(s) of your current business?


We asked the respondents who the main target group of their business was, and gave them 3 options: the deaf community, the hearing community, and ‘disabled persons’ in general. Respondents were allowed to select more than one option.

In the table, the blue bars show the responses from all respondents, the orange bars show the number of respondents who indicated in an earlier question that they currently own their own business or did so in the past. The main target group is the Deaf community, both for established businesses and respondents planning to start a new business. The hearing community is a close second. Responses show that many respondents provide services that mediate between deaf and hearing persons, e.g. by offering translation or consultation services. Few businesses target disabled people in general.

The main market(s) of your current business? 


We asked the respondents what their main market was, again giving them a limited number of options: local/regional, national, EU and international. Respondents were able to select more than one option.

In the table, the blue bars indicate the numbers for all respondents, the orange bars show the numbers for the respondents who currently have their own business or did so in the past.

The responses show that most respondents work nationally. Especially for businesses targeting the deaf community, this makes sense: the number of deaf people is small and probably too small for most businesses that only target a local or regional market. The number of deaf business owners that work across the EU or wider is very small (EU: 2, International: 4). 

5 Results: Barriers & Support

When you first started your current business: what were the main barriers?

At this point, today, what are the main barriers for your business?


In the table are the results of two questions: barriers during the start-up phase of the business (blue), and barriers at his point of time (orange). During the start-up phase, almost all of the options that we offered were selected (respondents could select more than 1 option). After the start-up phase, communication with hearing people is the main barrier. 

For your business: do you use an interpreter (sign language, sign supported speech, oral or text)?


Most of the respondents use a sign language interpreter. Only 5 respondents indicate that they do not use an interpreter. We did not ask respondents to explain their answer. Respondents may not use an interpreter because they do not need one, or because they cannot afford one. The next questions offer some more information about this.

For your business: do you now receive support from your government / social services?


The majority of the respondents do not receive any support.

For your business: what support would you like to get from your government / social services?


For this question, respondents could indicate for each form of support whether they were receiving this (blue=yes, orange=no), and whether they wanted to receive this support (Grey). 

It is clear that the respondents received very little support (orange). The main wish is for the government to pay for all interpreter costs..

Overall, in your opinion: how 'Deaf Friendly' is your country for Deaf Entrepreneurs, on a scale from 0 - 10?


To get a general impression of how "Deaf Friendly" the EU member states are for deaf entrepreneurs, we asked the respondents for a grade on a scale of 1 - 10 ?

0 = not at all Deaf Friendly!   10 = VERY Deaf Friendly, couldn't be better!

The table shows a normal distribution, with most respondents choosing 5, 6 or 7. Unfortunately, we did not have enough responses to use the results to compare between countries.

Do you want to comment on this grade? (open question)

  • A lot can be done via internet. It is easy to get interpreters. The only barrier for many deaf people is direct communication with hearing people.

  • I think nowadays technology makes it easier for us to network online, but networking face-to-face is difficult. Who will pay for the interpreter? Will there be access as networking events? How do you get your voice out there?

  • I have to figure out a lot myself. There is no ''step by step'' manual for this. Sometimes it's complicated example tax, finances and forms. Netherlands language is not my first/mother language. I really would like to follow various workshop (examples: Finances, What you need know before you start set up own business, how to fill forms and so on... everything I guess :). I would like to see/prefer that workshops are organized by deaf persons these own/owned own business. That is a hole in a market.

  • Most clients prefer a hearing contractor because it is easy for them, for example: a hearing lecturer Dutch Sign Language or a hearing trainer in deaf culture, how to deal with deaf and hearing-impaired employees, and so on. The deaf teachers / trainers are the victims of this.

  • Possibilities to contact other business via chat or other way of communication via email etc. is not always possible. Sometimes you only can call.

  • I’ve set this my business with my partner and a team of counsellors. No help from anyone, just used my initiative as know this is a service that is needed by the deaf community. No support from anyone or funding. I would like to obtain funding for training counsellors as there are a severe lack of deaf counsellors in the UK.


6. Results: Advice?

What advice do you have for Deaf sign language users, who want to start their own business?  (open question)

  • Take self-assertive leadership and self-confidently, cooperatively and expertly lead the way. Do not let yourself be controlled by hearing people who decide what to do. You have formulated your own mission and vision yourself. Be proud of your business, that you are the owner. That you can manage and discuss at the highest level. Also radiate this in terms of self-assurance and expertise, then you'll get far. Also be smart in networking and being visionary. Establish links between events, information and what might happen in the future. Be well informed about all information. Do not be shy either to ask people to use their expertise to make your business run better. You can use all the help to quickly progress further in terms of cooperation and achieving successes.

  • Know how to do company administration and to know what work there is to do, besides only offering your own service.

  • I only will say: Go on! Use help from everybody, both from government and in your network. A lot of people are helpful by sharing information and so on.

  • Talk to other business owners, ask them about their successes and their failures. Don't be scared to ask for help. You do not need to do it by yourself.

  • Keep fighting, don’t give up!

  • Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes is okay and you learn most from this. Don't afraid to ask for help if something is wrong.

  • Asking Feedback is important. Then I look back and ask different people about their experiences. What is going well? What can be done better? I often hear new things and I learn. That helps your company improve. Take a good insurance, keep track of time registration and updating administration is the key.

  • Don't make people prejudiced against hearing people. If they do, they can hardly cooperate with hearing clients. My advice is to show respect to each other, and this is mutual.

  • Prepare your work good. Know what you are doing and want to achieve. Have a financial buffer. Know your market, is there enough work for you out there. Know what to do with Privacy. Create a database for your contacts via Salesforce or other way. And writing your worktimes. And do know well what you have to do with your tax/laws in your country.

  • Try it, nothing to lose.

  • Go for it. Follow your dream. Keep persisting and ask lots of questions. Don’t give up. Seek advice from friends, family and look outside the box.

  • Don't give up, nothing is impossible

  • Would like to see deaf entrepreneurs to come together in NL and or EU. To learn from each other but also doing business with each other.

What is the most important thing that we can teach Deaf sign language users, who want to start their own business? (open question)

  • Don't be too dependent on interpreters.This can become a barrier. Show that you are plurilingual. It will really help you get ahead. 

  • How to be a real entrepreneur: nothing comes to you by themselves.

  • Common knowledge about establishing their own company and how to use help specific for deaf people (interpreter service)

  • You can do anything if you put your mind to it. Your deafness does not define your business skills. You are thinking with your brain, not your ears.

  • Be yourself, trust yourself!

  • I think international sign language

  • An open attitute; cooperate with other Deaf entrepreneurs; don't use "I", use "We". 

  • Make a business plan and know your market. And have multiple scenario's negative and positive, because best case will barely happen.

  • To share information and look for support each other that what will make it work

  • Perseverance and guts! Develop resilience to deal with adversity as this will help you get stronger and believe in your business.
  • Most of all, be passionate! Know and love your subject well!