It was the spring of 2017 when I woke up to the smell of smoke. It had happened again. Four years ago, I had my first warning when I slept through a fire drill in the condo that I was living at the time. Back then, I slept utterly unaware of what was going on. A couple of days later, only to find out from a letter sent to my mailbox from the property management office, I discovered what had happened a couple of nights ago. Although the letter was addressed to all the tenants, the letter scolded me like a four-year-old child, like I had done the unthinkable – I didn’t leave the building when I was told. They have proof. They took attendance too. I felt like the letter was speaking directly at me. I know it was not my fault. Had I known, I would have been out of the building with everyone else.
Finding out made me realize how vulnerable I was in these circumstances. Mainly because I have a hearing loss. I felt like I had been excluded. Similar to a birthday party that everyone at high school talked about on Monday morning and you just came to know. I wanted to be included, and I was motivated to fix this so badly.
I started ordering online. My first alerting device from Amazon was the Lifetone Technology. It was the perfect solution, what I thought at the time. My condo building is full of rules on what can and can’t be altered inside the unit or central area. I needed a solution that would not disturb any of the fire alarm systems. This alert device was supposed to listen for fire alarm sounds and wake me up right at my bedside. It was a better solution than spending hundreds of dollars and time reconfiguring the alarm system that came with the unit. As an owner, I can no longer ask a landlord to follow the accessibility act to help protect me.
With the Lifetone Technology, I knew that I couldn’t be covered all the time. Especially when I take off my hearing aids to take a shower or just to roam around my condo in silence. I was okay with this. I had no intention of moving the clock around with me all day, but I know when I am in the bedroom sleeping at night, I will be okay.
After testing the device, I realized the Lifetone Technology was not working. Darn. Who knew that the alarm system in Canada was different in the US. I returned the device back and started to explore my second option. That’s when I started looking at the Serene Innovation. Instead of Lifetone, it required that I buy three pieces to get started. The transmitter, the listener, to pick up the alarm sounds, a receiver to get notified that the alarm went off, and the shaker to feel the vibration notification while sleeping. Then the price came up in US dollars. After the conversion, I noticed how the Canadian dollars suck. I knew that I had to be sure before buying this device.
While searching, I realized that the alarms in the common area hallways did not connect to the alarm in my unit. So any fire alarm that goes off in the hallway will need its own transmitter. I will also need to purchase another transmitter for the fire alarm in my condo unit hallway. So, I was stuck with writing a lengthy letter to the condo board, asking for permission to place a transmitter in the hallway. I will be breaking the condo rules of altering the common spaces. I waited for the condo board to have their next meeting to discuss my letter. They granted me permission to place the transmitter. Shortly then, I find myself relocating out of the city to a new town. I decided to wait and see what the best solution needed for where I was moving to. I never fell through.
So now I find myself up again at 3 am in the morning and smelling smoke. I quickly put on my hearing aids in a panic, waiting for the three bell tones to finish in my ears to let me know that my hearing aids are about to turn on. I listened to the sounds as it began processing into my ears. Nothing. The world was tranquil. Had everyone evacuated the building? Am I all alone? I looked out into the traffic, a few lone cars driving on the expressway, but the smoke felt intense every moment. I kept thinking that I must have been forgotten.
When I first moved into the condo, I completed a form send from the property management team, asking how I wanted to be notified in the case of an emergency. I informed them that I prefer a text message. So, in the early hours smelling smoke, I didn’t see any text messages notification and started to wonder why. I had the property management’s phone number on the table outside of my bedroom. I jumped out of bed, reached for the piece of paper with the number, and began to dial. I dialed, and no one answered. “Of course, “I thought. “They are outside. Why would they be answering the phones?” In a panic, I texted my sister, who lived a block away, and asked her is there any fire nearby? I told her I’m smelling smoke. No answer. So, I finally decided to do what everyone else is doing. I Google. “Fire downtown.” There it was my answer in the search results. A fire had gone out of control, 2 km away. The smoke was passing through.
At that moment, I don’t know if I was tired or what, but I just had enough. I knew something needed to be done. Back online, I bought a Ditto vibrating notification device from Amazon, a wearable band that connects to your smartphone to alert you to any notifications of your smartphone. I had hoped to hack my way to something, but the wristband broke into pieces monthly later. Back online, I bought the Sonic Alert and connected it to my nightlight. However, it seems to love my vacuum cleaner more than my apartment fire alarm because it stayed still during a fire alarm test.
I didn’t want to spend any more money buying one product after another, which is when it dawned on me. I thought, “You know what you are looking for. Why don’t you be the one to build it.” And so that is how Lisnen got started.
Since starting Lisnen, it has been three years. I’ve had the lessons of my life being an entrepreneur—particularly an entrepreneur who happens to be hard of hearing.
In the world where startups, founders, and investors share a common vocabulary, hearing loss is often not associated with it. It is rare to see other startup founders who are deaf or hard of hearing in this bubble. I wonder why it is so.
We may be a small minority in the world, but we are undoubtedly many people. 466 million worldwide, but when the word founder comes up, there seems to be a few souls who are founders or running their own business. So, I thought that I would show up and begin to write a blog series about my life as an entrepreneur, particularly one that happens to have a hearing loss. You will learn the ups and downs of my experiences growing a tech startup, the impact of my hearing loss, my personal growth, and building a tech product for other people with hearing loss.
I want readers to experience my life and realize they are not a lonely soul. You will find comfort in the words that I share with the experiences you have in your own career or entrepreneurship journey. Knowing that you are not alone and have the potential to achieve what you truly want out of life is what I hope you can gain from reading these weekly blog articles.
I am lucky that I started a business in an area that I know well. I started a company to impact others and help them become independent, yet included in society. Like us, I want people to feel in control where society has failed to support our needs.
My hope is that my story and Lisnen’s blog will give you a glimpse into what it is like to run a tech company and know that we are all in this together. We have the talent, experience, and capabilities to do what our hearts desire. We are not to settle, be left alone, or be alone. We are to create. We each have our own different abilities and talent to share with the world. We have tons of unique experiences to add value to the world. And despite the bias and the sigmas that our community faces daily, we can persevere. Lisnen is for us. Come join me on this journey and on the ride.
Do you have an idea for a business? Perhaps, you have a company, or maybe you have a career that you want to pursue? Share in the comment below.
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