Joel Barish: No Barriers for this Deaf Guy

A huge map of the world hangs on one wall in Joel Barish’s office.  Joel and his brother, Jed, have made a career out of traveling around the globe capturing the stories of deaf and hard of hearing folks from all walks of life.  They are best known for running DeafNation, a series of trade shows in the U.S. and they are now expanding around the world.

I spent some time on the videophone getting to know Joel.  Joel graduated from Gallaudet University with a degree in TV/Film Production.  His goal was to work for a major studio and produce film.  “It wasn’t easy back then,” Joel recalled. “The equipment was heavy– we didn’t have digital back then.”  Joel took a detour, opening a travel agency and coffee shop– back in the days before Starbucks was born.  He was one of only two deaf travel agents.  For three years, he managed the agency/coffee shop, sold his travel agency, and then took a job with the American Express Travel Service.

Joel has an entrepreneur’s heart.  In the early days of the Internet, Joel did website development and hosting, creating sites for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Joel and Jed came up with the idea of creating a trade show for businesses serving deaf and hard of hearing people.  “We wanted to create a trade show with free admission,” said Joel.  “Sponsors were skeptical at first.”  What happened next was an entrepreneur’s dream: DeafNation Expo continued to draw crowd after crowd during the one day event held in different cities throughout the year.  Now in it’s tenth year, the trade show has expanded to include a  DeafNation World Expo held in Las Vegas.

But remember Joel’s dream of working for a major studio? He did something even better with that dream. Joel and Jeb created their own production company within DeafNation, and now they travel over the world, capturing stories of deaf and hard of hearing people living extraordinary lives.  “No one is the same, we’ve met different people from all over the world,” said Joel.  “But there’s always one thing they all have in common: deaf pride.”

Joel recalled a trip to the Panama Canal, where they stopped to interview employees at a deaf school.  The school was the site that produced the official flag of Panama, so it was a frequent site for other visitors.  But during their interview with a deaf employee, the woman began to cry.  “What’s wrong?” Joel asked.

“This is the first time anyone has interviewed a deaf person at the school,” she explained.  “The media always interview the staff who can hear.”

Yes, deaf pride, indeed.





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  • Inspiring story! Thanks for the post.

  • I hope you're putting these guys on your other website! What a great story! Gotta love that enterpreneurial spirit. As always, thanks for highlighting stories we can't hear anywhere else.

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