Social Impact Heroes: How Alexis Kashar, deaf civil rights attorney, aims to ensure that accessibility is a part of design planning from the outset in technology, city planning and social media
There is one particular story that really touched me. A young man who worked at a hot dog stand at a baseball stadium who recognized the symbol, shared with me that his sister was deaf and that his entire family who spoke mostly spanish, learned to sign to communicate with his sister. He said as a result of this family experience, the “I love you” symbol had become a part of his daily communication, not only with his sister, but all members of the family. I felt an immediate connection with him and told him how lucky his sister was. As I left the stand, we waved “I love you” to each other and others waiting in line all watched the conversation and I could see some of them making the hand shape. One simple but powerful sign instantaneously connected a group of complete strangers.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Kashar. Love, unity, and belonging — these are the principles that motivated Alexis Kashar, a deaf civil rights attorney and entrepreneur, to launch ROSEBYANDER, a jewelry collection built on community, inspired by equality, and expressed through love. With a mission to promote access, conversation, and inclusivity between communities, the debut collection from RoseBYANDER introduces the Love Sign Pendant, a curated collection of precious metals designed with every person, language, and experience in mind. The Love Sign Pendant, otherwise recognized as the American Sign Language (ASL) symbol for love, transcends cultural language and bridges barriers of communication. Wearing the pendant serves as an invitation to be understood and evoke a sense of belonging and love, without words. Because we are more similar than we are different.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Alexis! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I spent many years as a civil rights attorney — paving the way for a more accessible world through advocacy and litigation. Some cases were able to help thousands of people at a time, others helped one child at a time, but in no way less meaningful. This took a tremendous amount of energy to obtain the necessary outcomes.
I discovered the most powerful form of advocacy in the most unexpected way. I began wearing a pendant designed for my sister, our mother and myself that represents “I Love You” (ILY) in American Sign Language.What started as something that became a part of me much like a much like a religious symbol, turned into a conversation starter with complete strangers. Many people saw the pendant as an invitation to talk to me about what it meant to them and how they used the “I love you” symbol in their lives. Parents shared how they used this to communicate love to their children, some shared how they appreciated the beauty of ASL and others shared how they saw the symbol transcending the symbol for love across the world. It was a call for connection.
What we adorn on our necks says so much to the world. Whether its religious symbols, our names, an artifact from the past and present, a symbol of love, I know that one thing is clear — jewelry has the power to connect communities and people. This symbol, unlike most other symbols of love, is multilayered, ranging from the romantic, affection to familial, friendship and also used for salutations. There was no question in my mind that I had to apply the same passion that I had for civil rights and share this uniquely and beautifully designed symbol with the world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
One of my favorite stories involves a little boy who could not have been more than 5 or 6 years old who approached me at the Vet’s office. I was waiting to see the doctor one evening with my dog, Polo. He saw me talking to Polo who was not happy about being at the doctors office. He came closer to play with Polo and saw my necklace. He then started to sign his name and asked me the dog’s name. This little boy immediately recognized a symbol that enabled him to figure out that a good way to communicate with me and was not afraid to use his newly learned skills like thousands of young people learning ASL, instantaneously connecting the two of us.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
While I am incredibly proud to be a deaf entrepreneur and making space for myself and RoseBYANDER in the luxury jewelry industry, my mission is to connect people globally through the use of the Love Sign and the stories that come from this connection. As I strive to show through RoseBYANDER, the story of the user is not just about American Sign Language but using the most powerful symbol of love to connect all of us.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
The pendant has created so many unexpected conversations and connections for me and others who currently wear them. There is one particular story that really touched me. A young man who worked at a hot dog stand at a baseball stadium who recognized the symbol, shared with me that his sister was deaf and that his entire family who spoke mostly spanish, learned to sign to communicate with his sister. He said as a result of this family experience, the “I love you” symbol had become a part of his daily communication, not only with his sister, but all members of the family. I felt an immediate connection with him and told him how lucky his sister was. As I left the stand, we waved “I love you” to each other and others waiting in line all watched the conversation and I could see some of them making the hand shape. One simple but powerful sign instantaneously connected a group of complete strangers.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Offer American Sign Language in ALL elementary and secondary schools. This not only offers another language option, it allows children who are visual learners to partake in the learning of a new language successfully too.
- Ensure accessibility is a part of design planning from the outset including in technology, city planning and social media.
- Invest in or support organizations with authentic leadership.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership means taking the time to understand the goal of your role and ensuring that you maximize the ability or efforts of others working with you to achieve the goals of the organization or project. A leader should not be a “leader” for the sake of being one. You will be a leader for a party of one.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It takes time to build a brand. Be patient.
- Make sure your brand represents YOU and reflects the authentic roots of your company on every level. The world needs more authenticity and less artificial.
- Manage the expectations of those around you as whether you make your transition from a full time mother to a full time working mother and that you do not feel guilty for making a transition back to the workforce. This is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.
- Go get your product off the ground. Do not wait for the most perfect MVP (minimum viable product). This is a very difficult thing to do but must be done.
- Do not underestimate the power of mentorship. Seek out and offer mentorship. It is a two way street and everyone benefits.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Create a world where there is an expectation for accessibility to be built in every design to the point where there is no longer a need to call something “accessible”.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have too many of those to share here.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet Mark Cuban, a fellow Texan, as I am a strong believer in how the world of sports connects people around the world regardless of language and culture much like the mission of RoseBYANDER. He has successfully combined the worlds of sports and business and I would absolutely love to meet him and get his advice!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!