I am Andrea Zackary, a loving mother of five beautiful girls and wife to a wonderful loving husband. Raised in a mixed and athletic family, I was a former Deaf Olympian and a World Championship qualifier in track and field. I’m considered an Oral deaf and a mentor in my community.
I began losing my hearing at the age of 6 but still pursued my studies and quite comfortably completed high school and college. Also, I worked in the hospitality sector as a receptionist, but suddenly became completely deaf when I was 25, and due to it, I lost my job. I hold a diploma in Hotel & Restaurant Management and have worked in the hospitality sector for a decade.
After suddenly losing my hearing and sending innumerable resumes and interviewing for jobs, I found that no one was willing to hire me. Raising a young daughter at home and my career ahead, I knew kneeling was not an option and made what would be my first pivot: I planned to go back to school and train as a Personal Support Worker in the Deaf community to help seniors.
I graduated and instantly found a job at Bob Rumball Organization caring for deaf seniors for four years. I later realized that I didn’t belong here. Around the same time, my daughter was being bullied at school for her mother being deaf. My daughter needed to know that she was not alone. She had to know that there were other children like her with parents who were deaf.
That was the inspiration I needed. An idea was brewing that would begin as a side hustle to provide a permanent solution I saw in my community that eventually developed into an award-winning business. I’ve always wanted to do more for the community and took a leap of faith and set my foot in entrepreneurship by founding DEF EVENTS & BEYOND in 2014.
In the present day, DEB (Def Events & Beyond Inc.) is on a mission to build connections between the deaf/hearing impaired communities within the GTA through family-friendly and inclusive social events. My slogan for the business is “Play, Laugh, Socialize, and Bring Diverse Communities Together.” I have quite successfully managed to fill this gap between numerous communities.
Since DEB’s founding, I have been featured on CTV News. I have received a Young Professional of the Year Award, a Brampton Accessibility in Business Award, and a Brampton Board of Trade Top 40 Under 40 Award. I have also featured among more than 1,000 other successful women entrepreneurs in the WEKH‘s (Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub) See It. Be It. Database.
But none of my successes came without obstacles and challenges. So, with no previous business experience, I decided in 2016 to pursue further education in marketing, entrepreneurship and business planning.I’m Deaf, But That Didn’t Stop Me from Achieving My Dreams – This Is My Story. Click To Tweet
I enrolled in a series of free workshops and business seminars through the Brampton Entrepreneur Center. But for me, attending these courses needed access to an ASL interpreter. Unfortunately, the Entrepreneur Center did not have the money to furnish me with interpreters most of the time, and even though I went to the courses, I missed out a lot.
My colleagues offered to take notes, which they willingly shared, but I could’ve gotten so much more out of the program with the apt support. Fighting and advocating for accessibility have been on my radar ever since. And while I say things are slowly improving, having access is still a major concern for the Deaf community.
With that in my mind, my aim for DEF has developed into something much bigger than an events business. My goal is to create a Deaf Hub that would be a multi-purpose space for parties, social events, meetings, and a coffee shop where deaf people like me can meet, work, and feel connected.
In the meantime, I’m working to figure out what my events business will look like in a post-COVID world. Unfortunately, as with many in the events industry, DEF has proven to be a major roadblock. The pandemic has hit us in full, and I have not had any events for two years apart from my relaunch, which I moderated in autumn 2021.
I used the pandemic as a chance to work on my business, redesigning my branded materials and reformatting my business model to include a membership platform. I have also co-created a calendar planner associated with Leah Riddell, a local deaf educator and artist.
In January 2020, I gave birth to my 5th daughter, so in a way, the pandemic also gave me the chance to take care of my business at home. However, my biggest lesson over the last two years is that I learned to have patience.
In the year 2020, I also had the opportunity to enter the Rise Up Pitch Competition for black women entrepreneurs across Canada and win in the category of Business Services. It was a rich experience for me and a good experience for Rise Up to learn about the importance of accessibility. I know I’ve been turned down by competitors in the past when I’ve addressed my needs. Still, they’ve been willing to accommodate and have been consistently positive throughout the entire experience.
To be ready for the pitch, I had to spend a lot of time with my interpreter. I just wanted him to know who I am and what my style is so that comes across in my presentation.
The Rise Up Pitch Competition, first launched in 2021 by the Black Business & Professional Association, de Sedulous Women Leaders, and CASA Foundation for International Development in 2021, is an opportunity for Black female entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses for the opportunity to raise thousands of dollars in funding to win resources and awards. This competition assists female entrepreneurs who enter the competition and results in Canada’s biggest study of black female entrepreneurs.
A Study of 700 Black Women Entrepreneurs, issued with research and supported by the WEKH, discovered that the immense majority (78.5%) of Black female entrepreneurs said access to finance was a problem. It also confirmed previous research, which suggested that experiences of workplace prejudice and racism often prompted Black women entrepreneurs to launch their businesses. The report emphasized the need to back Black female entrepreneurs in Canada with general business advice, funding, mentoring, and people and team support.
All of the challenges I faced as a Black woman building my own business were compounded by my disability. Full disclosure: many of the entire deaf community organizations are managed by deaf white people, so I have never quite felt like I belong. I feel like I had to work harder to get these organizations to realize me. Honestly, most of my recognition came from the hearing community in opposition to the deaf community.
I’m not afraid to spearhead the way, and I hope my groundbreaking work impacts and motivates future entrepreneurs. I serve as a founding member of Black Deaf Canada, a not-for-profit organization that my other four Black Deaf Women and I are working to establish.
Our content acknowledges the strength of the ardent entrepreneurs and their lifelong experiences of the marketplace that help them build successful business empires. Our belief in productive learning and providing inclusive content is why we have plans for a wide spectrum of activities that incorporate everything from reading to prolific networking.
Everything I do, I do with hopes of motivating my daughters. They have accompanied me through failures and successes and supported me. As a result, two of my daughters have already launched their small businesses, following in my footsteps.
I hope my story helps someone feel seen, empowered and understood. My diagnosis has beautifully shaped my career and life but not controlled it. I never let it get me down. My life’s beautiful and fulfilled. I’m a mother of five and married to a supportive and loving husband. I lead a respected Canadian company that I revamped amid a global pandemic. I work with some of the finest people. And I’m deaf, and it is a part of who I am.