AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter agency launched in Austin Friday, and is making history as the state’s first deaf woman and LGBTQ+ owned agency.

The agency, Rooted Connections, grew from discussions between the founders, Marisa D’Rose, China D’Rose, Karlee Gruetzner and Jillian Gruetzner, during virtual workshops. Soon after the four met in person, and last year decided to start a company together.

The four were interviewed by KXAN through an interpreter.

“There are many agencies, not just in Austin, but specifically speaking about Austin that don’t meet our expectations as deaf consumers,” Marisa said. “We share a lot of the same frustrations and a passion to change the interpreting industry.”

“We put ourselves in a position to push for change. If we continued as freelance interpreters, we wouldn’t have that same kind of power to push for change,” Karlee added. “We live in the world as deaf people, we can’t just clock out and go back to a hearing family. That’s not an option for us, and that’s a big difference between us and hearing interpreters.”

According to the founders, most interpreter agencies in the U.S. are run by people who can hear, in particular straight, white men.

“Often the deaf person is alone, if you will, in the room, they’re surrounded by hearing people, including the hearing interpreter, and so they don’t often feel completely supported,” Jillian said.

The founders shared an anecdote about a deaf acquaintance going to the doctor for gender-affirming care. The agency-assigned interpreter lacked familiarity with the topic, creating a barrier for the deaf person to receive care.

“There is a dire need for more diversity. Studies have shown that the majority of interpreters are white, hearing women,” Jillian said. “Our community is very diverse, that means that interpreters need to look like us, they need to reflect that diversity.”

“I would be hard pressed to mention one person that owns an interpreting agency that I see out in the deaf community,” China said. “We often don’t really see that. We want to have our faces in the community and not just sit behind a desk and hide behind the four walls of an agency.”