Career Center offers Deaf Awareness Training to D.C. area businesses; strengthens connection between deaf and hearing employees

June 15, 2017

Author: Phil Dignan

The mission of the Gallaudet University Career Center is to assist students in reaching their career goals by integrating liberal education with experience in the marketplace-students are educated and empowered to practice lifelong career management skills, make effective career decisions, and achieve professional success. As part of this mission, the Career Center also works to bridge cultural understanding between the mainstream workforce and the deaf community.

On May 30, 2017, Karen Cook, director of the Career Center, and Anjali Desai-Margolin, career consultant, presented a workshop, "Working Together: Deaf and Hearing Employees" to over 20 staff members at the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking (DISB). This highly interactive workshop is designed to increase hearing employers' understanding of how to work effectively with deaf and hard of hearing persons. Jennifer Savage, a Gallaudet student majoring in Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) and currently interning with DISB, also participated in the training.

Savage, who is the second Gallaudet RMI student to intern at DISB, enjoyed the opportunity to share information about herself and create a comfort level with her hearing peers at DISB.

"It was nice to see that the staff at DISB were curious about our deaf culture," said Savage. "I know this helps them to be more aware of deaf people and understand that we are just as normal as them, except for our lack of hearing. I can see that this helps break the ice a little bit between myself and the DISB-but not just for me, but for all the deaf people who they have met in the past or that they will meet in the future."

This is the second consecutive summer that DISB has offered this training to its staff. Philip Barlow, DISB associate commissioner for insurance, recognizing the value of Gallaudet interns, coordinated with the Career Center to provide training to DISB employees.

"The program with Gallaudet has been very helpful to DISB," said Barlow. "We have given the interns projects related to new topics that we want to understand better. So not only has it given our staff the opportunity to work with members of the deaf community, but it has also been beneficial to us in regulating the insurance industry in the District."

The opportunity to do an internship while still in college provides one of the most beneficial experiences a student can have, allowing them to develop networks with employers and to sample various jobs. Internships prepare students for future jobs and careers, often related to their majors, and gives them valuable "real world" work experience before they graduate.

Gallaudet students have been doing internships off campus for almost 40 years, initially through a former campus office, Experiential Programs Off Campus (EPOC) and later through the Career Center.

"From the beginning, it was evident that employers had limited knowledge or understanding about deaf people or how to communicate with them," said Cook. "We then started to offer training workshops to educate employers about working with deaf and hard of hearing individuals, how to communicate through the use of interpreters, and to better understand deaf people by learning about their unique language and culture."

The Career Center now offers 10 or more onsite employer training/workshops a year. The feedback received from employers after the training is always positive. The workshop is interactive, people feel more invested and are able to develop an understanding of how to work effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. They also enjoy the opportunity to learn a few signs they can use to communicate with a deaf person in the work setting.

"It is important to offer these workshops to the community because one of the biggest barriers to successful employment of deaf and hard of hearing people is attitudinal, based on preconceived notions and misconceptions that hearing people have about deafness," said Cook. "Providing training to employers to correct and dispel these myths will do much to promote a new understanding of the potential for and benefits of hiring and working alongside deaf and hard of hearing professionals."

While the onsite trainings have continued throughout the years, an on-campus training for supervisors was recently established, thanks in part through a grant received from the Hilda E. Bretzlaff Foundation. The Career Center staff hosted an all-day conference for private employers in September 2016 entitled, "Best Practices for Working with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Employees." The conference, which received positive reviews from attendees, will be offered again in November 2017 with both federal agency and private sector representatives being invited to participate in the event.

Over the summer, the Career Center will be offering training to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Marriott International and other private employers. Cook believes in-person training works best, however, plans are also underway for an online series of training modules and a webinar for employers outside of the D.C. Metro area.

To learn more about the Career Center, click here.

From left: Philip Barlow, D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) associate commissioner for insurance; Amy Lanasa, Gallaudet Interpreting Services (GIS) interpreter; Anjali Desai-Margolin, Career Center consultant; Jennifer Savage, Risk Management and Insurance student and DISB intern; Karen Cook, Career Center director;  James Bruner,  and Amanda Pernisi, GIS interpreter.

From left: Philip Barlow, D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) associate commissioner for insurance; Amanda Pernisi, Gallaudet Interpreting Services (GIS) interpreter; Anjali Desai-Margolin, Career Center consultant; Jennifer Savage, Risk Management and Insurance student and DISB intern; Karen Cook, Career Center director; James Bruner, RMI director; and Amy Lanasa, GIS interpreter.

Photos by Phil Dignan