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Building inclusion into the workplace

Physical Plant Services organized a one-hour lunch and learn to help their employees interact with those who are Deaf.

[Queen's University Physical Plant Services Llynwen Osborne James Bailey accessibility]
One of Llynwen Osborne’s (left) inspirations for hosting the sign language lunch and learn was James Bailey (right), a Deaf employee with PPS. (University Communications)

Don’t be surprised if you see Physical Plant Services (PPS) employees using more sign language in their work.

Recently, PPS held a ‘Lunch and Learn’ that educated employees about Deaf culture, proper etiquette when interacting with those who are Deaf, and American Sign Language (ASL). The workshop was facilitated by a pair of presenters from the Canadian Hearing Society. 

“This training was identified as something PPS employees would benefit from in working with Deaf colleagues and clients,” says Llynwen Osborne, who organized the workshop on behalf of PPS. “It is important to demonstrate our support and respect for the challenges that Deaf people face in the workplace.”

There was an interesting twist for participants, as one of the presenters was herself Deaf. She signed her portion of the presentation to the group while an ASL interpreter orated to the class. The group experienced first-hand what it is like to rely on an interpreter to participate in an information session.

Deaf staff members also participated in the workshop, sharing their experience and explaining their communications preferences.

Communication Tips from the Canadian Hearing Society

• To get the person’s attention, tap them on the shoulder or wave your hand.

• Maintain eye contact with the person

• If the person can read lips, talk at a moderate pace and keep your hands away from your face

• Engage in written communication (text, email, or hand written notes)

• Talk TO the person, not at the person

• Use body language (within reason) to help communicate what you are trying to say

“The workshop taught me about proper etiquette and a few simple signs, and it has changed the way I work,” says Jesse Bambrick, another PPS employee. “It’s a hard habit to break, but I know now when I am in meetings I need to look at my Deaf colleagues so they have a chance to pick up on what I am saying. This has opened the door for me to ask more questions, and I am interested in learning more in the future.”

The presentation covered topics such as appropriate terminology to use when referring to Deaf people; polite ways to get the attention of a Deaf person; different modes of communication such as writing, signals, and signing; and some introductory ASL, including general phrases like “hello” and “goodbye” along with more job-specific words such as “plumber” and “grounds”.

“It was nice to have such a good turnout for this session because it shows support for our Deaf colleagues,” says Ms. Osborne. “Both have exceptional skills in communicating with hearing people so it was nice for them to see us trying as well.”

As a follow-up to this session, an additional lunch and learn session focused on work-specific signs could be organized for PPS staff in the future.