Sometimes limitations are in the eye (and the mind) of the beholder

It’s funny how fear can hold us back.

Sylvie Chouinard works as an employment specialist. She helps open doors for people who are looking for jobs. The people Sylvie works for are hearing-impaired. Some of them have been deaf since birth. Others (the deafened) have lost their hearing sometime after learning how to read, write and speak. Still others are not completely deaf, but live with a hearing loss.

As I listened to Sylvie talk about the 125 people she “helps” as well as their families, it occurred to me just how often we close the door on ‘difference’ because it scares us.

Deaf people communicate with a variety of technical support systems. On top of that, they use sign language. If they’re English-speaking they use North American sign language. If they’re French-speaking, they use a different form of sign language. Sylvie ‘speaks’ both of these languages, as well as English and French.

She says there are so many misconceptions about deaf, deafened and hearing impaired people. People feel that because someone can’t hear in the traditional sense, somehow they can’t think or reason, either. People feel that a deaf person can’t drive, and certainly can’t communicate effectively. People feel that a deaf person will be alot of extra work on the jobsite. People feel that because someone is deaf they can’t do the kind of work that other people can do.

This is one of the tragedies that deaf people live with.

Sylvie is very vocal about the tremendous abilities of people who are deaf. They’re just as effective in a plant or warehouse environment as anyone else… maybe even more. They process information visually, which means that driving a forklift or working around a forklift in a warehouse is a perfectly acceptable activity… deaf people sense lights and vibrations that a hearing person wouldn’t notice.

There are a few employers in Barrie who have crossed their “fear” threshold and hired their first deaf or deafened person. And then their second. And then their third.

One of Barrie’s biggest employers of deaf people was Alloy Wheels. When that plant closed earlier this year, the loss for its deaf employees was even greater than for those employees who can hear. It becomes one more hurdle to employment… convincing an employer that you can do the job.

Sylvie says often people are nervous to look beyond their initial reaction; they don’t want to spend a few minutes adjusting to the volume level of a deaf person, or giving their own ears the chance to adjust to sounds that are new to them.

Sylvie works for Huronia Hearing Impaired. This charitable organization provides many services to deaf people. It acts as a message taker; it offers sign language classes and supports deaf people as they seek accommodation and employment. The organization also helps source technical aid for its clients.

As I listened to Sylvie, I thought about the challenges that most people face as they head out into the job market. How frustrating to have an additional challenge added by employers simply because they just don’t know. I suppose we’re all like this to an extent, nervous of something we’ve never experienced before, nervous about opening a door to look closer.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people weren’t limited by outside influences, like our attitudes?

Thanks, Sylvie.