Cooking up Work Experience
at Glen Eyrie

Landing that first job is a rite of passage for teens, along with the driver's license and the first date. It is a rite of passage for deaf and hard of hearing teens, as well, but one that often takes more effort than putting on some acceptable clothes and inquiring at the local store posting the "help wanted" sign.

Kyle Viola, an honors student from Palmer High School, spent a full year looking for his first job. He had difficulty even getting interviews where he applied. Employers said outright that they could not hire him for his own safety because he was deaf. While that statement violates the ADA (as well as our sense of justice), Kyle wanted a job more than a lawsuit, and continued to pursue any lead.

Finally, an acquaintance knew of a position open at Glen Eyrie Castle and Conference Center, a historical landmark in Colorado Springs. Finally, Kyle had his first chance at proving himself on the job.

Frances Shott, the Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director, said he had no reservations in hiring Kyle. "I look at all my young kids as ready to be groomed for real life," said the chef. "I expect them to take on responsibilities and do them well, and I will add more as they are earned."

Employment at Glen Eyrie was a learning experience for all.

Kyle related that he had some concerns about succeeding in the kitchen position, where he helped prepare meals as well as wash dishes, and had contact with dining room guests as well. Kyle said, "I had concerns about communication with the chefs and whether I would be able to catch on to the job. I know I needed to work fast, because work is always on a fast pace and that the harder you work, the better it impresses your bosses."

Kyle's boss indicated that Kyle worked out some of the communication difficulties by carrying a white erase board with him. Kyle tried to double check his understanding of instructions, and the staff did this as well. It often helped, but not always. As Frances Schott explains, "It's hard for them (the employees) to tell if they missed something. How can you know what you didn't hear?" After Kyle was hired, Jon Giardina and Robert Smith applied, who are also deaf and attended the same high school. When the pace had to pick up, some instructions were lost. Frances felt that when he was told at hiring that "deaf people are very visual - they'll pick up the work fast," that this was unfair to the complexity of the restaurant business. Kyle, too, shared the frustration with occasional misunderstanding or confusion, but worked through it. "My attitude is that it doesn't matter if I am deaf or not. I will always finish what is needed and will satisfy my bosses."

For larger staff meetings, Glen Eyrie contracted with an interpreter. This was not practical on day to day operations, however. Some staff showed some interest in learning sign, but as Schott pointed out, "I can't make the other employees learn to sign. I told them (the deaf and hard of hearing employees) early on that they would have to come to the hearing world more than we could come to the deaf world, unfortunately."

It was not all work and no play, either. Kyle relates a story that happened last fall. "Jon and I were working the weekend and were on a lunch break. One of the chefs, Joey, offered us a taste of Viper sauce and it supposedly was very spicy. He said something about it and I thought that I could put on as many drops as I could put on my rice. I put on too much until Jon said that I was supposed to put in only one drop. I thought that I was so used to eating spicy food that it wouldn't matter. I was wrong. My mouth was on fire. I literally had to drink milk and water the whole day. My tongue was in a burn for nearly a week. I will always remember that. hilarious from another point of view. Everyone was laughing with me, not at me."

Kyle recommends other deaf and hard of hearing teens persevere in their job search. "Sooner or later, someone will call. If you give off good impression to the manager then he or she will consider hiring them. Also keep looking for places to work at and ask for every application they can take and fill them out immediately so the managers will look at them. Be sure to have good interview skills, dress officially, and sit straight with confidence."

To prospective employers, Kyle notes that being open to all forms of communication opens up more possibilities - from written communication to emergency signed phrases on the job for common, quick interaction like "clean this up, please" or "Cut this food up in pieces." (Several co-workers gained some level of sign skill.) Don't be frustrated with them and understand that it will take some time to get them up and running for the business that they are in.

Frances agrees that he and his staff found some challenge in working with Kyle, Robert and Jon. "We'd see that a customer had asked them a question a couple of times and they didn't respond," he remembers. One of the staff would follow up with the guest, and not until then would the guest notice hearing aids or an implant, if the boys were wearing them that evening. Guests sometimes responded that they just thought one of the boys were rude or not paying attention. Frances did find that the visual cue of the hearing aids sometimes seemed to help communication between the guest and the deaf employee. Sometimes, too, the employees didn't have their aids working or there was some problem, and it would take the staff or the employee awhile to realize what was happening. We had some issues with interpreting, too. The guys didn't like to be asked to help with communication, like asking Jon, who is hard of hearing, to relay something to Kyle, who recently got a cochlear implant. We stopped doing that. Also, one of the interpreters had trouble adapting to English sign, which the boys used."

All in all, though, it was a positive experience for everyone. Frances notes that he would happily hire Kyle again today. Kyle stopped working when he entered the University of Northern Colorado, with a major in secondary school education and an emphasis in History and/or English. He plans to complete a bachelor's and master's degree.

For more information on the ADA laws, Equal Employment Opportunity Workshops on tax incentives for small business hiring individuals with disabilities, adapting the work environment, and other issues, contact the the ADA technical assistance office in your area. or visit the U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission web site

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