An interview with Patti Sanchez, a Senior Employment Specialist (and tireless advocate!) at the MacDonald Training Center in Florida.
Describe yourself: What activities do you enjoy? Who are your friends? What does your family look like?
I am a single mom, professional businesswoman who is always on the go! I have many nicknames such as Mother Patricia, Hurricane Patti, Boss Patti, Tireless Patti, a list goes on.
I enjoy educating the community about Deaf culture and sign language. I also enjoy spending quality times with my family in NYC and Puerto Rico. Doing volunteering is something that I enjoy and inspire others. I love to dance Latin music and going to Latin and jazz concert. I am the life of the party!
My friends are the one that we have the same mindset. We help people with disabilities individuals to find successful in their life either being independence and/or employment. And we don’t judge! We accept every individuals as they are.
My family consists of my adult daughter who speak several languages and my two fur babies.
Do you identify yourself? Are you “deaf”, “Deaf”, “hard of hearing”, something else and what does this mean to you?
This is tough! I was born hearing and became hard of hearing with my hearing aids. Without my hearing aids, I am Deaf. I don’t really know where I stand. It is up to the community to decide. I know I am a talker!
Share a great accomplishment you’ve experienced.
There is a long list of accomplishment that I’ve experienced. I broke every barrier that many Deaf struggle with. I was listed as “FIRST” in the banking industry:
First Bank teller.
First Head Bank Teller.
First External auditor.
First deaf employee with Associated Press, PricewaterhouseCooper (legacy PriceWaterhouse).
First deaf being on the hearing committee board: Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council; Hillsborough County Public School System – Student Advisory Council and Citizen Advisory County
I also have several businesses that I own: Sofrito Rico, Sofrito al Natural; ProType by Chez; Simply Signing by Patti, and Deaf CareerSource
(Editor note, Patti was honored as a Lightning Community Hero.)
What about yourself do you think your family is most proud of?
My family are extremely proud of me of being successful and doing it own my own. My mother taught me to sit next to the smarter person and learn from them. Always ask questions, because if I don’t ask, then I don’t know. My mom believes that every child can achieve success with good family support and by not feeling sorry for your child or expressing pity. When I contracted meningitis or German measles at the age of three, the doctor told my parents that in the future I will lose my hearing. Mom didn’t panic with sadness and her response was straight forward with the doctor: “Is there anything out there for my daughter to experience success?” That’s how she learned about hearing aids and speech therapy (this was 1967). My mother was a strong-willed matriarch in the Rodriguez family and believed that no one should be feeling sorry for me because I couldn’t hear. She always told me that I can do anything– and make sure I do it with the right education and surround myself with the best of the best. She told every teacher not to treat me special and I was a simple kid with hearing aids.
“Just speak front of her”, that’s what Mami used to tell everyone.
With my mother’s wisdom and tough love, I truly gained confidence in myself and I didn’t care how my voice sound. I tell the people that “you are listening with my deaf accent or my Brooklyn, NY accent, it is up to you!”. Obviously, they say that I do have my “Noo Yawk” accent.
I am the only child surrounded with a massive number cousins.
What do you think you’ll do in your future life?
I am 55 years old and I have so many unfinished businesses. I really want to see myself being a politician. Coming from politic family in Puerto Rico, I know I can be a good one. I can continue educating people about the Deaf community, culture, language and employment. I would love to continue being a speaker to parents/family of deaf children, especially if they feel hopeless and think that their DHH kid will not achieve success. This is a myth!!!! Also, I would LOVE to speak to new parents that there are choices. Doctors can inform that the child is deaf or will lose hearing and shouldn’t make the final decision to the parents what to do with their child. Send them to the resource center and have the parents meet other parents and learn from their experience, meet a Deaf role model, (Hey, look at me! Look at others that have success in their career), show them the resources out there. In my time, 1967, there was ONE thing..hearing aids and speech therapy. Also, when I was growing up, my mother told me that I must learn a 3rd language because in America we meet diverse individuals. That’s how I chose to learn sign language and learn their culture. I can speak Spanish as well. Spanish is my first language!
I am the only child of the Puerto Rican immigrants. Papi came to the U.S. without knowing English and worked for the New York Daily News as a typesetter. Mami came to the U. S. also not knowing English,. She asked her boss to teach her, because she wasn’t going to spend her life ironing uniforms. She transferred to the headquarters and became a switchboard operator. Because they came for American dream, my parents believe that I can have the best life regardless to my hearing loss. My mother was very involved with my education and she volunteered in numerous positions as PTA, teacher aide, school front desk, and Spanish translator to the Hispanic family. Seeing my mother helping others, I step up to fit in her shoes. She got help from others for my journey, now it is time for me to give back to the community.
Educational Advocacy Stories:
What challenges and successes have you encountered in advocating for yourself?
Challenges – Many times I struggle in public places when my name is being called. I must remind people that I am deaf and to make sure to note on the paper the color of the top that I am wearing so they can find me. Sometimes my name is called then I get pass because I didn’t hear it. I always suggest places to have a number so we can see the display when the number is called.
Another challenge I notice is that when I go to the SSA office, we get a number. For the DHH individuals, a representative come out with a board and my name is shown. This is a violation of HIPAA. I told the representative that they need to put the number just like they display on the electronic board not the name. I posted on Twitter to the SSA to make sure they compliance the number only not name.
Successes – As a senior employment specialist, I am advocating to the job seeker. I provide diversity training to several companies why they should hire a DHH individual. In addition, I give many suggestions to the manager how to communicate with the DHH employees. Also, speaking of safety, I always suggest having a reflector vest or have a flashing light near the DHH employees, so they know what’s going on. Continue giving proper training and accommodations, they can be successful. (not sure if that’s what you are looking for…)
What help did you receive that changed the outcome?
Attending ADA workshop, Disability events, learning the latest technology, etc. Everyday is a learning process and the more I learn the better I can help.
What do you want others to know about being an effective advocate?
Have patience; get educated; respect other opinions, and work together to make it successful.
Read more about Patti here:
Educating Companies to Hire Deaf Staff