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Food for thought: my story

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A picture of a woman, Emily LaFleur at Swiss Chalet.

Food for thought:  my story
By Emily LaFleur

The door opens. A smile connects two strangers. A gesture communicates intent. A family is greeted warmly, guided to a table and given their menus. Not a single word has been spoken, yet we have understood each other.

When Swiss Chalet hired me as a hostess, I was truly terrified. It was scary enough that it was my first job and even scarier because I am Deaf. How would the public respond to me? As the employment consultant from the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) introduced me to the manager before my interview, the mantra in my head kept looping and telling me, “Be brave, be brave, be brave!”

Bravery, as I have come to learn, is needed on an ongoing basis … and not only from me. I have, albeit rarely, encountered intolerance and impatience; however, overall, this community is remarkably supportive. Where are the challenges, the need for bravery? They come when someone turns away from me so I cannot see their lips, and lip-reading isn’t natural nor is it flawless. Only 30 to 33 percent of the English language can be read on the lips. As a Deaf person, it is natural for me to tune into body language, but since it is critical to me as a person and as an employee to ensure people are not uncomfortable and receive the right information, I may suggest we write. Some people attempt gestures. This is where I see the greatest bravery emerge. I am always impressed when a hearing person attempts to express themselves with gestures even if they don’t know American Sign Language. Simply wiping their lips can tell me they need a napkin. Emulating the shape of a cup can tell me they need a drink. Their efforts to figure out a way to communicate ripple through me in waves of appreciation. It is a gift to be acknowledged and validated in this manner. And occasionally someone communicates in my language. They use a formal sign such as “thank you” or they fingerspell a word. These occurrences are always a treat for both of us.

Just like many others my age, I am saving for my future, putting myself through college and learning about the world of work. I am so grateful to CHS, my trainers, the managers, the business owners and my amazing team of co-workers at Swiss Chalet for their support and for giving me a chance to show I can accomplish the same things as anyone else. They have taught me everything I need to know on the job and have given me the sense that I can do anything! By their actions and attitudes, they show that they understand that being deaf simply means I do not hear, but that I am a capable and competent individual. I feel the typical stresses, joys, challenges, disappointments and accomplishments as anyone, and also valued as an equal by having the chance to do the same job as anyone else in a community that respects me. At Swiss Chalet, I have been given the opportunity to feel like I belong.

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