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Intel Employees: Life at Intel as a Deaf Employee

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I like languages. I “know” six (and I say “know” in quotations because I’m not as fluent in all of them as I once was, but know enough to be able to survive…I think.)

- English (I was born and raised in North America)

- French (I’m Canadian and it’s required that you learn this from elementary school to high school)

- Spanish (I opted out of French in high school to give this one a try)

- Gujarati (My parents are from the province of Gujarat in India and my grandmother, who raised me, only spoke Gujarati)

- Hindi (I grew up on Bollywood movies!)

- American Sign Language (ASL)

ASL is definitely the wild card of the bunch, but it made sense to me. Part of my interest came from my background in dance where we were taught to use our face, eyes and hand movements to tell a story—to me, that’s what ASL is based on but in a more organized and widely recognized fashion. I had an opportunity to take an ASL class and went for it! Though I’m not confident when signing, I learned a lot about deaf culture. Similarly to how I found Rose’s post, I came across a blog post on Planet Blue (our internal blogging network) and instantly knew I wanted to share it with the rest of you. Sherry was gracious enough to allow me to share her words on her experience as a deaf employee at Intel. Feel free to leave comments and I’ll be sure to pass them on!

“When people ask me about my deafness, they wonder what it is like to have hearing loss, how did I go through schools, and basically get to where I am today? My response is I have always been this way and is like all of us going through life. Approximately 95% of deaf and hard-of-hearing children are born from hearing parents. However, I am one of the less than 5% to have been born in a deaf family, because my parents, sister, brother, uncles, aunts and cousins are Deaf or hard-of-hearing. Do not adjust the screen, yes you are reading correctly, several of my family members have hearing loss. I grew up in Hawaii surrounded by beaches, communication in American Sign Language (ASL) and the deaf culture.

Picking schools were different from picking careers.

My parents chose my schools based on whether a deaf program was established and moved to another part of Hawaii where I received one of the better educations in the state with mainstreamed elementary, intermediate and high schools among hearing students with sign language interpreters and speech classes. I continued being mainstreamed in college by attending Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where more than 10% of the student body was deaf and hard-of-hearing. This was huge – out of 16,000 students – 1,600 of us were deaf or hard-of-hearing. It seemed like the whole city of Rochester, NY was aware of the deaf. When I went to the post office, DMV and restaurants, most of the time I found someone who knew sign language, provided paper and pen to communicate or had access to printed directions and signs.

Prior to each quarter, when registering for classes on RIT’s website, there was a section where I was able to choose which service provider I needed – sign language interpreters, captionist (similar to a court stenographer), and notetakers. Other times when I needed a sign language interpreter for class meetings, RIT sponsored events or tutoring, I just sent an IM to the service department with my request and converse over IM like we have here at Intel with office communicator. It is like having anything I wanted with a flick of a magic wand.

At Intel, life was different.

After I arrived at Intel two years ago as a college graduate (CG), my manager and I discussed accommodations I would need to do my job as a Project / Program Manager in IT. Because I manage a virtual advisory team and is part of a staff with teammates from Malaysia and India, I would need to spend much of my time calling in meetings. A video phone was handed-me-down by a deaf employee who left Intel, but it had connectivity issues due to Intel’s network security. For the next several months, I was frustrated with obsolete equipments and text based captioning relay causing lag time in-between conversations.

My teammates were incredibly supportive by trying new things with me, such as the video conferencing rooms when they came out and web cameras on our laptops. However, the video conferencing rooms were hard to get due to their popularity and the video on web cameras was slow, so I was not able to read lips. Seven months passed before I discovered the Z video phone and after a trial period to ensure it would work over Intel’s firewall, I was hooked. The Z video phone allows me to connect to a sign language interpreter to make phone calls and participate in meetings on the bridge. I was able to do my job more efficiently, along with sign language interpreters in group meetings and training classes at Intel. It was like having my magic wand back, almost.

Today, not everything is paradise; people do forget I do not hear everything and my teammates have been instrumental in helping to remind everyone to say their names before they speak for the video relay interpreter to relay messages to me. Also, it is uncomfortable to eat, multi-task on my laptop, and even yawn in my cube with my video phone making the interpreter yawn as well, so I learned to be alert at work

One time I had a 1:1 meeting with a colleague who had not worked with me before, she flat-out asked me if I just moved from another country. She pointed out my accent and I guessed I squinted at her face. For a moment I was taken aback, because I was a fourth-generation American. Then, I reminded myself I was not clear upfront, I had to laugh and explain I was deaf and lip-read.

Another incident not long after I started, my Santa Clara mentor, Sandy received a surprising insight into the deaf culture. We were deep in conversation after exiting the conference room and walking between the grey cubes while looking at each other, because I was reading her lips when suddenly she smacked right into the fire alarm switch! Relieved the flashing fire alarm did not go off, I immediately told Sandy “Welcome to the deaf world.” Occasionally my deaf friends and I would run into poles, spill drinks, trip on objects on the ground, because our eyes would be focused on each other either reading lips or watching sign language that we did not see what is in front of us. Now we would keep an eye in front while conversing and warn each other when approaching objects—I say this so my building safety czar could breathe now.

In closing, Intel, thank you for reasonable accommodations such as office communicator, flashing fire alarms, and free fruits making my life easier—okay the fruits do not have anything to do with my ability to hear. Next time you pass me in the halls, steer clear of the fire alarm switches, look directly at me and say hello!"