Making It Work
After safety, communication was McGonigle's other concern. He hired an interpreter for Nasser's job orientation but opted not to rely on the interpreter beyond that day.
"I wanted to learn how to appropriately communicate with Kamal" without relying on someone else, he said. He also knew he had to find a way for his team to communicate directly with Nasser.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing an Accessible Workplace
Nasser does not read lips, so McGonigle's team initially used a whiteboard to communicate. McGonigle also created laminated cards with pictures of the more than 40 warehouse tools and other inventory that his team provides to the nearly 100 AT&T technicians at the warehouse.
"The whiteboard was extremely helpful in the beginning," McGonigle said, but it had limitations. English is Nasser's third language, after Arabic and ASL
, and sometimes "we would have a [language] barrier because he wouldn't know exactly what I was trying to communicate."
McGonigle knew there had to be a better way.
"Part of me didn't feel comfortable [communicating] through an interpreter or through a whiteboard. I wanted to hold some deeper conversations if at all possible," he said. Nasser taught his co-workers some words—and their names—in ASL, but McGonigle wanted to learn more. With his supervisor's permission, he took a 10-week ASL course. It sparked his idea to have his team memorize—and sign—the company's 27-word safety creed.
Using ASL websites, and with Nasser's help, McGonigle and his team translated the creed. The experience turned into a fun, competitive team-building exercise as co-workers vied with each other to be the first to memorize and sign the creed. By the end of the day everyone could recite—and sign—it word for word.
"When we came together as a team … it made it much easier to learn," McGonigle said.
Nasser said he was ecstatic at their interest.
"They wanted to learn sign language—all the members, all the staff—and we took the time to do it and we learned it quickly. My self-esteem went way up," he said through an interpreter in the AT&T video.
At previous jobs where communication had been an issue, Nasser had resorted to either bringing an interpreter to work or using paper and pen, he noted in an e-mail.
An Important Skill
McGonigle is now manager of network services for AT&T in Columbus, Ohio. He plans to take more ASL courses and incorporate what he learns into his career. And he is teaching his 3-year-old daughter and her 10-month-old sister ASL because he thinks it's an important skill. Nasser said he is teaching his new boss ASL and continues to teach his colleagues to sign.
The experience at the AT&T warehouse is one of numerous examples of workplaces learning ASL to better communicate with a co-worker, according to Susan L. Murad, director of public relations and technology transfer at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf
in Rochester, N.Y.
"Often, our deaf alumni go into a workplace and their colleagues ask to learn sign [language], taking their lunch hours or off-the-clock time to do so," she said in an e-mail.
McGonigle urged employers looking to fill a position to "really, truly look at the individual … and make the [hiring] decision based on the company needs. It was clear … that Kamal was the most qualified [candidate] out of all of them," he told SHRM Online.
"Would it have been easier to hire the second-best candidate? Maybe, but it would have been wrong," McGonigle wrote in a February 2017 blog post for AT&T
. "He's smart. He's passionate. He's a hard worker. He's an all-around great guy. And he represents the value of a diverse and inclusive work culture."
Nasser taught him, he said in the video, that "it's actually a lot easier to communicate with him than you may think."
Read the first and second installments of this series.
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