Jamaican Teas creates career opportunities for the Deaf

Sunday, October 28, 2018

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In a move it says is in keeping with its commitment to workplace diversity and inclusivity, Jamaican Teas Limited has expanded its talent pool by hiring six members of the deaf community.

Three of them are at the company's Bell Road plant, while the others are at JRG Shoppers' Delite supermarket on Chancery Street in Meadowbrook, occupying roles ranging from merchandising and cashiering to working on the production line in the factory.

“The workers with hearing impediment are dedicated and determined; they work twice as hard as the hearing staff,” said factory manager Norman Russell.

Store manager at the supermarket Althea Morgan, also had glowing remarks about the deaf employees, describing them as highly motivated and having the skills to come up with solutions to problems based on insights unique to their experience.

“We have never got a complaint about the deaf employees,” she said. “Our customers here are rather impressed that there is a deaf person on the front line”.

CEO of Jamaican Teas Limited John Mahfood explained his company's rationale for hiring from among the deaf: “We specifically recruit these persons because we know that they get extra preparation for the working world through places like the Jamaica Association for the Deaf and the Abilities Foundation.”

“Deaf employees that have been recruited through JAD or Abilities Foundation are better prepared for the working world and require less in the way of orientation than able-bodied young persons that are recruited out of high school,” Mahfood said.

Stavene Oakley, 25, is an employee at the supermarket. She has been working as a cashier for 10 months and says that interacting with customers daily, despite her hearing disability, has been the best aspect of her job so far. She finds communicating with customers quite easy, and uses creative ways to attend to their needs, leaving them often surprised that she is deaf.

In an interview by way of an interpreter, Oakley explains that, “There are limited job opportunities for members of the deaf community in Jamaica, and I am happy that Jamaican Teas is accommodating people like me.”

She plans to build a career at Jamaican Teas, “as there are opportunities for deaf people to grow here”.

Mr Jones, a frequent customer at Shoppers' Delite, says he interacts with the deaf employees at the supermarket on a regular basis and sees them as efficient and competent.

It's news that Kimberley Sherlock, executive director, Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD), isn't surprised to hear.

“Members of the deaf community are skilled, as the only thing they cannot do is hear and Jamaican Teas has provided an engaging space in which to showcase their skills,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

Sherlock argued that while many companies are concerned about the costs of accommodating deaf employees, the benefits of engaging them will outweigh any challenges. She said that when companies hire disabled employees, they stand to reap a myriad of benefits that include: increased clientele, an opportunity to enrich the culture of their business and enhance public relations.

According to Sherlock, The JAD implements a special programme to prepare their members for the world of work. Students are first exposed to the mainstream educational system to attain the basic functional literacy and numeracy skills. After their secondary education training, they are required to advance to the training programme where they learn workplace ethics and professional skills.

She said, however, that depending on the urgency of the employers, some students may advance to the workplace immediately post secondary education. In the event where they are unable to enrol in the JAD training programme, special sessions are held with the transition officer of the JAD to outline mental and ethical expectations in the workplace.

Sherlock pointed out that in addition to training members of the deaf community are dedicated and determined, almost more so, because they have had to overcome more than the average worker. They also usually have an increased visual acuity and fine motor skills that put them ahead of the hearing staff.

Mahfood, meanwhile, is encouraging other Jamaican companies to tap into a more diverse talent pool by hiring graduates of the JAD. He also suggests thinking creatively and being open-minded when recruiting disabled employees. Mahfood believes that as the business community begins to open more doors to employment, the society at large will become more exposed to the talents and skills of disabled individuals and more sensitive to and tolerant of them.

Operating since 1938, the JAD is a non-governmental organisation which empowers deaf Jamaicans to become more effective nation builders.

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