Helping Expand Sign Language Education in the El Paso, TX Community

Melissa Cruz wordpress

American Sign Language (ASL) is a language involving signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the primary language of many Americans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and estimated to be utilized by 250,000 – 500,000 people.

At PRIDE’s Ft. Bliss site in El Paso, TX, many employees are deaf and hard-of-hearing. To facilitate communication between all employees and our customers, PRIDE’s Rehabilitation team of Job Coaches, ASL Interpreters, and Rehabilitation Counselors is ready to translate from English or Spanish to ASL, as well as Spanish to LSM (Lengua de Señas Mexicana/Mexican Sign Language) when needed.

Working to help individuals in the El Paso, TX community who want to pursue a career in sign language interpretation, PRIDE’s Ft. Bliss Rehabilitation Department annually partners with El Paso Community College (EPCC) to host two sign language student interns in the spring. This opportunity allows future interpreters and communication support personnel to gain hands-on experience, learn vocational sign language and practice their counseling skills.

In November, EPCC invited PRIDE ASL Interpreter and Job Coach (and EPCC Alumna) Melissa Cruz to present a lecture on Specialized Vocabulary for the students attending EPCC’s Sign Language course. Before joining PRIDE, Melissa worked in many different interpreting settings including post-secondary education, medical, mental health, and vocational trades.  She shared her insights on how to interpret on unfamiliar topics and/or specialized vocabulary (including vocational terminology), using her experiences in translating between employees and our military customer at PRIDE’s Integrated Facilities Management contract at Ft. Bliss. She received the following letter of appreciation from EPCC:

Thank you for partnering with the El Paso Community College Sign Language Interpreter Preparation Program on November 14th, 2018. I appreciate you taking the time to come in and share your experiences and knowledge with the students, who all left feeling inspired and energized. You taught our students how to acquire specialized vocabulary as a Sign Language interpreter, and they learned a great deal that they could immediately apply to their practice. It is indeed a gift when working interpreters come in to share their experiences and advice.

Thank you again for your time and energy in presenting to the interpreting students. It was truly my pleasure.”

“Hopefully my insight will give these students some preparation for an ever-changing profession,” said Melissa. “I’m so proud of where I work.”

PRIDE Industries is also proud to provide scholarships to students with disabilities enrolled in colleges and universities in specific areas where we operate, including EPCC.

Finding Meaning and Pride

PRIDE Industries_ Connie L

Connie Lewis, a job coach at PRIDE Industries, had a rough start in life. Born to an underprivileged family in Alabama, her parents struggled to provide for their three young daughters. To make ends meet, Connie’s family lived with her grandmother. Life was not easy.

Connie’s mother had a hunch that one of her little girls was hard-of-hearing. She also seemed to be developing a speech impediment. Unfortunately, the family was unable to provide the necessary medical care and quality of life she deserved. At five-years-old, Connie was put up for adoption.

Sometimes, there are blessings in disguise. After her adoption, life quickly changed for Connie. Her adoptive parents provided a new beginning. Connie’s adoptive mother was a speech therapist and an audiologist. Soon after her adoption, Connie received a set of hearing aids that also helped her gain speech. The use of hearing aids provided a completely new world for Connie.

Connie did her best to adjust to her new life while managing to maintain a relationship with her biological family. After graduating from high school, Connie attended the Alabama School for the Deaf where she met her husband, who is also deaf. They married and had two daughters. For the first few years, Connie stayed home with her daughters. When she decided to join the workforce, Connie struggled to find and keep employment as a result of her disability. Connie never complained; she focused on the future, knowing she would find the right opportunity.

On April 2013, Connie Lewis, connected with PRIDE Industries team at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Connie was hired as a job coach providing American Sign Language (ASL) translation at the base. “This is what I was looking for,” Connie says. “I can practice using ASL with PRIDE’s deaf employees while helping with their job needs.” Job coaches are dedicated and talented individuals who understand individuals’ unique needs and provide support to ensure success at work. “Connie was a huge part of the Fort Rucker start-up as she helped our employees with disabilities transition into their new jobs,” says Stephany Marshall, a PRIDE Rehabilitation Counselor, and Connie’s supervisor. “She has played a vital role as a facilitator in communication between our employees who are deaf and their supervisors and co-workers.”

It is PRIDE’s mission to help individuals with a wide range of disabilities succeed at work; assistive technologies play a vital role in supporting individuals with hearing or sight challenges. P3™ enabled tablets, and mobile devices provide on-demand live ASL translator for better communication at work. Connie was provided with a tablet loaded with P3™ communication software as an additional support for hard-of-hearing and deaf employees at the base.

PRIDE’s structured support services include job coaches, case managers, counselors, and supervisors who understand each person’s strengths and challenges. Support services help individuals get the assistance they need and remove obstacles to employment.

Connie is motivated by helping others find success and self-esteem; she finds fulfillment in her work at PRIDE.

“Connie attributes her love for the job to her disability; having been hearing impaired her whole life and unable to verbally communicate until the age of five,” Marshall says. “Connie can relate to and understand the obstacles and challenges individuals with disabilities experience.”