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.

Disability Does Not Mean Inability

Photo: Carlos S.

Finding work in the big state of Texas can be difficult enough when you can’t drive. It is harder, still when the reason is your inability to see.

Carlos Sandoval, 29, was born legally blind. He has an ocular disorder called rod-cone dystrophy. It can cause complete vision loss by one’s teen years.  Some, like Carlos, retain some vision, but sight is severely compromised. For Carlos, it meant no driving and great difficulty reading, operating machinery, and making use of a computer.

Despite his disability, Carlos tried to lead a typical life. He went on to earn a college degree in business and married his high school sweetheart. Today, they are proud parents of a seven-year-old daughter. “My wife and brother have always been there when I need support,” says Carlos. “My daughter, Camila, is my motivation to do better each day.”

His employment search, however, was frustrating and fruitless. Discouraged by the lack of opportunity, Carlos says:  “It is very unfortunate that some employers will only focus on your disability when they realize you have one. They are unable to see your strengths and your desire to work.”

In early 2015, Carlos Sandoval connected to PRIDE Industries. PRIDE is a nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to creating jobs for people with disabilities. Carlos sought and secured employment on PRIDE’s base operating support services contract at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Carlos is a service order dispatcher; he takes service order calls and provides detailed notes to PRIDE technicians and maintenance shop workers to resolve the problem. His priority is excellent customer service. “It takes good communication and team effort to maintain the Army’s second-largest military installation in the United States,” says Carlos.

Carlos is honored to do his part in supporting our military members and their families by helping to keep the base in tip-top condition. “I wanted to join the U.S. Army,” says Carlos. “But as I grew older, I realized that would not be possible.” Working with PRIDE, he knows he is contributing.

Photo:Carlos S._2To help him succeed at work, PRIDE provided Carlos with accessibility tools including the ZoomText® program and Ruby®.  ZoomText is a computer screen magnifier and screen reader for the visually impaired. Carlos was also provided with a ZoomText keyboard that features larger than average keys. Ruby is a portable video magnifier that can go wherever the individual goes. “I know that it would be difficult to perform my duties without them,” Carlos says. “I use these tools every day; they compensate for my vision problem.”

Within months, Carlos is thriving at work. “I am proud to share that I was recently awarded the “Employee of the Quarter” award,” says Carlos. “This is a very encouraging recognition and proof that hard work is rewarded at PRIDE Industries.”

With employment taken care of, Carlos has other goals to conquer.  He and his wife are saving to buy their first home and to make an important personal goal a reality: to drive a car. “One of the most frustrating and hardest things to overcome was when I turned 16 and was being unable to drive,” says Carlos. “I have started saving for whenever those modern, self-driving cars become available. I hope I am not too old to enjoy it and go for a cruise!”

For 49 years, PRIDE Industries has been providing support services and employment opportunities to those most often excluded from employment:  people with disabilities like Carlos. At PRIDE, we know disability does not mean inability. With accommodations, training and persistence, Carlos has been able to prove his skills in the workplace and find success.

“PRIDE is an employer that chooses to see what a person can do rather than what a person cannot do,” says Carlos. We’re glad that Carlos found his place at PRIDE.