Back in 2006, when Rafael Toquinto, Jr. started working at a warehouse in Denver where Goodwill Industries sorts unsold clothing and household goods for recycling, his coworkers wouldn’t even say hello to him.
The snub wasn’t on purpose. His fellow employees simply didn’t know how to greet him in a way he’d understand.
Why? Because Toquinto, Jr. is deaf.
But now, he and the 16 other deaf Goodwill employees can enjoy some water cooler chatter with their coworkers — thanks to a free class the nonprofit is offering all employees.
Nicki Cantin, a recycling operations assistant who oversees the warehouse where Toquinto works as a certified forklift driver, said that managers were worried that if there was an emergency, they wouldn’t be able to alert deaf employees about it. “We’re supposed to be working as a team, but we couldn’t even talk to each other,” Cantin told Thad Moore of the Denver Post.
For the past two months, warehouse workers have met twice a week for an American Sign Language class taught by Cathy Noble-Hornsby, deaf services program manager for Goodwill Industries of Denver. Toquinto and other hearing-impaired employees work together with their coworkers, helping to teach them sign language and correcting their hand positions. They also demonstrate a sign when a coworkers finger spells what they want to say.
“We’re not outsiders anymore,” Toquinto told Moore.
Toquinto even makes sure his coworkers practice. When they interact with him on the job and lapse into writing what they want to say to him on paper, “I’ll go, ‘OK, enough writing now,'” Toquinto said. “Now come into my world.”
Toquinto trained a new deaf coworker, Josue Candelaria-Facio, on the ins and outs of the warehouse, such as where everything goes — something that Toquinto struggled to learn in the days before all the coworkers could communicate. “I really feel kind of proud that they’re willing to learn my language,” Candelaria-Facio told Moore. “It’s really nice — even on that basic level — to be able to communicate.”
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