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Demar Hayles, the newest hearing impaired staff member at the Grand Palladium resort, converses with the resort's electrician and sign language interpreter, Gary Hemmings (left), in the lunch room on Friday.
Electrician at the Grand Palladium and sign language interpreter, Gary Hemmings (standing, left) poses with the six members of the Grand Palladium's staff, several of whom helped to teach him sign language during his early days at the resort. With him are (at back, from left) Nathan Gordon, Demar Hayles and Gary Muir. Stooping (from left) are Adrian Gayle, Sylvan Boyd and Edward Calbert.

Hearing impaired excelling in hospitality

Claudia Gardner, Hospitality Jamaica Writer

In a society where research has shown that the hearing impaired are often overlooked for job selection, there are some members of that community who are making their mark in Jamaica's tourism industry.

Hospitality Jamaica recently had the opportunity to interview, via interpreter Gary Hemmings, six hearing-impaired members of staff employed to the Grand Palladium resort in Hanover, most of whom have been with the resort from the day it opened.

Among them is Sylvan Boyd, a 35-year-old from Grange Hill in Westmoreland, who is a past student of the Mandeville School for the Deaf. The father of a four-month-old said when he saw the hotel being constructed, he figured it would be all-embracing, and so he was confident at the outset that he would not only be able to get a job there, but get along with his co-workers. He was hired and started out in the stewarding department, moving later to the butcher shop.

At 34, his colleague, Edward Calbert, also started out in the stewarding department and was later promoted to the position of cook. Prior to the Grand Palladium, the father of two worked as a gas pump attendant at a service station.

But there are others who have not had similar success. A 2011 paper, titled A Sociolinguistic Profile of the Jamaican Deaf Community, published by the Summer Institute of Linguistics, an international faith-based organisation, noted that more than half of the deaf community in Jamaica lives in poverty. The research paper also noted that "many are unemployed and have difficulty finding jobs, due to lack of communication access, necessary qualifications and the necessary social networks typically needed to find work in Jamaica".

Another article published by the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf also noted that after completing school, "the deaf go through difficult times" and that "employers do not know sign language and have no way to communicate with the deaf", and so many of them are jobless.

"No job means no money to buy food, clothes, or even soap. Without a job, living arrangements are often precarious. Many live at the mercy of others and are often abused," the article noted.

Boyd, Edward and their co-workers, Adrian Gayle, Gary Muir, Nathan Gordon and Demar Hayles, use a variety of methods to communicate with their peers at the resort, including layman signs (universal signs), writing and lip reading.

Gayle, 32, is also a foundation member of staff at the resort which has his roots in Mt Salem, Montego Bay. He attended the Brown's Town School for the Deaf, and serves in the Grand Palladium's stewarding department. He had work experience before going to Palladium as he worked in a bakery in the Montego Bay Freeport.

"I love to work hard. I am not lazy," he told Hospitality Jamaica.

The eldest member of the group is 48-year-old Muir. A cook, he has also been working at the resort since it opened. Originally from Barbican in Kingston, he is a graduate of the Lister Mair Gilby School for the Deaf. He spent several years as a food vendor before landing a job at the hotel. His colleague, Nathan Gordon, also started out in the stewarding department, but is assigned to the kitchen. He worked as a mechanic prior to his employment at the resort, five years ago.

Demar Hayles, the newest hearing impaired staff member, commenced work at the hotel six weeks ago. He worked as a baker at a restaurant in Mandeville in the past.

For human resources manager at the Grand Palladium, Sheryl Wilks, the inability to hear and speak does not impact her hearing-impaired team members' on-the-job performance. She said the first hearing impaired staff member that came to an interview was hired and adjusted so well that it set the pace for the hiring of other competent members of the community over the years.

"I happened to meet one of them here who came for an interview, and I found it very challenging to interview him, so I had to write the questions. He in fact had worked before, but not in the hotel industry, but as a labourer ... . He wanted to be a cook, but even our cooks have to be out on the line sometimes, but having heard all of that, I decided to try and see if it worked out," Wilks said.

"I don't even remember sometimes that they are hearing impaired at all. They work well just like anyone else. There is no problem communicating. It is hard sometimes to remember that they have that little impairment because they don't let it get into the way of anything," she added. 

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