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February 16, 2003

Local firms shouldn't turn deaf ear to hearing-impaired accountant

From: The News-Press, FL - 16 Feb 2003

by Sam Cook's

Courtney Gardner's job search reached the height of absurdity when an
interviewer asked her husband:

"Can she use an elevator?"

She's deaf, not disabled.

"What the hell does being deaf have to do with that?'' asks Derrell Gardner,

Courtney, 34, has been hearing-impaired all her life, but she doesn't lack
credentials, references or desire.

. 1993: B.S. in business management, Florida State University.

. 1993-98: Department of Revenue, Tallahassee.

. 1999: B.S./B.A. in accounting, University of West Florida.

. 2000-01: Valiente-Hernandez & Co., Tallahassee.

"Valiente-Hernandez was the hardest job I had,'' Courtney says. "I traveled
all over the state to do auditing.''

The Fort Myers woman can't find work in Southwest Florida despite her superb
accounting background.

She applied for more than 100 jobs and interviewed 30 times in 1? years.

The Gardners think her resume gets her foot in the door, but her deafness
closes the door on her chances.

"It's frustrating,'' Courtney says. "People get hired before me who don't
have degrees. I want to work.''

Her husband says companies are reluctant to discuss their rejection letters.

"One person told me: 'We think she'll have a hard time communicating with
other employees,' '' Derrell says.

"That's crazy. How did she get through life and college without

I interviewed the Gardners for 1? hours Friday.

It took 20 minutes to get used to her speech patterns.

Maybe interviewers give up too quickly. They don't learn her speech rhythms.

"It takes a while to get used to her cadence,'' says Doris Dickson, director
of the Deaf Service Center of Southwest Florida. "I love Courtney. I can't
believe someone has not taken advantage of her talent.

"If I owned a CPA firm, I would have snapped her up in a minute.''

Courtney, who was raised in Tallahassee, was born deaf because her mother,
Jan Kelley, says she had the measles when she was pregnant.

"We knew she'd have to fend for herself in a hearing world, so that's how we
brought her up,'' Kelley says.

Courtney learned to read lips as a toddler. Her parents mainstreamed her
education. She didn't learn sign language until college because she didn't
need it.

The Kelleys labeled all the objects in their home so Courtney would
associate thing and word.

If she wanted a cookie, Mom and Dad wouldn't accept a grunt or a point.

"She had to say the word to get the cookie,'' Kelley says. "She graduated
from Leon High with As and Bs.''

Courtney's inability to find a job confounds Kelley.

"I don't know if it's the economy, if she's not being aggressive in
interviews or if they're afraid of her because she's deaf,'' she says.
"Courtney is a very hard worker.''

She needs a chance.

Will you give her one?

— Sam Cook’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Call 335-0384 or fax 334-0708.

Copyright 2001, The News-Press