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January 28, 2004

Local FBI specialist honored for her work with the disabled

From: Clarksburg Exponent and Telegram, WV - Jan 28, 2004

by Gary A. Harki


CLARKSBURG -- When FBI Special Agent Jack Moore arrested a child pornography suspect who was deaf and mute, his case was imperiled.

The suspect had a long criminal history that included kidnapping, and child pornography was found on his computer.

But without any way to communicate with the suspect, Moore's ability to get a conviction was in serious danger.

Moore requested the assistance of one of the FBI's two sign language interpreter/reading specialists. The bureau sent Fairmont native Trudy Lou Ford to allow agent and suspect to communicate.

"The communication (before Ford became involved) was -- there was no communication," Moore said. "She made the entire case possible ... The suspect had to establish trust with her, and she did that very quickly."

Ford recently received the FBI Director's Annual Award for Outstanding Service to a Disabled Employee or by a Disabled Employee. She frequently travels around the country helping the FBI communicate with disabled employees or suspects.

Ford was able to establish a certain level of trust between herself and the suspect, Moore said. It was a difficult situation for all involved, not only because of the subject matter, but also because of the need for Ford to convey the inflection and meaning behind what Moore was saying.

"Without her there was absolutely no way, even though the evidence was there to build a case," Moore said. "Trudy allowed us to build a rapport."

Thanks to Ford's help, the case led to the eventual prosecution and conviction of the suspect, Moore said.

"It was conversations about a very serious subject, and she handled it extremely professionally and was not overwhelmed," Moore said.

Part of what made Ford able to handle the difficult situation was her ease in dealing with the visually and hearing disabled.

Ford can hear perfectly well. Yet before she was able to speak English, she could speak sign language.

Both of Ford's parents were deaf, and the doctor told them to leave the television on all day so that she would learn to speak English.

"Growing up I didn't know any different," Ford said. "Any baby would learn sign language first. Babies express with their hands before they can learn to talk."

Leaving that television volume up kept her out of the speech therapy classes that many children of deaf parents must take, Ford said.

"I am what they call as close to being a part of the deaf community as possible, without actually being deaf," Ford said.

When she got the job with the bureau in 1999, Ford was able to put her unique skills and perspective into the deaf world to use.

Ford often bridges the communication gap between the disabled and nondisabled employees within the FBI.

Douglas Evans has worked for the FBI for 15 years. His current job is as a legal instruments examiner, helping to perform background checks on those seeking to purchase firearms.

Evans has been deaf since birth. His mother had rubella measles while pregnant for him, a common cause of deafness in the 1960s. His parents did not find out he could not hear until he was 3 years old.

Evans' job requires him to make phone calls concerning the background checks. Without Ford, he has to use the Federal Relay Service, which takes up quite a bit more time and is difficult to use.

"Trudy has been very beneficial to my job," Evans said. "Most of the time when I use the phone (through Ford), I introduce myself as a deaf gentleman going through a female interpreter, and they understand."

Within the massive government agency that is the FBI, there exists a subculture among the disabled employees. Through her unique position, Ford has been a link between these employees and the rest of the organization.

Nettie Licot and Vicki Fuller are also legal instruments examiners but neither one is deaf. Both are taking Ford's sign language classes at the FBI center in Clarksburg.

"She has made me aware of the deaf community, and to not be afraid to talk to them. The culture in itself is a big family," Licot said. "If you can speak the language, no matter who you are, you belong to the family."

Both women are grateful to Ford for their glimpse into the deaf world.

"They do not seem to deal with the petty things," said Fuller. "It is just the attitude they have, when they say something they say it from the heart."

Licot gives an example: "If I have on an ugly shirt, most people would beat around the bush. But Doug would just tell me that it is ugly. They say what they mean. They are truthful to the point of being childlike."

Evans understands what Licot means, when it is more difficult to communicate one tends not to mince words.

"She has made me more aware of my surroundings," Evans said. "It is nice to be able to see people and be able to speak with them, to hold a conversation with co-workers."

Anton Claiborne, the special programs chief at FBI headquarters, nominated Ford for the award, which she received at a ceremony at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

One of the people who helped write the justification for Ford to receive the award was a blind FBI national security analyst. The analyst works with sensitive issues and materials and does not wish for her name to be revealed.

Ford traveled to FBI headquarters on a weekly basis to assist the analyst, until a permanent assistant could be found.

The position involves a great amount of sifting through paper and databases, the analyst said.

"I was involved in a temporary assignment that was pretty fast paced," the analyst said. "I was pressed to get documents out on time, which imposed pressure. Trudy would stay extra and we really were a team at that point. She gave it her all in those instances."

Ford was honored by the award and enjoys her unique experience within the FBI.

"I have one of the best jobs in the bureau," Ford said. "I get to work in different areas and see the diversity of people and different functions of the FBI."

Copyright © Clarksburg Publishing Company 2002