IM this article to a friend!

December 7, 2004

First job:Tough for a deaf person to get in the door

From: Casa Grande Valley Newspapers - Casa Grande,AZ,USA - Dec 7, 2004

By TEMPLE A. STARK, Staff Writer
December 07, 2004

Someone who's deaf can still struggle to be heard. When you're looking for a job - a first job - that struggle can be harder.

Jennifer Carrell, 17, applied for a job anywhere she could think of, but felt potential employers were scared off because she's deaf.

"It's really hard, no one's willing to give a deaf girl a job," she says earnestly. "Every time I'd try and find a job people would be pretty scared. I felt discriminated against. People were amazed that I could talk; that I could understand what they were saying."

The Casa Grande Union High School senior is handy with a computer, a fast typist - and believes she wants to use them as a central part of her chosen career. Except she hasn't chosen one. Jennifer has, though, started to apply to colleges.

A first job is a big deal. When a business is willing to accommodate deafness, it takes on a new meaning. That's what happened at Cold Stone Creamery, an ice cream shop in Casa Grande.

Debra Heinz and Karl Peterson own the cold-treat confectioner. Heinz, recently retired as an elementary school principal, based her decision, at first, on personality. Then, when Carrell picked up on the training, she knew it was the right decision.

"She has a bright smile and she scored high on the testing," Heinz says. "She works hard at whatever she's doing."

Primarily that has included dipping waffle cones in chocolate and some baking and restocking of supplies.

"Here they made me feel really welcome," Carrell says. "I was real happy that she gave me a chance."

Heinz told Jennifer and her parents, Barbara and Jack, that not every job duty was possible, such as cashier or even singing, as the employees do, after tips. She is a part of the team, however.

"It's not that hard to talk to her," co-worker Talli Littleton says. "She's really nice, really sweet."

Jennifer wanted the job to pay for her car and other bills, but also "to save for the future in case anything happens."

And just to get out there and start what will become a big part of her life - working.

"I wanted to meet more people, get some experience," she says. "It gave me something to do."

Her mother says that when her daughter was called back for a second interview it was a big morale booster.

"I was excited for her because she wanted the job so bad," Barbara says. "Many of the jobs that involve typing do not apply to after-school times."

At Cold Stone, where she was hired in May before the store opened, Jennifer felt everyone wanted her to succeed. And during the summer they kept her busy. Lately, since school started and it has become colder, her hours have been cut. Like anyone else who wants to work more and earn more money, Jennifer moved on and now, starting Sunday, she works at Chili's, busing tables.

"I looked everywhere. I'd do anything, but no fast food," she says, putting her face in her hands. "I want to work more and to show people. Chili's is fine for now."

For Jennifer, being deaf isn't the same thing as not being able to hear. She received a cochlear implant in her left ear in fifth grade, which allows her to hear "almost everything." That is, when she decides to put it in. Jennifer can vocalize some words, can lip read - a talent not shared by all who are deaf - and also uses American Sign Language to talk.

At school, educational interpreter Stacy Katz is nearby to help speed up communication and travels with her to many classes. Katz is also there for two other students at the high school. But at work, Katz is nowhere to be seen.

In her senior year, Jennifer will soon be out of the Casa Grande school system she's grown up in since third grade. She's been a varsity cheerleader and a part of the marching band. And she always has tried to learn her surroundings.

"It was lonely being the only deaf girl in elementary school," Jennifer says. "Junior high was better; kids started learning sign language and using it with me. In high school ... it's so different but it helps now that I can hear with the implant."

Fire drills, class bells ringing are now a part of her hearing vocabulary. But as her mother describes it, "she's still learning to hear."

"She hears at one level; that doesn't mean she understands what she is hearing," Barbara says.

Jennifer says that when she hears a new sound, she asks a friend what it is and learns that way.

"I can hear all the sounds and a lot of mumbling," Jennifer says of vocalized conversation. "If I can talk one-on-one with someone, I can hear much better.

"I think it's really cool to hear."

She says it may not be typical of someone who's deaf, but she likes music. Katz reminds her that strong bass is popular with many who are deaf because they can feel it throughout their bodies. As she says this, Katz moves her hands together like the vibrating woofers in a speaker. Though Jennifer may not get the same experience out of the music as someone with full hearing, she enjoys it. Jennifer drives to work, complete with tunes rocking her ride.

"I really like The Beatles, I really do, and Sublime, and country music."

And, yes, she can drive, no problem.

"It amazes me that people don't think I can do anything," Jennifer says. "I look around a little more. I can drive. I'm not blind. Everyone is always asking, 'How?' 'How?' How?'"

She stops, laughs and shakes her head.

"I don't know how to describe it," she says ruefully, shrugging her shoulders.

Shown a Nov. 18 USA Today article about a disabled college wrestler, she reacts to one of the words in the headline: "Wrestler's world is never limited by his disability."

"I have a hard time with the word 'limited,'" Jennifer says, though she does not view all disabilities as the same. "I think a deaf person can do anything. We just have to do it. I didn't give up looking for a job. I just kept trying because I knew I could do it."

©Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc. 2004