I come from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was born deaf with Moderate to Severe Bilateral Sensorineural Hearing Loss. I graduated from Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (PUPR) with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering (2009), and a Master of Science in Manufacturing Engineering with emphasis in Pharmaceutical Processing and Quality Management (2013) from the same university.
I have worked at Accenture Federal Services for four years, and am a Senior Analyst in Business and System Integration in Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) within the Health & Public Sector group, specializing in technology delivery. People might be surprised to learn that long before I joined Accenture Federal Services, I participated in a 10-week summer internship at NASA GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center) as Network Space Operation Analyst in Greenbelt, Maryland. My experience in NASA was a total blast-off! (Pun intended.) The most surprising thing about this is that, unofficially, I am the third Puerto Rican deaf person to ever have the privilege to work at NASA.
My deaf lifestyle
Deafness is just a way of life, a lifestyle. Deaf people can do everything that a hearing person can do, except hear. People without disabilities cannot imagine what their life looks like without sound, since they were never in our shoes until they suddenly become deaf or gradually lose their hearing when they get older. There are many ways to overcome communication barriers by different means either via technology like text messages, instant messaging, email, and video relay service. Or the old-fashioned way, pen and paper, even gestural.
How Accenture supports me
Accenture has truly excelled in fostering an inclusive culture for me as a deaf employee, and has supported me since Day One. During job interviews, the company provided a sign language interpreter. For my four-week training in St. Charles, I had a Communication Access Real-Time Translation operator or stenographer who facilitated my participation. On an ongoing basis, Accenture provides the platform to incorporate software tools I use daily to suit my communication needs, including real-time remote interpreting service for virtual and live team meetings (FedVRS). The company’s support extends beyond my daily work, even providing interpreters at networking events to help me communicate, socialize and connect with fellow colleagues. All of these things help pave the way for my career growth.
"Accenture has truly excelled in fostering an inclusive culture for me. As a deaf employee, Accenture has supported me since day one."
Challenges I still face
The main challenge I face daily is trying to “hear” and understand what people are saying when they talk to me. There are multiple ways that I can overcome this obstacle. For example: If I am in a meeting, I can request a remote video relay service at a moment's notice, so a remote interpreter can interpret for me during meetings to facilitate communication and my participation. If I am in a group with friends in a restaurant or at a networking event, I ask them to speak one at a time and repeat what they said to ensure that I completely understand.
While Accenture is very inclusive with persons with disabilities, there are still some challenges to overcome. I have found that sometimes if people are not educated about how to work with someone with a disability, they may be hesitant to do so. Fortunately, in my case, I've had the right manager to see beyond my disability and help me to feel comfortable working with my team. I encourage all of my colleagues to learn more, ask questions and understand that just because someone has a disability, it doesn’t prevent them from delivering high performance.
Two challenges I commonly encounter are understanding speech in a noisy environment, and communicating effectively on the phone. In some ways hearing in one ear is comparable to a partially sighted person seeing in two dimensions, i.e. there is no ability to discriminate different sounds, direction or filter out “noise” that you don’t want to hear.
Even with the now widespread use of new technology such as Skype, SMS, videoconferencing, etc., it still surprises me how much many people still rely on the phone to conduct day-to-day business. Whether a daily conference call with an offshore team, a global webcast, or an unexpected call from a colleague with whom you have never spoken, it can amount to a considerable challenge if you cannot effectively communicate on the phone.
Neither of these challenges can be completely overcome. Obviously, I try to avoid using the phone when there are alternatives available. If this is not possible, I usually request real-time remote interpreting on conference calls. For large, in-person team meetings, I request an on-site interpreter and include at least one other person in the meeting who can help facilitate by taking meeting minutes and repeating important messages.
Never, ever give up
My advice to anyone with a disability is to never ever give up and always face all kinds of obstacles. Be fearless in the face of overwhelming odds stacked against you. My life is a constant challenge and I always stay ahead of it. There are always multiple solutions for a single problem. A good saying I have adopted is, “When facing a mountain, go on either side, go above, dig below, or plow through; just don’t get stuck!”
"Never ever give up and always face all kinds of obstacles. Be fearless in the face of overwhelming odds stacked against you."