For 150 years, Gallaudet University has been a trailblazer and foremost authority on deaf and hard of hearing education worldwide. Soon after COVID-19 took hold in early 2020, Gallaudet transitioned its campus to remote classes and was faced with challenges to provide it’s typically in-person student services. One of those services was Gallaudet’s Job & Internship Fair, historically held semiannually on Gallaudet’s campus. The expansive event, serving hundreds of students, welcomed recruiters from Federal government agencies, corporations and nonprofits from around the United States and Canada.
Dedicated to providing the best for its student body, Gallaudet was tasked with finding a new solution for its job fair that would accommodate deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind students as well as a large number of employers who were eager to connect with Gallaudet students–but now in a virtual space.
In November of 2020, Gallaudet University, met with the nonprofit organization ABILITY Corps, to discuss the technical challenges: hosting a fully accessible virtual job fair with secure multiple video connections between remote students, sign language interpreters and recruiters.
ABILITY Magazine spoke with key organizers, students and employers that helped make Gallaudet’s Fall 2020 Job & Internship Fair a historic reality.
Covid-19’s Virtual Challenge
As Gallaudet was settling into a new normal of remote work, there was talk among Gallaudet faculty of forgoing their career fair altogether until the return of on-campus activities, but Monica Garvin, Employer Relations Specialist at Gallaudet’s Career Center, wasn’t giving up. “There were actually conversations about not having [a career and internship fair] at all, but I said, ‘No, we have to have one.’” Garvin explained. “This is something we do semi-annually, and it is very important that we still provide this service to our students.”
Zoom, the video conference application that exploded with users during the pandemic, did not meet Gallaudet’s needs. “Usually, we would use Zoom as the platform for classrooms or presentations, but one of the challenges was that all of my employers, especially the secure employer partners, are prohibited from using Zoom,” Garvin said. Gallaudet’s largest employer is the federal government, and they have high security standards, eradicating many options for possible platforms. “I couldn’t find a platform that would meet our student’s needs of having an interpreter as well as making sure it was secure enough for our federal employer partners. So, it was really frustrating.”
Garvin spoke with a colleague at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about her frustration of not being able to find an accessible and secure platform. The NIH employer told Garvin that she had recently participated in an ABILITY Job Fair [an online job fair for job seekers with disabilities, a program of ABILITY Corps]. “She suggested ABILITY could maybe do [a job fair] for us too.” Garvin reached out to ABILITY, and in a matter of a few months, Gallaudet’s first virtual job fair happened. “For me, the process wasn’t very complicated, but for ABILITY, it was,” Garvin said. “Because of our needs, we had to make sure that we had access for 60+ interpreters and 33 employers.”
Gallaudet maintains the highest of standards for its student services. “We’re the world’s only university where all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students. Our campus is fully accessible regardless of knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL). So, all programs are in ASL, as well as English. If a student comes from a mainstream background, and they are deaf but don’t know ASL, we provide supports for them to make sure that they are fully engaged with the community,” Garvin said. This goes even further. If a student is not fluent in ASL, but the professor giving the lecture is, Gallaudet provides interpreters who will translate the signs into spoken English for the student.
As Gallaudet is the foremost authority in higher education for deaf and hard of hearing students, it sets the highest of standards for its programs. When Gallaudet plans a career fair, they make sure they don’t only have one interpreter for each employer; they have a team of interpreters whether they are needed or not. ABILITY took on the challenge of customizing their job fair system to meet Gallaudet’s standards.
Gallaudet’s fair was a ground-breaking and historic event in many ways. “No one has a (career fair) platform like this–that can accommodate people who need ASL interpreters. With this platform, a recruiter can call out and bring an interpreter into a meeting. Also, typical job fairs have text messaging with an additional video to turn on. Our platform has video all the time, audio, text, transcription and much more,” stated Marge Plasmier, Lead Director of ABILITY Job Fair (AJF).
“With the onset of COVID-19, nation-wide lockdowns, telework, virtual career fairs, job interviews, and recruiting have become the norm and new necessities. ABILITY Corps is now offering AJF-SCORE. Presented as the direct response to the challenges of COVID-19, organizations can access the AJF platform for their customized online career fairs. Thereby allowing for in-person human experiences possible without the need to travel with a fully accessible system. Gallaudet is leading the way in their ground-breaking, unique event, which showed their level of commitment in helping their students find internships and employment,” states Lori Daly, representative of ABILITY Job Fair.
Video, Text, Captions and ASL: All Inclusive
ABILITY Job Fair is built from the ground up to have accessible online job fairs for job seekers with disabilities. However, working with Gallaudet University and their predominately deaf students was a bit more challenging due to the large number of interpreters needed for most recruiter meetings. AJF’s technology is unique in that it is the only job fair platform that provides video, real-time captions, text messaging, document transfer and sign language interpreter connections. Job Seeker candidates visit the job fair and click a button to get in a queue to meet their desired recruiter. The recruiter accepts the job seeker contact, and they both meet in a secure, 1 to 1 video meeting. While they are talking, a speech-to-text software transcribes the recruiter’s speech in real-time. They can also use text messages when needed. If the job seeker needs an ASL interpreter, the recruiter then contacts a sign language interpreter, and the next available one will be automatically added to the meeting. This way, most job seeker accessibility requirements can be met.
“Working with Gallaudet was definitely an experience for us where we needed to grow along with it,” said Plasmier. “We were used to working with the accessibility features. But working with a job fair where the majority of the students, if not all, will need sign language interpreters was something that really caused us to grow to accommodate Gallaudet. There was a lot to learn about how to build a job fair for Gallaudet or for an organization that focused on people who are not only deaf, but deafblind.”
Until working with Gallaudet, Plasmier did not realize that people who are deafblind have a hearing interpreter and a deaf interpreter. Plasmier explained, “ I had some awareness of people who are deafblind, learning about tactile ways of communicating, the different devices at tech conferences like CSUN and learning about Haben Girma who was with the Obama administration. But working with Gallaudet, I learned that deafblind students require two kinds of interpreters working together. For the job fair, a deafblind student needs to meet with a recruiter. The deafblind student uses a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) and a Certified Hearing Interpreter (CHI). The CDI translates to the (CHI). The CHI translates to the recruiter if the recruiter does not know ASL. So, you have four people interacting, but two people, the student and the recruiter, communicating.”
AJF-SCORE had to come up with a customized approach and completely different process of connecting the student, the interpreters and the recruiter. Plasmier described the process, “The deafblind students clicked to connect with a CDI and communicated via text or a device. Then the CDI contacted the recruiter, and the recruiter connected with the CHI. So, adding those extra steps to the process made the job fair platform more accessible for deafblind students.”
Not everything went according to plan, but these little bumps along the road also helped all behind-the-scenes workers to grow. “One thing I learned about accessibility is that it is very fluid, and it is not a place you get to. And then you become accessible. You have to keep on moving and stretching and figuring out ways to accommodate people and take down those barriers. It’s an ongoing process,” Plasmier said.
The outcome was great. More than 250 students attended the fair. Garvin reacted, “I personally think it was a success, given that it was the first time we were ever doing this. One thing I like about the system is that the students [had] to register. In person, we don’t require the students to register. But with the virtual fair, we had that database of resumes so that the employers can follow up with the students later when an opportunity might come up,” Garvin explained.
Employer outcomes were important. The job fair included 33 employers such as AARP, TSA, NSA, SAGE Publishing and many more businesses, schools, nonprofits and federal agencies. One such participant was from the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a decades old organization that focuses on improving the lives of children and adolescents with developmental and physical disabilities through patient care, research, special education and community services. Jocelyn McCarty, Senior Talent Acquisition Partner in Human Resources, emphasized, “Accessibility and inclusion are some of the core values of our company.” McCarty continued “Interpreters were readily available to assist, and numerous training sessions and opportunities to practice were provided before the fair. We would like to build a strong relationship in the future.” McCarty was able to network with students and get some familiarity.
Additionally, Thomas Horejes, PhD, Associate Provost for Student Success and Academic Quality at Gallaudet, expressed gratitude, “We were extremely honored to be a part of this effort and look forward to strengthening our partnership with ABILITY in the shared pursuit on advancing access and inclusion for all.”
November’s job fair will not be the last of its kind. With all the knowledge gained and hurdles overcome, Gallaudet University and ABILITY will team up again to provide several more opportunities for internships and employment to Gallaudet students and will continue to write history by removing access barriers so that the only factor that really matters is human connection.
Focus on Students
Gallaudet University is the only university in the US with a main focus on accessibility for students who are deaf* and hard of hearing. Since Gallaudet’s Internship & Job Fair was very much student-focused, it is important to understand students’ experiences both in the university setting and the job fair.
“I am a Chinese-American and Deaf adoptee from China,” the 23-year-old Gallaudet student said. She decided to study at Gallaudet to grow and learn more about Deaf culture and her purpose. “I never went to Deaf schools nor interacted with many Deaf people at once. So, this university gave me a taste of what Deaf culture and Deaf people are like, so I can learn and bring some of it into the hearing world to educate hearing people about accessibility.”
When asked to explain Deaf culture to the hearing world, she responded, “there are various types of Deaf people who have their preferred way of communication since they have different levels of hearing loss. Some Deaf people have good hearing, so they might prefer to speak instead of signing. While some hard of hearing people are still learning sign language, they will have Deaf interpreters to help them understand the signs. Some Deaf people who are fluent in sign language will prefer signing,” she explained. Deaf culture is unique and diverse due to the different communication styles.
“ASL is a visual language that has a story-telling feeling. We use hands to communicate, and our eyes are our advantage to observe and notice things. We want hearing people to understand that just because we cannot hear, (that) does not mean that we are disabled. In fact, we are as able-bodied as hearing people. It is just that our communication is different compared to hearing people’s spoken language. Hearing people should not assume that they are better and become ‘saviors’ for Deaf people. Deaf people do not need their help to cure their ears.”
Attending a school with most of their students being deaf or hard of hearing, Angela said she feels like she almost belongs because communication is much easier, and she is able to make friends. “However, I do feel I am sort of different because a lot of Deaf students knew each other from well-known Deaf schools, and I am not one of them.”
Recently, she graduated with degrees in International Studies and Government with summa cum laude. Besides being a great student, she is also involved in many of the organizations on campus. She took on leadership roles as a Senator, President, Vice President and Student Advisor.
Angela is working part-time at the university as an English coach and will be interning with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) soon, but is still looking for full-time employment. Therefore, she took part in the university’s job fair. “I attended the job fair because these organizations and agencies are providing opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people to be employed in various departments.” Angela appreciated the accessibility features the job fair provided and that communication with employers was much easier than usual. “I just need an ASL interpreter for hearing interviewers, and they did a great job fulfilling the requirement by providing interpreters already when I clicked on several logos.” She feels that the job fair was different from other employment opportunities mainly because the technology provided all the accessibility while allowing her to be at home and not physically attend an interview.
She spoke with a publishing company that initially struggled to connect with the ASL interpreter. However, the option to switch from video chat to text messaging was provided, and therefore, Angela was still able to communicate with the recruiter. Her second interview was with a federal agency whose interviewer was deaf as well – no interpreter was needed. And lastly, she communicated with a second federal agency using an ASL interpreter without any problems. “I was satisfied with the outcome related to accessibility, but I do not know about other people who have more accessibility needs. They may have a different opinion about this virtual job fair.”
Dreek is a 24-year-old Biology student in his 4th undergraduate year at Gallaudet. After finding his passion for writing in high school, he decided Gallaudet would be the right next step to improve his skills. “I wanted to learn how to write better and to be a better person,” he said.
Before he attended Gallaudet, Dreek was in mainstream schools where he felt lonely. “Many students did not bother to be my study buddy or friend. I really did not have any experience interacting with hearing people at my mainstreams. I had deaf friends at my mainstreams, but I was separated from them as I was told I am too smart for the classes with deaf friends. I was just spending a lot of time on math, as I had yet to learn how to write and read. I was illiterate for almost my full childhood,” Dreek said.
He started studying at Gallaudet in 2016 and is the first generation in his family to go to college. “I enjoy studying biology at Gallaudet University because it got more challenging for me to learn. And I can fully understand the lectures through sign language and not by reading textbooks all the time like I experienced in mainstream schools. Gallaudet University is the world where I can be myself and happy,” Dreek explained.
As compared to his previous schools, Dreek didn’t need any accommodations at Gallaudet since everyone communicates in ASL. “Throughout my mainstream experience, I had to be accompanied by an interpreter all the time. Gallaudet is entirely inverse to that as everyone is naturally talking in sign language,” he said. “And ASL has many accents. For instance, I am signing too fast even though I am a southerner that’s supposed to sign slow.”
Dreek views Deaf culture is the light in the silent world. “You can survive in the silent world by feeling and seeing without association to sounds. For example, you might want to throw something at people to get their attention. Everything in the deaf culture is about vision, not sounds,” he explained.
Dreek participated in the virtual job fair because he was worried he wouldn’t find employment even with a college degree. “I know I am at much risk for not getting a job, as I heard the rumor of a deaf woman with a college degree who still has not found a job even though she applied for more than 300 jobs in New York. I want to find a job that understands I am identifying as a deaf person so that I am going to be protected in the job.”
He calls it the “power of accessibility” to be able to connect with the recruiters through the virtual platform that offers transcripts in real-time because he likes to read fast. “I told them that we did not have to wait patiently for the interpreter to arrive. I will be fine if they speak into the microphone that converts speech into life transcription. So, we went on with it, and we had fun talking to each other.” It’s a bit challenging for Dreek to talk to employers who don’t know much about communication with deaf people. “Many employers don’t know what to do next. I had to teach them to just write down the words or speak into the headphones that will convert the voice into words.” He talked to a non-profit organization in Chicago and enjoyed the conversation with them. “I am considering the job offering once I graduate.”
Judy, a 22-year-old student, is pursuing a Science Mathematics degree with a minor in Risk Management and Insurance. She is in her 4th year at Gallaudet. “I’m the first generation who was born in America and also the first generation of being deaf in my whole hearing family, except my little brother who’s also deaf and a high schooler,” Judy said. Before Gallaudet, she attended a mainstream school with a program for deaf students.
She decided to study at Gallaudet University for two reasons. “I grew up in a mainstream school and hearing community my whole life, which means I have to rely on my cochlear implant to hear what my hearing family or friends say. Also, I had no idea what deaf culture is. I wanted to explore who I am and whether I am proud of being deaf,” Judy explained.
Gallaudet amazes her. Judy said, “Because wherever she looks, she sees deaf people. And they all use ASL to communicate.” Therefore, she doesn’t have a language barrier. “It makes me feel like I am free or that I can take a break from the hearing world.” Judy appreciates the support she receives in any area of her life and explained, “Once you enter Gallaudet, your life will be very different from the rest of the world.”
“You will feel like this place is really silent because everyone uses sign language 24/7 everywhere. You will learn a lot about deaf culture, and deaf people from different states have their own accent in ASL. Also, this place is very deaf-friendly. That’s why I love to be a student at Gallaudet University. This place makes me feel like I belong, and it defines who I am and what I am,” she said.
Judy attended Gallaudet’s virtual job fair to find an employer that relates to her major and minor. “The Career Center is always ready to provide what people need for accessibility. Almost every booth had an interpreter, which meant I didn’t need an interpreter with me all day. This was really nice and odd for me because I’m used to having an interpreter around me all day long when I am in hearing places.”
She spoke with recruiters from Procter & Gamble, the Federal Aviation Administration and a few other employers she was interested in. “I was very satisfied with the communication with them through the interpreter,” she said.
Austin Isaac – Gallaudet Alumnus
Austin Isaac, a 23-year-old Gallaudet graduate living in Indiana, works as a camera operator at a local TV company and wants to become a Certified Deaf Interpreter. “I happened to stumble across a posting on Facebook from a local TV producer and asked him if he would like to have an assistant on his team, and he accepted,” Austin said.
At Gallaudet, he was a Communications Studies student. When asked why he studied at Gallaudet, he said, “Deaf community, of course. It is honestly one of the best universities I have attended! Gallaudet University is to be with my own ‘kind.’”
The part about Gallaudet he values the most is their inclusion of the Deaf community and the events they set up to bring them closer together as one. “It feels like a family to you,” he said. Compared to the schools he went to before, the most significant difference at Gallaudet is that you see ASL everywhere, he said. Interacting with other deaf students fosters a sense of belonging for him. “Other schools are just more snobby and don’t care about including you in anything,” Austin said.
Austin wears a cochlear implant and therefore doesn’t have accessibility needs overall. His way of communication is different and rare, he explained. “You are not always going to find someone who is able to talk and sign at the same time. When you are signing, you are required to look at the person because if you do not have direct eye contact, you will make them feel like you are not interested.”
Austin participated in the job fair as alumnus. He was interviewed to become a production assistant with a production company and an ASL tutor but faced some tech challenges. “It took like three hours to get the system back up in order to actually talk with the recruiters. It kept kicking everyone out.”
For him, the only real difference compared to other job fairs he attended was that this one was fully online. He didn’t have any accessibility requirements. “I talked with the recruiters since I am able to hear them,” he explained. “But yes, other job fairs don’t have interpreters.”
Gallaudet Community and Culture
Recently portrayed in the Netflix documentary series Deaf U, Gallaudet has gained more public awareness, specifically from a hearing audience. In a world designed for hearing people, it can be challenging for deaf students to navigate college or communicate with their peers, who often don’t know much about different verbal and non-verbal cues deaf people use to speak with one another. Accessibility is not always a given when deaf students attend higher education.
At Gallaudet, Deaf culture is embraced. Since 1864, the university has been improving accessibility for their deaf students. Gallaudet University sits in the center of Washington, D.C., on 99 beautiful acres. Founded by an Act of Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln, Gallaudet University has now become the leading university for deaf and hard of hearing students from around the world. It is also the home of the award-winning Kellogg Conference Hotel, a world-class property and meeting site. Some well-known alumni from Gallaudet include actors and advocates such as Marlee Matlin, Nyle DiMarco and Shoshannah Stern. Furthermore, something many people do not know: the football huddle was invented by Gallaudet. When Gallaudet’s players noticed their opponents tried to read their signs in order to predict their plays, they gathered together to avoid giving the opponent an advantage.
Today, Gallaudet University is seen as the most important resource for deaf people. It’s the only university in the country that’s fully accessible for deaf and hard of hearing people, and the whole university is designed to be “responsive and expressive of the rich relationship between deaf and hard of hearing experiences and the built environment.”
Gallaudet’s campus is tailored to their deaf students, predominately to allow for easier communication. Most spaces in the hearing world are designed by and for hearing people. However, since many people communicate differently including ASL or lip reading, they have varying ways to change their surroundings to fit their culture and line of sight. At Gallaudet, seating, lighting and furniture are rearranged to improve visual communication and connection between the students. For example, buildings are very open, so they are bright and allow students on the ground floor to communicate with someone on the third floor. It’s all designed to provide a maximum of visualization for communication. This unique architecture was developed at Gallaudet and is known as DeafSpace.
With Gallaudet’s first virtual job fair, the university removed one more barrier for their deaf students and continues to lead the way to an inclusive environment for deaf people. This historic event has shown that with enough effort and a team willing to navigate challenges, it is possible to create accessibility for all.
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by Karina Ulrike Sturm