Deaf theater staff member inspires customers, colleagues

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It’s a normal Friday night at the movies in mid-December. The after-work and after-school crowds make their way in from the biting cold to sample one of the many flicks that flow out of Hollywood so prodigiously this time of year.

They stop by the concession stand for the requisite popcorn and soda and are likely to receive a dose of inspiration along with their order. All thanks to Jivan Petit, a “concessionist” on the night shift at the AMC Loews Georgetown 14 theater on K Street Northwest, where he has worked for five years.

He is quick with a smile, fast on his feet and never makes a customer wait. He scoops the corn, pours the drinks and hands out the change with evident pride and satisfaction in his work.

The 30-something Mr. Petit has been deaf since he was 1 year old, save for being able to sense some vibrations. He was born in India and adopted by a French couple, Michel and Marlene Petit, as an infant. He lost his hearing when he contracted meningitis and a high fever shortly after his adoption.

Mr. Petit ended up in the United States in the 1980s after his father moved the family here to take a job.

Many people struggle using a second language, especially those in service-oriented jobs, in which communication with customers is constant. For Mr. Petit, whose native language is French, that challenge is compounded by his hearing impairment. He takes this, like other obstacles he faces, in stride.

“It depends on if they speak too fast. I told them that I’m deaf and please note [their] order,” Mr. Petit explains, writing answers to questions posed to him on a small notebook he keeps by the cash register.

He asks customers to use the same notebook to jot down orders he can’t quite make out by reading lips.

“Sometimes people gesture to me what’s their order,” he writes, adding that some people are too impatient to write a note. “I can’t blame them. I respect them. I’m OK and positive.”

Wayne Morgan, an AMC general manager, has observed the way customers interact with Mr. Petit.

“They see him as a hardworking guy who means well, and it makes their trip here even more unique and memorable,” he says.

“He can bridge the communication gap. Customers get drawn to him very easily. I see them come through and give him a high five,” says Jacob Jochum, who has worked with Mr. Petit over the past few months.

Justin Scott, director of corporate communications for AMC Theaters, estimates that “a small percentage of AMC associates have a known or visible disability. It equates to an average of approximately one person with a known or visible disability at each theater.”

“We recognize that it’s difficult to innovate or truly serve a diverse guest population without reflecting that diversity in our associate base,” he adds.

Mr. Petit, who has twice been honored as employee of the month at the theater, explains in an e-mail that he has been able to teach his fellow employees, not through words, but by example.

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About the Author

Stephanie Green

Stephanie Green is an arts and culture reporter for The Washington Times and, with Elizabeth Glover, the co-author of Green and Glover, the paper’s personalities column. Before joining The Times, Stephanie was a reporter for the Alexandria Times and a contributing writer and editor of Capitol File magazine. Her work has also appeared in Washingtonian. Stephanie worked on C-SPAN’s 2006 ...

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