- Associated Press - Sunday, March 5, 2017

HILLIARD, Ohio (AP) - Employers sometimes find that talking the talk is a lot different from walking the walk when the “best person for the job” happens to have a disability.

But that wasn’t the case for Jason McGonigle and his staff at the AT&T; warehouse in Hilliard.

McGonigle and his staff have learned American Sign Language to better understand their co-worker of nearly a year, Kamal Nasser.

The story begins with the promotion of one of McGonigle’s workers.

“I was going through the normal process of screening replacement candidates when the HR director called,” he said during a break at the facility, which previously operated under the DirecTV brand until AT&T; bought the company two years ago.

“The HR director said, ‘I have an odd one, but we had a great phone interview. He’s deaf, but I think he’ll be a great fit.’ So she scheduled an interview and had a sign-language interpreter come along.”

McGonigle paused for a moment as he remembered the day.

“I had never worked with a deaf person,” he said, “and I didn’t know what to expect.”

Nasser was born in Kuwait of a hearing mother and a deaf father. He has one deaf brother, and a hearing brother and a hearing sister. After getting married in 2010, he moved to Columbus in 2013 and worked in warehouses with FedEx and Abercrombie & Fitch before applying for the AT&T; job.

Though Nasser brought along an interpreter to the AT&T; job interview, he hardly needed one.

“We had chemistry from the beginning,” McGonigle said. “We were joking around in the interview.”

But it wasn’t just good chemistry that helped Nasser land the job.

“His history was a big part of why I hired him,” McGonigle said. “He had lived in Jordan and worked at a museum, handling 3,000-, 4,000-year-old artifacts. It was clear that not only was he qualified for the job, he may have been overqualified.”

“I did a lot of designing exhibits with antiquities and pottery,” Nasser said, through an interpreter. “You had to be really careful setting up displays.” He had hoped to land a job similar to the one he had held in Jordan, but said, “there aren’t that many museums in Columbus.”

In the beginning, he and his co-workers communicated via an erasable white board and hand gestures.

But McGonigle said he felt a need to communicate directly, and a few weeks after Nasser’s hiring, he sought out a sign-language class through the Columbus Speech & Hearing Center in Clintonville.

Several other workers also took the classes. AT&T; posted a video this week on its national website about the efforts to assist Nasser as a way to highlight a good example of an inclusive workplace.

The law requires “reasonable accommodations” for workers with disabilities, but the effort that the AT&T; staff made was “amazing,” said Lisa Kathumbi, an attorney at Bricker & Eckler who represents and counsels employers.

“For the hearing-impaired, employers are required to provide an effective means of communications, and that can range from interpreters to written communications or making sure that the employee can read lips.

“But the law generally would not require co-workers to become fluent in sign language,” she said. “It’s quite remarkable to see co-workers make that kind of effort.”

The effort by the AT&T; workers also impressed Ann Walence, a work specialist at Columbus Speech & Hearing.

“This employer has gone way over the top,” said Walence, who has acted as Nasser’s interpreter in the past. “A lot of times people will learn some signs, but this company has done more than anyone has ever done.”

The effort has been well worth it, McGonigle said. ” I think the sky’s the limit for Kamal. Ultimately, I don’t want to see him in a warehouse forever. He has a lot of skills.”

Nasser, who lives on the North Side with his wife and 2-year-old son, said he is enjoying his job and his co-workers.

“It’s fun,” he said. “They just show me the work. If I can see it, I can do it.”

___

Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com


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