A deaf member of staff at a Strabane supermarket is hoping his presence at the checkouts will encourage more customers and colleagues to try their hands at sign language.
Brian McCrory has been an Asda employee for the past 14 years. For 13 of those he worked as a porter where one of his main duties was retrieving trolleys from the car park. But due to recurring health problems, the father-of-two began to consider his position and the toll it was taking on his physical well-being.
Earlier this year Brian, who is profoundly deaf, registered on the Workable NI programme which offers support for people who are deaf, have hearing loss and tinnitus who are in employment. With access to interpreters Brian was able to sit down with his line manager Fiona McCrory and Stephanie O’Kane, Employment Support officer for the Workable NI programme with the charity Action on Hearing Loss, to discuss the possibility of moving to a new role.
“I was losing confidence in myself,” said the 57-year-old on why he felt he needed a change.
“My hands and feet were getting sore and the job was just generally taking its toll on me. Then my mum passed away and that made work even more difficult as I was finding it hard to motivate myself.”
At first Brian expressed an interest in moving to work in the warehouse. But with no vacancies open, his bosses began considering moving him to the tills. With help from Action on Hearing Loss, the various parties started examining any barriers that might exist.
“Brian, Stephanie and I talked about it and we could see no reason why not,” said line manager Fiona.
The only possible hurdle they identified was Asda’s ‘Challenge 25’ policy whereby if a customer is buying age-restricted goods they are asked for documentation. But it was quickly resolved by putting in place simple, practical adjustments. A system has been developed that if Brian needs assistance he stands up and catches the attention of a workmate or he rings the internal phone line and hangs up, a signal that he needs a hand.
The mechanism has worked well and four months after serving his first customer the Strabane man could not be happier.
“It is completely different,” beamed Brian.
“When I was on the trolleys it was OK but you didn’t get to communicate with people. People did come up to you but once you explained to them you were deaf they just walked away again. Now when I’m on the tills they talk to me as I’m swiping their groceries or packing bags. It’s great.”
Brian wears a badge to inform his customers that he is deaf. He says as soon as people realise he can’t hear them, they begin to make the effort to communicate through gesture. And he says he has been surprised by how many people actually have some grasp of sign language.
“Because of the badge people can see that I’m deaf and when they realise, they gesture using hand shapes. But it’s incredible how many customers can actually sign,” he says.
It isn’t just customers who are making the effort to communicate either.
Following Brian’s move on to the main floor his colleagues, inspired by his fresh lease of life, have become increasingly eager to chat with him. Some have begun taking sign language lessons while Asda has introduced posters showing the alphabet in British Sign Language.
Now happier than ever at his work, Brian says he has Action on Hearing Loss’s Workable programme to thank helping him make the transition.
The Workable programme offers tailored support to employees to help them enter and stay in employment, regardless of disability or health condition. It is about finding solutions that with buy-in from both the employee and employer, often turn out to be very minor issues.
Fiona McCrory added, “Brian has been here 14 years and things changed for him to the point where he just wasn’t happy in his role. Together we figured out what we could do and it has worked out better than any of us could have imagined. Brian is happy and that is important for us. He comes in, does his shift and goes home with a smile on his face. It’s a nice change from where he was six months or a year ago.”
While Brian McCrory’s move from trolleys to till has helped him enormously, it is also breaking down barriers between the deaf and hearing communities. Evidence of this can be found in that fact that for the first time in his working life, he was recently asked by a customer what a particular sign was.
“I just want to thank my Employment Support Officer Stephanie and Action on Hearing Loss for all their help in making this happen,” he said.
“I also want to thank Asda and I really appreciate the work people have put in because before this I was outside on my own. Now I feel part of everything and I’m happy, I’m really happy.”