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How a Single Conversation Turned This Edmonton HR Leader into a Game-Changer for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Employees

When Celia Koehler, a human resource business partner at YEG2/4 in Edmonton – the largest Amazon Fulfillment Centre in Western Canada – had a candid conversation with a Deaf employee grappling with loneliness and the realities of learning a new culture and work environment a fire was lit within her. “It was the first time I’d learned the personal experience of a Deaf employee at our site, and I realized that we could do more to create a sense of belonging. I knew that we could raise the bar for this community, and that’s just we did,” she said. Celia has helped spearhead a variety of initiatives that make YEG2/4 a leader in inclusivity for Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees at Amazon.

Celia

A Unique Employee Landscape

Since the site launched on February 26th, 2023 YEG2/4 has welcomed more than 25 Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) employees, who work in roles including stowing, picking, robotics maintenance and outbound tasks.

Unique Challenges and Solutions

Celia’s candid chat surfaced something unique about the Deaf and Hard of Hearing candidates applying for jobs at the site: the majority were Ukrainian refugees who used Ukrainian Sign Language to communicate, instead of American Sign Language. In addition, there were other Deaf employees who used other sign languages other than ASL.

She also learned that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in Edmonton at large felt frustrated by the challenges related to finding rewarding work. In response, Celia envisioned a comprehensive program that would not only support Deaf and Hard of Hearing associates at YEG2/4 but could also serve as a model for other Amazon sites in Canada. She initiated various programs, trained managers, and challenged existing perceptions about interpretation services, making a substantial impact on the site.

“Leading with inclusivity at the forefront is not just a choice; it’s an imperative. My journey began with a heartfelt conversation that revealed the loneliness and challenges faced by a Deaf employee,” said Celia.

“That single encounter opened the door to a world of untapped potential and untold stories among Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals in our organization. It was a reminder that, by breaking away from convention and connecting with others, we can create a workplace where every voice is heard. This is why inclusivity is not only about doing what’s right for our team but also about setting a precedent for a more inclusive world, where Deaf employment and inclusion know no boundaries.”

Leading Change

Motivated to make a difference, Celia and her team implemented several innovative solutions to better support Deaf and Hard of Hearing associates at YEG2.

The first step was deepening the site’s relationship with the Deaf Language Services team to ensure that employees and their managers were taking advantage of services such as:

  • Amazon Sign Language Interpreters both onsite and virtually, supplemented by external vendors when needed.
  • Mobile Amazon Video Interpreter Stations (MAVIS), which allow for virtual access to multiple interpreting sources.
  • Amazon Video Translation, which allows the site to embed sign language interpretation into any materials they use, including,
  • Deaf Interpreters: Skilled interpreters proficient in sign language and multiple languages.

Next, Celia and the leadership team implemented site-specific initiatives such as:

  • Designated Safety Vests: Deaf employees safety vests have a differentiating neon yellow colour indicating their Deaf status, helping their colleagues modify their communication approach accordingly.
  • American Sign Language (ASL) Classes: Empowering Deaf employees and promoting language skills.
  • Making Amazon’s Intranet more accessible: Created supplementary ASL videos to help employees
  • Manager Training: Celia ensures that managers are educated in Deaf culture, fostering a more inclusive work environment.

The community engagement didn’t just end here. Celia partnered with managers like BL Barker, Celina Cong, Lei Nadal and Mazin Shawkat, to ensure that the site’s commitment to this program extends through all of the site’s operational teams and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees are supported in their daily safety, learning and general day to day work needs.

Meet Two Deaf Employees

Empowering Viktor To Rise to The Top

Viktor, a Ukainian migrant faced challenges when he initially joined Amazon due to language barriers as a non-American Sign Language user. But instead of giving up, Viktor demonstrated incredible perseverance. His commitment was evident as he actively participated in American Sign Language classes at YEG2, seeking to bridge the communication gap. His dedication paid off and he was recently recognized by his manager for high quality performance and receiving well-deserved appreciation and feedback.

Viktor’s journey is a testament to how the right support can empower individuals to thrive and reminding us that barriers can be overcome when determination and opportunity align. In Viktor’s own words, “Amazon has helped me find my place here in Canada, and with the support of my colleagues and ASL classes, I’ve flourished in this wonderful community.”

Building leadership capacity with Khaled

Khaled, who migrated to Canada in 2015 from Jordan is a dedicated member of the YEG2/4 team, has not only excelled in his role but has emerged as an informal leader among his Deaf associates. His commitment to fostering a supportive environment is evident in the way he tirelessly assists his fellow Deaf colleagues in their learning and growth journey. Khaled’s exceptional dedication has not gone unnoticed, as his manager expressed a desire to nominate him as the site’s inaugural Deaf Ambassador. Khaled’s deep connection and affection for YEG2/4 shine through in his work, making him an ideal representative for the site. As Khaled rightly puts it, “YEG2/4 has been more than a workplace; it’s a community that thrives on support and inclusivity.”

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