Saanich resident Robert McDonald

Island deaf organization offers helping hand in job hunt

Saanich resident back on job hunt with assistance from Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre

Despite seven years of experience, Robert McDonald is finding it difficult to re-enter the workforce in accounting.

McDonald lost his job two years ago when Morriss Printing went out of business. Since then, he’s upgraded his accounting résumé with a one-year program at Sprott Shaw College, which he completed with top marks in the class, and is currently studying accounting software in night classes at Camosun College.

While finding jobs in Victoria is already competitive enough, McDonald faces the added challenge of misperceptions about hiring a deaf person, said employment counsellor Ruth Wilson, who works with McDonald through the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre (IDHHC).

McDonald and Wilson have taken a proactive approach, meeting with businesses in the region to teach them about what the organization and their clients can offer.

“We’re just trying to break down barriers, and open people’s minds so that if a job does come up, they know we’re is here to provide solutions to any barriers of communication,” Wilson said.

One of the main advantages offered by IDHHC is a fully funded  interpreter during the employee’s training period, she said.

“We also provide adaptive devices, which is another program of ours. Really, we just want everything to be as seamless as possible for the  employer and Robert,” Wilson said.

“We also want to encourage employers to think about creating different roles in the workplace. And with such a focus on networking in Victoria, we hope that referrals will help get the word out.”

As a child, McDonald learned in a deaf class at Uplands elementary. But instead of attending Oak Bay High, which had a deaf program at the time, he and his family opted for Pacific Christian School. It was beneficial, he said, as it threw him into a more realistic environment at an early age.

“It was a new experience with interpreters and quite an adjustment for me,” he sad.

McDonald is currently holding down a job delivering papers in his Lakehill neighbourhood, and he remains optimistic about his career chances.

“(The paper route) gets me up in the morning and I study at night to keep busy,” he said.

With the advent of texting, email and video-phone technology such  as Skype, employers don’t need to know more than a few basic signs, said Denise Robertson, executive director of IDHHC.

“We have a broad range of options that can support deaf or hard of hearing workers in the workplace,” Robertson said.

One example of technologies at work is an office doorbell that triggers a light on the person’s desk.

That way, the employee isn’t startled when someone walks in.

Wilson carries a case load of about 40 people right now and is one of 12 employees at IDHHC in Victoria and Nanaimo offices.

“We serve the Island, and if you think about the numbers, that one in 10 people are deaf or are have significant hearing problems, that means we’re offering our services to 73,000 people,” Robertson said.

About 1,500 to 2,000 people access IDHHC each year, she added.

McDonald said he’s grown up with email and texting, which makes communicating with hearing difficulties much easier.

“But it’s IDHHC that is very helpful, that I’m very thankful for,” he said.

When McDonald first came to IDHHC in 2002, he had just finished the office management diploma at Camosun with an accounting option. IDHHC found him a job at Trafford Publishing.

“It wasn’t as hard that time to find a job,” he said.

When Trafford ran aground in 2009, McDonald was able to stay on by switching to the physical labour of binding and cutting books. Then the company pulled out.

“I learned a lot, it as different than the accounts receivable and accounts payable I was doing,” he said.

Camosun also provides McDonald with an interpreter while he learns the newest versions of accounting software programs that businesses rely on.

“It’s frustrating to see someone with experience earn an honours award for top marks and not be able to get a job,” Robertson said.

“Robert is very skilled and is just one example of the many people we help here.”

IDHHC is now preparing for its seventh annual Big Band Bash fundraiser.

It features The Swiftsure Big Band, The Commodores and Island Big Band. Each musician donates their time to IDHHC’s one and only fundraiser of the year.

“It’s something we truly rely on to exist,” Robertson said.

The late lazz musician Roy Reynolds started the Big Band Bash after he lost his hearing.

The Big Band Bash takes place  at Our Lady of Fatima Portuguese Hall, 4635 Elk Lake Dr. on Nov. 4

Tickets are $40 in advance, $50 at the door and $400 for a reserved table of 10. They’re available through Larsen Music, 1833 Cook St., Long & McQuade, 756 Hillside Ave., and at IDHHC, No. 201, 754 Broughton St.

For more information and a list of programs and services offered to deaf and hard of hearing, see idhhc.ca.

reporter@saanichnews.com