Deaf Trader Joe's Employee Finds Work Around for Reading Lips


Inspiration | By Jamal Mack | May 2, 2020

It's not Halloween, yet people everywhere are wearing masks whenever they go outside. Whether it's for a walk, a trip to the store, or to drop off some flowers at mom's house, people are putting on their masks like they are Batman about to go out for a night of fighting crime.

Of course, we are wearing masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It's the least we can all do, however, it can be very uncomfortable. It is hard to breathe in them, they can be uncomfortable and hurt, and it's hard for people to hear you when speaking through one.

As hard as it is on everyone, the masks impact certain people even more. Consider deaf people who have to solely rely on reading lips since most people don't know sign language. This is especially impactful for the hearing-impaired who work in retail. One Trader Joe's employee found a workaround for that.

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Matthew Simmons is a Deaf Worker at Trader Joe's

Grocery store workers have been the unexpected heroes of the coronavirus pandemic. While healthcare workers deserve a tremendous shoutout, as well as delivery people, grocery store workers have really stepped up to serve us all while we panic-buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It hasn't been easy for grocery workers, but especially for Matthew Simmons who works for Trader Joes. That's because Matthew Simmons is deaf. Customers wearing masks has been an added challenge for him.

Matthew Simmons has worked at the Trader Joe's in Vancouver, Washing for two years. It is his second job on weekends and during the Summer when he has time off from his job teaching at Washington State School for the Deaf. Although Simmons enjoys interacting with the customers, he isn't able to do that which has made customer interaction an anxiety-inducing task.

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The Struggle to Read Lips Through Masks

Simmons spoke with TODAY food to talk about his experience. "When customers (wearing masks) come up to me to ask a question on the floor, I always said, 'I am Deaf and need to read your lips so I can help you. Some of the times, customers didn't want to lower down their masks and shook their heads 'no' and walked away from me. It made me upset because I couldn't help and left me feeling defeated."

There were many situations where a customer would be speaking to Simmons but he wouldn't know. This would make him appear rude to the customers. "A main component of my job is customer service and assisting them in whatever they may need," he said. "How can I assist them if I have no idea what it is they are asking for?"

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Simmons and his Manager Came Up with a Solution

Simmons asked for help from the assistant manager to find ways to allow him to do his job better. They tried adding a second employee to work with Simmons, but it only made him feel different. That's when Simmons found a shirt that said “I'm deaf” on the front and “tap on the shoulder” on the back. They printed the same text on a Trader Joe's shirt and gave him a white board.

"In case any customers had questions, they could write it down for me and not have to lower their masks making communication no longer a problem. After the shirt was done, I wore it and when it was time for me to be on a register, I was given permission to write on the plexiglass saying, 'Hi My name is Matthew. I am deaf and read lips.'" The solution has worked and it's allowed Simmons to communicate with customers. Now he's seeing his customers have big smiles on their faces knowing they can communicate with him.

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