Why diversify my workforce: making a hearing impairment work for you and your business


Mary Kelash is an Opportunity Services Supported Employment client who is independently employed at the Hilton Garden Inn. Two days per week, Mary works in the laundry department: folding clean laundry, loading the washing machine and reloading the housekeeper’s carts. Mary is deaf but she does not let her disability inhibit her work assignments or slow her down! Mary has benefitted from cochlear implants and has the ability to read lips, which is a tremendous help when working with her manager and co-workers.

Emily Osweiler hired Mary last June as a housekeeper. Emily quickly realized that Mary was not physically able to do the housekeeping job requirements but was very interested in keeping Mary employed and on the team. According to Emily, “We noticed tasks Mary wasn’t capable of doing but she was putting forth so much effort to try and learn and to be efficient.” Emily and her team made accommodations with the tasks Mary was struggling with, if it was physically too hard for her to tuck all the sheets in, they asked her to only make the beds. When the supervisors came around to check on her rooms they would tuck them in for her. After being a housekeeper for some time, Mary was becoming frustrated that her body could not do the things she wanted to be able to do. Emily quickly realized the laundry department might be a better fit for her, so Emily and the Opportunity Services team spent time to train Mary on the laundry duties. Emily is extremely flexible with all her employees, which aids in the success of her team: “Anytime I hire someone, it is because I see something in them and know they would be a good fit for our company. I tell all my employees, if you do not feel the job you were hired for is working for you, please let me know. There are so many different jobs within the hotels, and other businesses we own, there might be an opening somewhere else that suits you better.”

When asked about accommodations at the Hilton, Emily stated there weren’t many things they had to do differently. Once you change your mindset as a business, it’s changing your approach when working with others, such as facing the person you are speaking to so they can read your lips, sending a letter home if there’s a big announcement made or a change in the organization. Emily’s father was born almost completely deaf- it’s something she’s grown up with her entire life. “When it comes to hiring, I believe that everyone deserves a chance to work, if that’s what they want to do. At the Hilton, in the housekeeping department, there is nothing that cannot be taught. I base all my hiring off of personality and the willingness to learn and the desire to work.” Because Emily is looking at the whole person and not only the disability, she is gaining amazing team members and increasing individual and team morale! “Mary is a hard worker who puts forth 100% effort everyday she is here. She is one of the most friendly, caring people I have ever met. If everyone could have a little of Mary in them, the world would definitely be a better place.”

Collaborations such as these between Opportunity Services and the Hilton Garden Inn make it possible for Mary and other individuals with disabilities to support themselves and work in the community. The business gains a wonderful employee and Mary finds a work identity to be proud of.

*This was originally published in the Rochester Chamber Magazine, July 2017 Issue, written by Hannah Bauman, Public Relations Manager*