Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Being deaf or hard of hearing can be a challenge almost anywhere. However, traveling via airplane can up the ante even more. Sure, it seems easy enough—and to some it very well may be—but to many deaf/HOH travelers (especially the ones flying solo) the airport can seem most daunting.

As some of my readers already know, my husband, Kenny, works for TSA at the airport here in Grand Rapids, MI. He also signs rather well since he’s got to be able to communicate with me and I can ‘t lipread.  Well, for a while he started noticing that some of the people on their way in or out of the airport seemed rather confused. He decided to approach some of these people and speak and sign at the same time just to see if, maybe, those people were deaf/HOH. As it turned out, more often than not, they were and they were ecstatic to find a government employee who could help them out enormously.

The more this took place, the more often Kenny would be asked signs and etiquette questions by other TSA members. It seemed to be a real concern that most TSA workers wanted to help solve. So, what did Kenny do? Kenny created a program for workers to be able to learn signs and communicate and assist deaf/HOH travelers easier and more comfortably.

I caught up with him recently to interview him about such program (he works two jobs and naps…I never see the man…that’s why I “caught up.” Wink)

Q: Can you describe, in your own words, what exactly the program entails?
A: The program involves learning a little about Deaf Culture, such as how to get someone’s attention, points of contact, ABCs, and all basic phrases and vocabulary involved in TSA experience.

Q: And how do you think this program would help the TSA employees?
A: It allows security officers to interact with the deaf/HOH population more personally.

Q: How did you come about the decision to start this?
A: I got a lot of encouragement from my wife (SIDE NOTE: I did NOT pay him to say that). I had deaf travelers come through the airport and I was able to help, but only me. I was able to do it rather smoothly and that really impressed my team and they started asking me to please show them how to do that, too.

Q: Have you or others had any use of it so far?
A: Yes! I’ve had two officers who have had multiple experiences with deaf travelers and the deaf have told me how appreciative they are that people at the Grand Rapids airport can interact!

Q: Give me an example.
A: One time a deaf woman came through and the officer at the front knew she was deaf because she had a note pinned to her shirt: “I’m deaf. I need to go to such and such place on Delta.” The officer got my attention and, when I started to sign with her she was elated and the officer wanted to learn to be able to do that, too. In fact, there was another officer who didn’t remember all of the program, but started pointing and gesturing and writing down whatever was needed. He never forced her to lipread since she said she couldn’t.

Q: How do you know sign language?
A: My wife’s Deaf and she’s helped a lot.

Q: How long have you been signing?
A: Fifteen years.

Q: On a scale of 1- 10, how good are you?
A: I’d say I’m good. 7.

Q: Have you had any interest in the program outside of your specific airport?
A: Yes. I’ve had many people inside TSA contact me for information on Sign Language.

Q: Where? How did you respond?
A: In the West Michigan area I’ve taught people in Muskegon, Kalamazoo, and Manistee. But I’ve sent information to people in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, and Boston. I’ve always responded enthusiastically that I’m here and ready to help.

Q: What would you say to other TSA employees who want to learn your program?
A: The program is readily available and I’ve both a manual and a DVD instruction video that helps them understand the questions they need to ask (sign phrases) and how to interact appropriately to deaf/HOH travelers and to remember that everyone has different needs. Be open minded.

Well, I for one am most proud. Kenny’s book and DVD is wonderful and took a LOT of work. I just wish the program would start spreading over the US, helping all airports have this kind of support available. Pretty cool, eh?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing this very useful information you have provided for me cheers!