Henry Toribio-Martinez, who is deaf, is a barback, or bar assistant, at the Happy Valley Arcade Bar in Beacon.
What challenges do you face working in a service industry?
When I worked at Max’s on Main, everyone was nice and patient with me. We would use gestures and write on paper to communicate. But I didn’t work with customers. After a year-and-a-half, I went to DoorDash [a delivery service]. I communicated with customers about their orders and delivered well and easily — until the onset of COVID-19. There were little issues then because there’s no deaf-friendly accommodation. I didn’t work from March 2020 until a few weeks ago, when I got a job at Happy Valley.
How has it gone so far?
I got a good impression from Happy Valley owners Johnny and Alyssa. We found the time to learn how to sign with each other, and I’m allowed to use my iPhone to communicate. Happy Valley pays for the Jeenie app for me to use in meetings. It connects me to an American Sign Language interpreter by video.
Has the pandemic created any new challenges?
Yes. It’s hard for me to read the lips and facial expressions of people when they talk to me through non-transparent masks. Facial expressions are a big part of sign language and non-verbal communication in general.
Have you had any bad experiences with customers?
Thankfully, no. In the past, customers who didn’t realize I was deaf thought that I couldn’t hear them because of background music, so getting them to understand that I am deaf was a bit of a challenge. I’ve been able to get customers to understand by wearing a tag, T-shirt or hat that says, “I’m Deaf.” Customers will now sign “Thank you” when I deliver orders to their tables.
How can people better accommodate service workers who are deaf?
We — deaf and hearing — live in the shared world. We need to do what we can to make it easier to communicate, like using your phone or pen and paper to write things, and using gestures to communicate. Bosses and managers should be more open-minded in hiring deaf people, because our eyes are very sharp. We are quick learners and can do our jobs amazingly after training and by communicating with gestures and technology. There’s no excuse for the bosses and managers to discriminate against deaf people.