Courtesy of Old Spokes Home
Chuda Karki (second from left) with colleagues from Old Spokes Home
Every Thursday, Jeremy Kehoe rushes home from his job at Old Spokes Home
in Burlington to attend an American Sign Language class organized by Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront
. He's been taking ASL lessons since this summer, when the bike shop and nonprofit community center hired Chuda Karki, a deaf Bhutanese man
who doesn't speak English, as a technician.
"Chuda had become pretty ingrained in the shop, so I thought it would be much better to be able to communicate with him," said Kehoe. "Once I taught myself the alphabet, it became more and more interesting."
On Tuesday, both Kehoe and Karki were on hand when Donna Curtin, chairperson of the Vermont Governor’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities
, presented Laura Jacoby, executive director of Old Spokes Home, with a Spirit of the ADA award.
The award recognizes employers who have exemplified the ideals of the Americans With Disabilities Act by placing an emphasis on hiring and retaining employees with disabilities. Curtin explained that it was instituted four years ago to build awareness around exceptional employment practices, as well as to encourage employers to seek out employees with disabilities.
"[Karki] is very charismatic and in addition to his skills, he's dependable and reliable," said Jacoby. "You know, everything you look for in an employee."
Before Karki worked at OSH, he spent a couple of weeks in the winter at the nonprofit's training facility to develop his skills, through the Vermont Association of Business, Industry and Rehabilitation
"I was a little concerned because I don't understand English," said Karki through an ASL interpreter.
According to Dan Hock, operations director at OSH, the communication barrier meant everyone at the shop had to be creative in bridging the gap, including using diagrams and hand gestures.
"To be able to teach someone something very mechanical and detailed, with a lack of words, can be really challenging and very rewarding," Hock said.
Karki said the bike shop's mechanics taught him all the things he needed to do. "When I started working on the bike, if I did something wrong one of the other workers would come over and show me, point to it and tell me it wasn't right and showed me the right way to do things," Karki explained.
Karki impressed his trainers so much that they decided to hire him during the busy summer months.
"It's been mutually beneficial," said Jacoby. " We absolutely lucked out having Chuda. He's a perfect fit for our organization and a huge asset."
Bill Hudson, an employment counselor at VocRehab, had effusive praise for Karki. "His hard work ethic, being there to do the job, overcame his deafness."
Currently, Hudson works with fewer than a dozen deaf refugees and immigrants. He said lack of confidence and overprotective families are two hurdles that his deaf clients typically have to tackle. But with some creative thinking, such as that demonstrated by OSH, Hudson is confident his clients will be able to find employment. "We'd like to think there's a job out there for everybody," he said.
When the summer months roll around next year, Jacoby is hopeful that Karki will once again work with Old Spokes Home — his position this summer was seasonal. In the meantime, both Karki and Kehoe have begun to take more advanced ASL classes.
2017 recipients of the Spirit of the ADA award also include Shaw's Supermarket in Berlin, Ramunto's Restaurant in Bennington, Label Shopper in Brattleboro, RDI, Casella Recycling in Rutland, River Street Pharmacy in Springfield, Westaff in St Albans, VTrans Garages, Upper Valley Aquatic Center and TJ Maxx in St. Albans, Berlin and Middlebury.