Although roughly half a million Americans use American Sign Language, or ASL, job applicants who are deaf often face barriers to employment due to a lack of understanding of existing ASL translation resources. Despite their qualifications, these individuals struggle to secure positions in their chosen industry.
PRIDE Industries provides employment services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to help bridge the communication gap between employers and applicants. Employment services include assistive technology, on-site video translation, ASL interpreters, and ASL-trained job coaches.
Meet Sezne Hernandez, Deaf Interpreter
Generous donors make it possible for PRIDE Industries to offer the PRIDE Ascend program, a training initiative that empowers people with disabilities to gain technical skills and attain industry-based certifications in El Paso, TX, and Sacramento, CA.
Participants receive an assessment and meet with PRIDE’s dedicated staff to explore career interests and job placement. Accommodations and instruction are tailored to each individual while they receive the training needed for the workplace to ensure success.
Job Developer Sezne Hernandez has been with PRIDE Ascend since 2016. She has worked with several businesses in the El Paso region to place people with disabilities.
“I started learning American Sign Language in 2014, after finishing my general education courses at El Paso Community College (EPCC). I was enrolled in classes at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) to study speech therapy. My college advisor suggested I return to EPCC to complete a few ASL classes to accommodate any potential clients who are deaf or hard of hearing.
I signed up for one class and became hooked. Observing my professor who is deaf working together with his interpreter interested me so much that I decided to continue studying ASL. I earned an Associates of Applied Science in Sign Language / Interpreter Preparation with a Certificate of Completion in American Sign Language-Deaf Studies.
I completed state-required courses through the University of North Texas’ Workplace Inclusion & Sustainable Employment (UNTWISE). I am Texas-certified as a Job Coach and Job Developer and provide sign language interpretation. In July 2016, I was hired as a Job Coach/ASL Interpreter at PRIDE Ascend in El Paso, TX, and promoted to Job Developer in 2018. I am expanding my skillset with Vocational Adjustment Training (VAT) to support clients in other programs that PRIDE Ascend provides.”
Full Range of Employment Services for the Deaf
Sezne works with 15 to 20 individuals at a time to prepare and place them in employment. Like many of PRIDE Ascend’s members, her services include:
- conducting employment training
- tailoring resumes
- practicing interviewing
- supporting pre-employment training for individuals referred to PRIDE
- assisting clients with job applications and with navigating through the interview process.
While meeting with different employers to establish partnerships, Sezne passionately explains how PRIDE partners with businesses to meet their needs by providing qualified candidates. She also shares PRIDE’s range of services, such as on the job support and trial internship opportunities (funded by PRIDE’s generous donors).
“Some employers are intrigued by our unique services and mission; however, some are skeptical,” she says. “Often, I serve as an educator to help change the common stereotype that an individual’s disability will affect their performance.”
Once clients are hired, Sezne facilitates job coaching to provide support and guidance during the initial job transition and to check on their progress throughout their employment. She also ensures that both the employer and employee continually overcome obstacles to communication, such as properly using video relay services.
“My most memorable moment was job coaching a client on a construction site last year. Initially, the owner was skeptical if the client could do their required job or drive a vehicle. However, after hiring the client, the ‘bridge’ to success was created. The client began conversing with his team, introduced Deaf culture to them, and we worked together to teach his colleague’s sign language and gestures. His team opened up, and the client began to thrive. He became a manager only after three months!