Deborah learns sign language to help her communicate with deaf customers

September 29, 2020

Our fantastic checkouts colleague Deborah Cumley was inspired by her deaf colleague Jean Livsey to learn sign language so she can better communicate with customers who are deaf or hard of hearing at our Rushden store.

Deborah developed an interest in sign language when she and Jean started working together 13 years ago and has been picked up lots from Jean as well as teaching herself more from books.

Deborah said: "When we were both on nights, Jean taught me how to say a few bits and pieces and how to finger spell in sign language. It helped us to communicate.

"I got really interested in it and bought some learning books too. I've just built it from there. I've not gone to college or anything – just picked up from Jean really."

Customers who are hard of hearing are really grateful of Deborah using sign language to communicate to them while they're shopping.

One customer even commented on Facebook to thank Deborah for her "excellent deaf awareness and signing" which had made a "big difference" to her shopping experience.

Deborah said: "I noticed the lady had hearing aids in so I asked her in sign language if she needed any bags or help with her packing and she was really pleased. It is nice to get praise.

"It must be quite a lonely world for people who are deaf or hard of hearing so to come shopping and actually communicate with them must make them feel a lot better.

"I have about three or four deaf customers who come through my till as they know I can sign and it's nice to be able to ask them how their day's gone and what they've been up to.

"It's nice that I can have a conversation using sign language and people do appreciate it. It does make you feel good about yourself too."

Deborah's now also passing on her sign language skills to other colleagues so they can communicate too.

She said: "Colleagues ask me what's the sign for this and what's the sign for that so they can communicate too. I would definitely recommend for people to learn sign language."

Jean, who now works on home shopping, said: "I first met Deborah in 2007 and she told me that she knew very basic sign language from Mr Tumble from children's television. She would ask me questions in sign language and I would correct her and show her the correct sign or phrase to use.

"Deborah is a great person – very open minded, helpful and understanding of how deaf people communicate.

"I think it's great that she has, and is still, learning sign language. It is very helpful for deaf colleagues and customers. She has helped me communicate during huddles before."

Jean, who was born deaf, says the praise for Deborah is well deserved.

"Deborah is a lovely person and I'm happy that she is getting the praise for her sign language," said Jean.

"It's good for deaf customers to know that there is someone they can communicate with, as it is hard to communicate with a hearing person.

"Hearing people don't always understand that deaf people need to be able to see their face and for hearing people to talk slowly so it makes lip reading easier."

Jean says fellow colleagues have also been very supportive to her.

She said: "In my 14 years here I've made some great friends. Everyone tries to communicate through basic sign or by writing things down for me."

Asda Rushen's customer trading manager Matthew Haselton says Deborah is a "one in a million".

He said: "It's brilliant that Deborah has learned sign language while communicating with Jean and she's now being to put it into practice with customers too.

"Deborah is a great colleague; one in a million. The customers and the colleagues love her and she's just one of those people who's always thinking of others. She's just a really lovely lady and always getting positive comments from customers.

"In Deborah and Jean, we have two colleagues who have formed a relationship where they are not only friends but they learn stuff from each other. To learn a skill like sign language from Jean is really brilliant. There's lots to it, and it's not easy.

"Any customer who comes through who is deaf or hard of hearing then Deborah can communicate with them which is great."

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