Chris Lehew lost his ability to hear when he contracted spinal meningitis when he was 16 months old.
Today, as a facilities worker at the OTC Springfield Campus, Lehew is at peace with not having the ability to hear at all or verbalize very much.
“‘I’m proud of who I am. I don’t see any reason to fix my hearing. It’s gone. That’s fine. I like who I am,” he said through a sign language interpreter.
Lehew has been working at OTC since 2013 when he was a part-time employee; he became a full-time staff member in 2014.
His duties include keeping the kitchens in the Information Commons West wing clean.
“The kitchen is fantastic,” he said. “I’m able to use my time adequately in there. I keep busy. There’s no possibility of sitting down in there. I’m always working, always busy. I like working on the floor and keeping it clean. Keeping it spick and span.”
There aren’t many obstacles to being deaf and working on the facilities staff. Communication is not an issue. He said he puts messages and statements on a whiteboard in the kitchen to let co-workers and supervisors know where he is and what he’s doing.
“We write back and forth or we can use a phone with a notepad app on the phone,” he said. “I also have an app that if I type it, the phone will speak what I type. It gives me a voice.”
Lehew said OTC has been very welcoming to him.
“People at OTC are very friendly here. ‘m really impressed with that because people here at OTC want to be successful just as everyone else is whether they are hearing, deaf, have cerebral palsy, are disabled or blind, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
“I feel like we’re on an even playing field here and they are really very encouraging. I don’t feel frustrated. They work as a team here and I like that.”
As far as the future goes, Lehew has no plans at the moment.
“I’m really concentrating on tomorrow. I’m not looking to the future,” he said. “It’s a day at a time and then I’ll address tomorrow as it happens.”
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