Amazon Canada is supporting deaf employees at its Edmonton fulfilment centre through enhanced accessibility measures and manager training.

The online retailer’s site-specific initiatives include classes in American Sign Language, the addition of supplementary ASL videos on its intranet and designated safety vests that communicate deaf employees’ status to other workers.

Amazon is also increasing its focus on training, for both employees and managers, within its support programs for deaf workers. These supports include sign language interpreters who are available onsite and through a virtual portal, as well as translation stations that provide videos on the basics of sign language to improve communication among all employees.

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The program was inspired by a conversation that took place between an Edmonton-based deaf worker and Celia Koehler, a human resources business partner at Amazon, in which they discussed isolation and loneliness in the workplace. The company is considering the program for other sites across Canada and the U.S.

“We have been building an implementation program . . . so that we can recruit and retain more deaf associates across North America and hopefully globally,” says Koehler.

Nearly 30 deaf employees work at the Edmonton site, many of whom are Ukrainian refugees. While the differences between Ukrainian Sign Language and ASL posed a challenge, she says Amazon found USL-fluent interpreters for these workers.

The program has helped attract deaf workers and resulted in an increased sense of equality, says Khaled Abbas Naser, the Edmonton site’s ambassador for deaf employees. Technology, such as Amazon’s scheduling app, is another key factor in supporting independence among these workers, he adds.

“Without [the app] I’d have to go talk to a manager. . . . It has really made a huge difference for us and really fits in with deaf culture.”

This strategy also reflects Amazon’s wider approach to supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, says Koehler. “It’s our responsibility that when we see something that isn’t equal or fair and we have the ability to do something about it [that we try and find a solution]. It’s not up to a [DEI] manager that sits in an ivory tower somewhere — it’s up to each of us to make that happen every day.”

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