Deaf Trader Joe's employee isn't letting the pandemic stop him from helping customers

Working at a grocery store during the COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful situation, but for Matthew Simmons, it made it nearly impossible to do his job.

Simmons is deaf and relies on lip-reading to help most customers at the Vancouver store. So when they started wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus, Simmons couldn't be of much help to those who asked him where to find Gorilla Munch or Trader Joe's frozen lasagna.

"When customers (wearing masks) come up to me to ask a question on the floor, I always said, 'I am Deaf and need to read your lips so I can help you,'" Simmons told Today.


"Some of the times, customers didn't want to lower down their masks and shook their heads 'no' and walked away from me. It made me upset because I couldn't help and left me feeling defeated," he continued.

It was also difficult for him to communicate with his coworkers.

The store's first attempt to help Simmons communicate during the crisis was to put another team member with him at the register. Although it was a big help, it made him feel "truly different or disabled having to depend on someone to do my job that I am completely capable of doing and was hired to do."

Simmons works at Trader Joe's part-time on the weekends and during summer. During the week, he's a teacher's assistant at a school for the deaf.

COVID-19 hasn't just made life difficult for deaf people to communicate with the hearing world, it's also caused problems among those who communicate through American Sign Language.

"When wearing a mask it cuts off 55% of facial communication and even if using ASL it is heavily based on facial expressions in order to make sure the communication is understood clearly," Simmons said.

To keep his on-the-job independence, Simmons found some new solutions to help him so his job. He purchased a shirt online that says "I'm deaf" on the front, and "tap on the shoulder" on the back. He also got three wipe boards to carry around with him so customers can ask him questions.

He also had Plexiglas put in front of his register to protect him from the virus and wrote "Hi My name is Matthew. I am deaf and read lips'" on the protective barrier.

"When I opened the register, the first customer read it and wrote down on the small white board stating, 'It must be hard with everyone wearing masks! Thank you for your help. :),'" he said. "This made me feel better and I was able to start smiling again!"

Simmons's story is a great example of someone with a disability and their employer coming together to make the best out of a difficult situation for the worker, the store, and its customers.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."

In the autumn of 1939, Chiune Sugihara was sent to Lithuania to open the first Japanese consulate there. His job was to keep tabs on and gather information about Japan's ally, Germany. Meanwhile, in neighboring Poland, Nazi tanks had already begun to roll in, causing Jewish refugees to flee into the small country.

When the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania in June of 1940, scores of Jews flooded the Japanese consulate, seeking transit visas to be able to escape to a safety through Japan. Overwhelmed by the requests, Sugihara reached out to the foreign ministry in Tokyo for guidance and was told that no one without proper paperwork should be issued a visa—a limitation that would have ruled out nearly all of the refugees seeking his help.

Sugihara faced a life-changing choice. He could obey the government and leave the Jews in Lithuania to their fate, or he could disobey orders and face disgrace and the loss of his job, if not more severe punishments from his superiors.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Sugihara was fond of saying, "I may have to disobey my government, but if I don't, I would be disobeying God." Sugihara decided it was worth it to risk his livelihood and good standing with the Japanese government to give the Jews at his doorstep a fighting chance, so he started issuing Japanese transit visas to any refugee who needed one, regardless of their eligibility.

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