Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week spokesperson’s productivity, ambition pay off at Cintas
OKLAHOMA CITY – All Peter Broussard really wanted was a chance -- a chance to work hard, fit in at the job and take care of his family, like everybody else.
At Cintas, Broussard, who is deaf and blind, is just one of the guys on a team that rewards productivity and ambition.
Cintas employs 30,000 “partners,” the term they call all employees. The Cincinnati-based corporation, provides products and services that help companies keep their employees and facilities safe.
Broussard, age 27, is originally from Crowley, Louisiana. He has Usher syndrome, a genetic condition that combines hearing loss with retinitis pigmentosa, resulting in progressive loss of side vision due to degeneration of the retina.
Usher syndrome is the most common condition that affects both hearing and vision loss.
“I wanted to be the opposite from my grandfather,” Broussard said through a sign language interpreter. “He would sit in the dark and say, ‘I’m deaf and blind,” feel sorry for himself, and depend on my grandmother. I decided to choose a different path from the one he chose.”
Broussard is responsible for unloading and stocking floor mats after they are cleaned and reloading them for efficient delivery to Cintas’ customers.
Joan Blake, a Deaf-blind specialist and vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, worked with Becky Bradshaw, Cintas Senior Human Resources Manager, to assess the workplace and match Broussard’s skills for the job.
Blake’s son Shea, who is deaf, also works at Cintas unloading trucks on the night shift. “Shea Blake is strong worker who won’t stop until the job is done,” according to Production Supervisor Jeremy Dettman. “Our great experience with Shea helped us embrace working with other employees with disabilities.”
Broussard first worked as a temporary employee at Cintas for two months. He was hired full time in November 2013 and has earned a salary increase and generous praise from his supervisors.
“The drive to be self-sufficient is a huge motivator, and it shows,” explained Dettman, who is Broussard’s immediate supervisor. “Peter does great work. He is open to learn. Anything you throw at him, he wants to learn and take more responsibility and again those are the traits we look for when we are screening [employees].”
Cintas Plant Manager Braden Echard interrupted a typically busy day at the plant to share his thoughts about Broussard’s performance.
“At Cintas, we care less about someone’s skills and more about culture fit because we can teach you the rest of the skills that you need,” Echard said. “The level of work that Peter and Shea put in is amazing. When there was snow on the ground, they still got here on time and took care of business.”
The Cintas philosophy expressed on their web site states: “We win together by working together as a team, giving mutual respect to all of our co-workers regardless of their background or tenure.”
Cintas recently hired Customer Service Representative Gregg Doerfler, another DRS client who is legally blind, to answer phones and route calls. Doerfler uses a magnifier the size of a smart phone to enlarge text.
Joan Blake nominated Broussard to represent the achievements of other Oklahomans who have vision and hearing loss during Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week, June 22-28.
Helen Keller, who was an author, disability advocate and lecturer, is considered the best known American who was deaf-blind. She learned to read braille and raised print, and to communicate with speech and sign language for the deaf with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, who also had a visual disability.
The Keller-Sullivan success in bridging Keller’s communication barriers were depicted in many dramatic works, including the play and film “The Miracle Worker.
“Peter is a great spokesman for deaf-blind awareness because of his determination, intelligence, personality and sense of humor,” Blake said.
Broussard has advice for other job-seekers with vision and hearing loss: “If you have doubts, don’t doubt yourself. Just prove to yourself that you can be successful. Don’t be a skeptic. Don’t expect discrimination. Stand up for yourself. Show what you are capable of.”
Oklahomans with vision and hearing loss may receive career counseling, comprehensive rehabilitation, personal adjustment training, job preparation and placement and independent living services through the state Department of Rehabilitation Services.
DRS employs three deaf-blind specialists to serve citizens statewide, Jeri Cooper based in Tulsa, and Joan Blake and Christa Woods in Oklahoma City. They work for DRS’ Visual Services division.
While Helen Keller’s deaf-blindness resulted in total blackness and silence, those served by Cooper and Blake have varying degrees of vision and hearing loss.
“Anyone who is legally blind or has a progressive visual disability and a severe to profound hearing loss is likely to be eligible for assistance,” Blake explained.