Laura Lecher is like a lot of mothers. She has two teenage boys who drive her crazy, and it's an amusing thing to watch her talk about them.
She grins and rolls her eyeballs, points a forefinger toward her temple and rotates the finger slowly in that universally recognized gesture that signifies "crazy." And then she laughs and says something that her interpreter translates roughly thus: "Ach! The boys, they drive me nuts!"
Unlike most mothers, Laura was born deaf. Her husband also is deaf. Their boys, ages 12 and 14, can hear perfectly well except when, like teenagers everywhere, they choose not to. What's different is that their first language was the language of their parents: American Sign Language.
Before the birth of her first son, Laura left her job to devote her full attention to raising the child. A dozen years and a second son later she tried without success to return to work. Twice she was a client of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and twice she left without a job.
In 2008 she tried again, this time with Annette Sobek as her counselor in Cambridge. Early in the process Annette brought in another partner: Employment Endeavors, a community rehabilitation program that specializes in serving clients who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Employment Endeavors would play a very big role in preparing Laura to return to work. Annette says, "Employment Endeavors was just such a great partner. They added so much more than just being interpreters."
Laura already had a friendly relationship with Chris Marble, the organization's executive director. And crucially, she quickly formed an important bond of trust and friendship with Heather Anderson, the sign language interpreter assigned to her case.
Together this team set about the hard work of addressing each of the barriers: an employment gap of nearly 15 years, the deafness, of course, but also depression and, as it turned out, a significant undiagnosed health problem. Laura was discovered to have colon cancer that likely would have caused her death if it had gone undiagnosed and untreated.
Colleen Winter, a VRS placement coordinator, joined the team in 2009. The team assisted Laura with job seeking skills, independent living skills, job coaching, and a whole lot of counseling and encouragement to seek and find a job in a very tight job market during a recessionary time.
They explored all kinds of job leads and sent out numerous resumes and applications, but no luck. Finally, Laura applied for a job at the AmericInn motel in North Branch, where she now works as a member of the housekeeping crew.
She uses a UbiDuo communication device to help her communicate with the rest of the crew. Her supervisor is a woman named Yvonne, the head housekeeper, who was somewhat familiar with deaf culture and was willing to give Laura a chance. Plus, Laura says, "Yvonne is fun to work for. She does a lot of teasing. She's very silly."
Laura admits that housekeeping is not her dream job. But it's a start, after a 15-year gap. And the other thing is this: for the first time in her life, she's getting ready to get her driver's license so that she can drive her own car—and maybe get a shot at something better.
Laura Lecher received services at the Cambridge office.