January 2009

Lucy McKimm: Sign of the times

A new team member in ACC’s Hamilton scanning unit created an opportunity for the whole team to learn a new way of communicating and build their relationships.

Winner of the Walk the Talk Award at the EEO Trust Work & Life Awards 2008 is Lucy McKimm who leads the scanning unit team in ACC's Hamilton office.

The scanning unit employs eight people who prepare, scan and validate ACC documentation. The process requires a co-ordinated team effort to ensure that the three steps are followed effectively.

When Kerry Paul joined the scanning unit in 2007, Team Leader Lucy McKimm saw a great opportunity for staff development and team building.

"Kerry is profoundly deaf, so I decided to learn sign language," she says. "I told the team that I was going to ask my manager to include it in my personal development plan and a group of them said they'd like to attend night class with me."

ACC funded the sign language course, and seven of the eight team members attended the night class over eight weeks.

Lucy McKimm "We had a blast," says Lucy. "It was a great team-building exercise and each and every week our communication with Kerry would increase. I think Kerry found it quite amusing seeing us all return to try out our newest signs. We enjoy trying to communicate with each other from opposite ends of the building."

Kerry has worked at ACC for 14 years and is something of a star - she has appeared in two ACC videos about employing deaf people.

Workbridge was instrumental in finding her work at ACC, both through helping her explore career options and identifying an entry-level role for her at ACC.

Before moving to the scanning unit, Kerry worked as Registration Officer in the Hamilton Service Centre. She writes that she received good support when she joined ACC, partly thanks to a colleague, Jaime Mora, who knew New Zealand sign language and could interpret for Kerry at meetings.

Kerry reports that she has enjoyed the move to the scanning unit. "My colleagues have been wonderful. They're good about always providing a note-taker for me during meetings, and now even learning sign language for my silent life!"

Lucy's determination to improve communication in her team has increased team cohesion and improved productivity.

Sign language courses have now become one of the suite of team training programmes. "It's no longer a training that may be considered as part of development - it's now part of what the team does," Lucy says. As a result, some of the team have now moved on to a more advanced sign language course.

One of the novice signers, Andrew Clement, says that communicating with Kerry was a huge challenge for him. "Disability - that word honestly scared me big-time. Even though I have a very mild form of cerebral palsy myself, I don't really think about it. Then I started working at ACC and met Kerry.

"I saw the ease that other people experienced in relating to her and felt I'd never get there. My early attempts to overcome this weakness failed miserably. Then I heard Lucy say, 'Every time I talk to Kerry I understand a little more, and she helps me so much.' Soon after that Kerry moved into our department.

 "The whole team was excited and we asked Kerry to give us the sign for a new word each day and tried to use it as often as possible. Kerry laughed, gladly helped us and laughed some more.

"Now we can have conversations that range from family to work and beyond, even sharing jokes without much trouble. She's a very happy and personable staff member who I'm glad to be finally getting to know.

"And it wasn't even hard. That was the surprise. We made a commitment to work on it and Kerry met us more than half-way."

 Lucy says that her overall aim was to make Kerry feel welcomed, included and valued as a team member.

"A real bonus is the way the team has come together since deciding to take on this project together. A number of other staff have a disability and we've now got an environment where team members readily support each other."