Front Page

Previous Story

Next Story

NIH Record

NIGMS Employees Show Coworker Sign of Respect

When Yoon-Sun Brennan came to work at NIGMS in 1994, she was greeted by her coworkers with outreached arms -- that is, arms reaching out in sign language.

Soon after her assignment began, Brennan, a 24-year-old hearing-impaired office automation clerk in the grants records management and council preparation unit, and her supervisor, Patricia Disque, encouraged their coworkers to take sign language classes, and a large number of them obliged. Since then, the institute has regularly offered sign language training to its staff through the NIH Division of Workforce Development. Some people, particularly those who work directly with Brennan, have taken as many as three 12-week classes each. Disque has taken several sign language classes as well. "She is learning sign language so she can continue to train me," Brennan said.

Happy to communicate through sign language with her coworkers, Yoon-Sun Brennan said, "They have gone through a lot of effort, and they have done really well."

In addition to meeting twice a week for class, interested employees meet for a lunch discussion group every Thursday to learn from one another and practice signing skills. Hearing-impaired employees from other NIH components sometimes join in, bringing new signs to share and teach.

Lucy Clarke, an NIGMS grants management specialist who has become a mentor to Brennan, is the unofficial leader of the group, making all arrangements for the Thursday "Lunch Bunch" and acting as liaison between the sign language instructor and the rest of the students. Clarke, who has become quite proficient in sign language since beginning classes in 1994, feels that it is important for coworkers to be able to communicate with one another and thinks that NIGMS staff efforts to learn sign language have "fostered a better working environment, integrated diversities, and increased knowledge." In addition, she said, "We have developed some wonderful friendships."

One outgrowth of the sign language training, Clarke said, is a mentorship program in which she helps Brennan develop new computer skills related to her job. "We hope to expand the training to allow Yoon-Sun to continue her career development," Clarke added.

Frances Akuete (l), one of the NIGMS employees learning American Sign Language, practices with course instructor Diane Lyles.

Brennan, a 1991 graduate of the Maryland School for the Deaf and a past employee of the Department of the Army at Ft. Detrick in Frederick, Md., thinks NIGMS has set a good example for the rest of NIH. "Other NIH community members should come and see what we do, and come and see the enthusiasm of the people who are here," she said. "It is important to include hearing-impaired coworkers, and learning sign language helps us become more productive members of a team," she added. Brennan doesn't think NIGMS employees are learning sign language simply because she is one of their coworkers, but because they want to be friends with her, and they want her to succeed.

Currently, the American Sign Language class offered to NIGMS employees is instructed by Diane Lyles, who began teaching Brennan's coworkers in March 1995. Lyles said she enjoys teaching sign language to the NIGMS group and is impressed with their initiative. "I like these people because they are very motivated. They want to learn more, more, more! Their motivation breaks down the barriers to communication and makes for better interaction," she said.

Sign language class participants gather to learn a few new signs before "singing" holiday songs.

Clarke and Brennan welcome signing NIH employees to join the NIGMS "Lunch Bunch" group on Thursdays at noon, in Bldg. 45, Conf. Rm. 2AS.10. For details, contact Clarke, 4-3917.

Other NIH'ers who are hearing-impaired meet for lunch on the second Wednesday of each month, and colleagues of these employees are encouraged to attend. The meetings are sponsored by the NIH deaf employees advisory forum, a group that provides advice to the Office of Equal Opportunity on issues pertaining to the employment of deaf and hard of hearing employees. For more information, contact Jerry Garmany, 6-9100 (TTY or voice), or email

Up to Top