We all need someone like Nic in our Deaf communities.
Nic is from Scranton, Pennsylvania. She faced many barriers in her previous home state and decided to move to Minnesota. She found her true home here where she feels truly welcomed. Nic decided to advocate and educate other deaf and hard-of-hearing people to create better accessibility for themselves and others. Now a Deaf Interpreter and Deaf Mentor, Nic once worked as a dishwasher when she was younger. She wanted to be a busgirl but was not given this position because they doubted that she could communicate with customers. She accepted the dishwasher position then one day, a busboy called in sick and she asked to take over for him. Nic communicated with customers through hand gestures and body language. She found a way to break barriers during her job as a busgirl.
Nic eventually landed her dream job as a Deaf Interpreter and now works as a program manager for Sorenson Communications, advocating for the Deaf community in Minnesota. She handles all matters of communication and accessibility access in her company for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
I asked Nic what was the worst discrimination experience she has ever experienced. her answer was immediately, “Airports. They are the most challenging barriers”.
I agreed, because I have the same experience when traveling to other states in the U.S. I forced myself to start communicating, letting airport workers know that I am deaf when I arrive for my boarding call at the gate. There were no signs that allows deaf people to know when their number is called to come to the entrance, as well as knowing what important announcements are made, such as when the airplane has a delay or has changed to a different gate. This results in deaf people becoming confused and overwhelmed.
Nic explained that she went to Dubai for disability-related events during World Expo in November 2021, at Dubai’s airport, she had to keep her eyes wide open for any information and followed other people. She signed
“Deaf people like us have to peel our eyes wide and find clues where we need to do and have to be assertive with our communication.”
Nic signed that deaf people are struggling with accessibility nationally. Still, she is proud of her home state of Minnesota that they are doing great with their accessibility, that they have certified deaf interpreters to assist other deaf people. “The Governor, Tim Walz, is doing fantastic with his big heart to allow our disability accessibility grow to better improve deaf people’s quality of life.”
I asked Nic who is her role model. She signed with a smile, “My mother.” Her mother taught her to find her true self and strengths for fighting the barriers. That is how she became who she is today. She met her goal to be a successful Deaf Interpreter on local news and in courthouse rooms.
Nic experienced a barrier when she was doing her local news for the deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals because she was shorter than her colleagues on the show. She mentioned to the newsroom that she was struggling to communicate properly because of the difference in height – compared to her colleagues. Her “voice” was heard because they added a wood box for her to stand on to add more height and for her to be equal with her colleagues.
Her comments is a good tip for us in the deaf community that we need to remind ourselves to speak up to be heard.
“We must remind ourselves to break barriers by speaking up to be heard and to create accessibility.” she signed.
I asked her what her first wish was and she signed, “Accessibility would be much better with medical offices, law enforcement, law offices, and general offices if they requested an interpreter when a deaf person appears to ask for their service. Accessibility and education will help with effectiveness between service providers and deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.
As a deaf person myself, I appreciated having this opportunity to interview Nic and being able to ask her to share her personal experience. We need more people like her in our Deaf communities.
I want to give final words to Nic Zapko. The best of luck with her endeavors and to creating more accessibility in our home state of Minnesota. I would recommend other people follow her steps to make our home state the best nationally for people with disabilities. No matter where we came from, we must be true Minnesotans to be helpful!