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TMI Client Who is Deaf Celebrates 15 Years as a VONS Employee

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

Noel after he received his VONS 15 year award

When Noel, who is Deaf, started at VONS he never dreamed that he would still be working there 15 years later! Toward Maximum Independence (TMI), a nonprofit with services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, was there to assist Noel when he transitioned out of school with meeting his employment goals and has been providing job coaching services for him ever since. He shared with us how the TMI Supported Employment program has helped him succeed on the job, as well as teach others how to communicate with those who are Deaf.

Noel at VONS

Q. How has TMI assisted you?

A. TMI helped me get a job at VONS and provided an American Sign Language (ASL) signing Job Coach. It helped me a lot so that the VONS managers and staff could communicate with me, and I could learn the job. I recently celebrated 15 years at the same VONS! VONS tells me they appreciate me very much and depend on me.

Q. What life challenges have you faced?

A. Communication!!! Hearing people do not always know how to communicate with Deaf people. They can make you feel bad. They come up to me and have to touch me to get my attention. They don’t know how to try to communicate with me in a way that is respectful for me.

Q. How have you handled those challenges?

A. My TMI ASL Job Coach Anna Frichtel is very helpful. She taught the cashiers and other staff some signs to communicate with me. She also showed them that they could use pictures and gestures to communicate with me and how to wave to get my attention.

Q. How did that make you feel?

A. Great! More respect for me. I feel better trying to communicate with staff there. I now want more work hours at VONS and to learn to do General Merchandising because our communication is better.

We are very happy that we could provide the support you needed to succeed, Noel! We are confident that you will continue to meet your goals. Congratulations on your success!

Thank you to VONS for partnering with us to transform lives!

(Thank you to our wonderful TMI Division Manager Mary Carrington for contributed to this story, and to both Mary and Anna for doing an amazing job working with our clients.)


National Deaf History Month is celebrated from March 13th through April 15th. Deaf History Month is celebrated at this time of year because of three main events in the history of deaf education.

  • On April 15, 1817, America’s first public school for the deaf was opened.

  • On April 8, 1864, Gallaudet University (the first institution of higher education for the deaf and hard of hearing) was officially founded.

  • On March 13, 1988, Gallaudet University hired its first deaf president.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) first introduced National Deaf History Month in 1997 and, in 2006, the American Library Association partnered with NAD in supporting and spreading awareness of this celebration.

Did you know that 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears?

Deafness and hearing loss can occur for many reasons and can exist at a variety of levels.

  • Some people are born deaf, while others become deaf or hard of hearing due to age, illness, or injury.

  • Some people are profoundly deaf and can hear nothing while others may only have partial hearing loss or hearing loss in only one ear.

People who are Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing have also developed many ways to communicate that do not involve their hearing at all.

  • Some use devices like hearing aids or cochlear implants to create or enhance sound.

  • Others can read lips very fluently and may still use their voices to communicate.

  • Others still, use sign language as a way to communicate with their hands.

  • Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing people can also make use of service animals like hearing dogs.

Did you know that there is no universal sign language? Different countries use different sign languages! In the United States, we use American Sign Language (ASL).

National Deaf History Month is perfect time to learn and discover more about our Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing friends and neighbors and to bring awareness to their lived experiences. (Source:


The Evolution to Independence (ETI) division of Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) offers services to individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing throughout San Diego and Riverside Counties. Services include working with our own staff with the same challenges and/or are fluent in ASL who can assist clients through the job-seeking process. ETI’s goal is to provide the ‘NEXT LEVEL’ of business and educational services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

ETI is also committed to providing educational support programs and services to the business community to assist them in enhancing their commitment to Equal Opportunity and Fair Employment. San Diego and Riverside County based businesses and employers can utilize the ASL Interpreting and Educational services provided by ETI to enable them to tap into this under-utilized workforce. ETI offers a sophisticated level of business training to local businesses, communication training to current employees, as well as Deaf and Hard of Hearing applicants.

Please contact us if you would like to hire a TMI client or if you are in need of ETI business training. We look forward to hearing from you!


Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) has been transforming the lives of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1981 and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing since 2000. In 2020, we launched Disabled Veteran Employment Services. TMI strives to help our clients to realize their hopes and dreams by providing Employment Solutions, Community Living and Family Support Services throughout San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties. To stay connected with us, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Together we can share acceptance and awareness, ultimately contributing to further inclusion.


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