Observance Demonstrates How Talent Has No Boundaries for NSWC Dahlgren Workforce

By Margie Stevens, NSWC Dahlgren Division Corporate Communications

NSWC Dahlgren engineer Sokha Pann tells attendees at the NSWC Dahlgren National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month observance that "most people don't know how to call a deaf person," explaining that the best way to place a phone call to a deaf person is with a video phone. (Submitted photo)
DAHLGREN, Va. (November 5, 2010)—Be ready for a resounding "yes" if you ask anyone who attended NSWC Dahlgren Laboratory's National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month observance on Oct. 28 if deaf people have a place in the workforce.

Three deaf NSWC Dahlgren Laboratory engineers - Sokha Pann, Anthony Madalena and James Cahill - provided the audience with rare insight into the unique world of the deaf with personal stories that also communicated their positive impact as Navy civilians upon the Fleet and the warfighter.

— Pann supports the Detection, Decontamination & Information Systems Branch of the NSWCDD Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense Division.

— Madalena works in the Systems Engineering and Development Branch of the Asymmetric Defense Department.

— Cahill supports the Advanced Platform Integration Branch of the Engagement Systems Department.

A common theme was their commitment to prove, as this year's national theme states, that "Talent Has No Boundaries."

"What we want from all of our employees is their talent, insight, intellects, and collaboration," said Captain Michael Smith, NSWCDD Commander in his opening remarks. "We are committed to ensuring that disabilities don't prevent anyone from fully participating and contributing toward the important work we do to support the warfighter."

Each presenter recounted how educational opportunities and sheer determination enabled them to overcame barriers many would consider insurmountable. They also provided a wealth of information for the audience.

"Most people don't know how to call a deaf person, for example," Pann explained. "The TTY phone is old technology. The new generation is video phone."

Born in Thailand, Pann moved to America at the age of five. He eventually graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology.

Madalena, also a graduate of RIT, became deaf at age two as a result of contracting spinal meningitis. He pointed out that the accommodations provided at RIT, such as the assigned note takers and interpreters, were important to his success.

Madalena offered suggestions for communicating with the deaf.

"It requires actions that in the speaking world may seem offensive, such as pointing and tapping on the shoulder," he explained. "A lot of hearing people don't like this. Also, don't think that you have to talk slowly - talk in a regular way. Just remember that pointing a lot and eye contact are important."

He offered another tip: "When using an interpreter, talk to the deaf person, not to the interpreter."

Pann and Madelena relayed their presentation entirely by interpreters while Cahill actually spoke to the audience. Cahill, deaf from birth, has an acute ability to read lips and was taught to use his voice at an early age from his schooling at a deaf oral school in New York state. A 25-year veteran of NSWC Dahlgren, Cahill joked about repeating the first grade three times, basically because, as he said "the teachers didn't know what to do with me." Cahill persisted, however, and - like Pann and Madelena - earned a degree in engineering from RIT.

"Try to do everything," Cahill told the audience. He shares these words that he learned from his father to others, especially children whom he has met through volunteering at special camps for the deaf.

Today there are 4,500 deaf employees within the Department of Defense, and across America, there are 54 million people with disabilities.

"Their talents enrich our communities every single day," Smith reminded attendees.

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