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Hands together

Postmaster connects with deaf employees

three people standing together
Tarzana, CA, Postmaster Rob Garfinkle, center, has learned American Sign Language to communicate with deaf workers Steven Alexander, a postal support employee, and Terezia Josa, a letter carrier.

Rob Garfinkle set out to master a special skill when he became the Tarzana, CA, Postmaster three years ago: learning American Sign Language (ASL).

The Tarzana Post Office has two hearing-impaired employees: Terezia Josa, a letter carrier, and Steven Alexander, a postal support employee. Garfinkle knew that if he wanted to communicate with them, he had to make an effort.

“Think about coming to work and not talking to anybody or being left out of everything because you’re deaf,” he said. “Think about having a stand-up talk with a group and the manager hands you a piece of paper and says, ‘Read this.’ You miss the questions. You miss the interaction.”

Garfinkle, a 29-year USPS employee, got help from his 19-year-old daughter, who learned ASL through volunteer work. He also read a lot of books and watched online videos.

“It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it,” he said.

The employees appreciate Garfinkle’s efforts.

Alexander, who has worked at the Post Office for two years, lost his hearing when he was 10 months old from meningitis.

“Deaf people … can do everything else other people can, except hear,” he said.

Josa, an 18-year postal employee, was born deaf.

“Sometimes you wish you could be a part of the conversations that happen around you, but knowing that Rob is committed to making us feel engaged and included eases that feeling,” she said.

Helping employees feel included is vital to running a Post Office, Garfinkle said.

“I have 44 employees,” he said. “I like to treat my office like it’s a family-run business. We are one team. We look out for each other.”

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