Home > Article from newspaper > Blackberrys help deaf employees communicate at Winnipeg Boeing plant

Blackberrys help deaf employees communicate at Winnipeg Boeing plant

September 15, 2007

 CBC News

A tooling technician at a Boeing plant in Winnipeg has turned the Blackberry wireless device into a lifeline for himself and other deaf employees.

Marty Rabu has built airplane parts in the plant for 30 years, but in all that time, he hasn’t spoken a word to his colleagues: He is deaf and has difficulty speaking.

For years, his colleagues found other ways to communicate with him.

“We had to write notes, sometimes there were misunderstandings,” Rabu told CBC News through an interpreter.

Rabu reads lips, and some of his colleagues learned American Sign Language. Boeing also took steps to assist deaf employees, such as installing closed captioning on training videos.

But sometimes, even those methods of communication weren’t sufficient. When a fire alarm went off in 2003, Rabu didn’t hear it, and nobody among the building’s staff of 1,000 managed to alert him.

“Nobody was left in the cafeteria, and I thought, ‘Where is everybody?’ ” he said. “I was the last person to leave the building during the fire alarm, and I felt really unsafe at that time.”

Rabu decided to take matters into his own hands by launching a program at the plant to allow him and 23 other deaf workers to communicate using Blackberrys.

Now, Rabu’s co-workers can send text messages when necessary, such as when the building needs to be evacuated.

“We don’t have to depend on our non-deaf colleagues to tap us on the shoulder, as we did historically,” Rabu said.

“We just get the e-mail or Blackberry message that there is an emergency in the building, and then we can evacuate along with everybody else.”

Management has also noted the initiative makes it easier to contact deaf employees without the help of a third party, and that deaf employees are now sometimes the easiest to reach.

Rabu’s efforts won him an international award from Boeing, and his “Boeingberry” project has been recognized within the corporation as a model for other facilities worldwide.

“It makes us feel alive and very involved and equal participants in the Boeing workplace,” he said.


  1. Lisa Marie
    September 15, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Cool! I will need one…

    I have been thinking about getting a blackberry in the future. My sister in law has one and loved it!

  2. February 15, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    You have a great website, look at mine if you want


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