OKLAHOMA CITY – First Level Apprentice Electrician Jimmy Richardson from Tulsa is an official spokesperson for Deaf Awareness Week, celebrated worldwide from Sept. 23 to Sept. 29.
The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week is to increase public awareness of Deaf culture, heritage and American Sign Language, which are unique to deaf people.
Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing staff selected Richardson, age 28, to represent Tulsa and North East Oklahoma.
SDHH is an employment and independent living program in Vocational Rehabilitation, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Richardson was born in Tulsa. He attended middle school and high school in Jenks and graduated from Putnam City High School in Oklahoma City.
“I was the first one born deaf in my family and went through a lot of speech therapy,” said Richardson who speaks and uses American Sign Language. “I’ve had a cochlear implant since 1994 (or) 1995.”
A cochlear implant is a small, surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing.
Richardson received career guidance and counseling from Vocational Rehabilitation’s Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing office, which also provided financial assistance to help him prepare for work.
He attended basic classes at Tulsa Technology Center for two years.
“I then transferred to OSUIT (Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology) in Okmulgee, and that’s where I learned my trade in electrician basics, and I graduated from there with an associate’s degree….” Richardson said.
“VR (Vocational Rehabilitation) helped me at school with tuition, books, including all the materials that you need to be able to go on the internship,” Richardson said. “That’s how I got my startup and my tools to be able to get ready for my job.”
Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist Sandy Keesee helped Richardson get the employment services he needed to find a job that was the perfect fit.
Richardson has been employed for five years as an apprentice electrician by Oil Capital Electric, a full service electrical contractor. The company, which is based in Broken Arrow, offers services throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states.
“The job is really interesting -- lots of things to learn,” Richardson said. “There’s a variety of big commercial and industrial jobs that we do.”
For Richardson, who owns his home, two vehicles and a boat, the next step is passing his journeyman electrician test.
“I have to take my test and pass in order to become a licensed electrician,” Richardson said. “I’m working on that right now. The code book I have to study is thick, but I can do it.”
In 2019, the number of DRS clients who are deaf or hard of hearing who went to work increased 10 percent compared to 2018. The number of employment plans developed by staff is 1,776 percent more this year due to transfer of many clients from waiting lists to active caseloads.
Services to Deaf will sponsor a social media campaign for Deaf Awareness Week. The focus will be promoting Deaf culture and heritage, cards that help Deaf drivers communicate with law enforcement and programs that certify interpreters for the deaf in Oklahoma.
“Staff will share information at an exhibit booth on Thursday, September 19, for Deaf Awareness Day at the Oklahoma State Fair (in Oklahoma City),” Terry Williams Murphy, DRS Vocational Rehabilitation field service coordinator, said. Murphy also has a hearing loss.
According to U.S. Census-based estimates developed by Cornell University, 8,560 Oklahomans or 5.2 percent have hearing difficulties. The data indicates that 51.2 percent of working-age Oklahomans with hearing difficulties, ages 21-64, are employed compared to 36.5 percent of Oklahomans with other disabilities.
To find out more about Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, email SDHH@okdrs.gov or call 800-833-8973 in Oklahoma City or 918-836-5556 in Tulsa. The phone numbers are accessible by phone, video phone and telecommunications equipment for the deaf.