DECATUR — Alyssa Ingenito sees sign language almost as an art form.
“It’s not someone speaking,” she said. “It is their tone and how they are moving. It’s telling a story with their body.”
“You learn a smorgasbord of things, the basic signs, like ‘Hello,’ ‘Goodbye,’ some of the basic greetings,” she said. “But I am by no means fluent.”
Ingenito may not be a professional ASL interpreter, which requires education, fees and a license, but her abilities have proven to be an asset to her co-workers and customers. She has been able to use what she learned in the ASL class as a customer service employee at the Forsyth Best Buy. Her ability to interact with customers, deaf and hearing, has been a benefit to her job.
“We pull her out from behind the counter to wherever we need her,” said Jendie Getty, the store’s general manager. “She will interpret for our team members too.”
Getty has been Ingenito’s boss for nearly a year. She said her employee’s ability to sign was a plus in hiring her. “It is so helpful for our customers,” Getty said. “Because you don’t have to take out a piece of paper and write.”
Having someone who knows sign language nearby, the communication between the employee and customer is much easier.
“I needed somebody that can make that connection,” Getty said. “It is just like having somebody who can speak a different language.”
Best Buy provides the Geek Squad, a select group of employees assisting customers with technology purchases and repairs. However, technology can be confusing and frustrating for anyone unfamiliar with broken or new products. Writing down an entire conversation can be arduous as well. Being able to sign to a deaf person can ease the frustration for those who have limited ways of communicating.
For example, Getty told a story of a deaf woman who was frustrated with her computer.
“Alyssa jumped in on the interaction,” she said. “As soon as she started signing, the lady’s anxiety level eased. She knew someone was relating to her.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The law prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities in all areas of public life. According to the ADA, categories include employment, state and local activities such as public transportation, programs and services, public accommodations such as accessible parking and bathrooms, and telecommunications through services such as closed captioning for federally funded public service announcements.
Department stores are not required to provide an interpreter for their customers; however, the service is beneficial for anyone deaf or hard of hearing.
Ingenito, 23, is studying x-ray/radiography at Richland. Her classes are at the school and a local hospital, where her ability to communicate with sign language has proven to be useful there as well. “I know enough to communicate a message,” she said.
Because she is not a full-time Best Buy employee, Ingenito has been teaching her co-workers some basic sign language. “They are really intrigued by it,” Getty said. “Everybody is trying to learn different phrases.”
As a fellow Best Buy employee, Rachel Byers has worked alongside Ingenito. “I’ve seen repeat customers come in and ask for Alyssa,” she said. “We have repeat customers that seek out that help.”
Byers had to relearn the sign language alphabet, a lesson she had as a child. “We have been making sure I’m correct if I need to sign,” she said of her lessons with Ingenito. “But we haven’t done full sentences yet.”
Ingenito is also teaching her boss. “There’s little tricks to remember things,” Getty said.
Many signs incorporate a letter or an image related to the word or phrase. “It is a very visual language,” Ingenito said.
Ingenito admits sign language can be difficult. Finger placement can change the meaning of a sign.
“They get intimidated,” she said about others learning ASL. “But it is so easy to pick up on.”
According to Getty, Best Buy management understands the importance of mirroring the community with their employees. “Anybody coming in needs to feel like they have representation inside your store,” she said.
Because of her patience and willingness to learn, Ingenito has had lessons from her customers as well. She said she will spell the word if she needs help.
“They will work with you,” she said. “It is like building a relationship.”