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News at PFH > March-12-2018

Creating Opportunities for Independence is Focus of PFH Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program

When Lesia Hessee decided to learn sign language, she did it out of necessity. She wanted to be able to communicate with her nephew who is deaf.

Hessee's nephew, who was raised by Lesia's parents, was born deaf. She said they didn't have formal training in American Sign Language (ASL), but made up their own signs to communicate -- a version of sign language known as "home sign." But when her nephew returned home from a deaf boarding school where he learned ASL, the two had trouble communicating because she couldn't understand his signs.

"My father had told me I needed to watch out and care for my nephew so I learned American Sign Language," she said, noting it came in handy communicating with her mother, as well, who became deaf in her later years.

It was that passion of taking care of her own family that led Hessee to become manager of Preferred Family Healthcare's Deaf and Hard of Hearing program.

Hessee said she grew up watching her family members struggle to be heard and fit in a world that only saw them as a handicap.

"I watched them be dependent upon others, and watched other people try to take advantage of them," she explained. "In this program, we help create opportunities for clients and encourage them to pursue what makes them happy. I love being a part of someone's life and watching them learn that they can be independent."

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing program operates under PFH's Employment Services line with the goal of helping clients with hearing loss find employment. Hessee has been with PFH for more than 17 years. The program covers 32 counties in southwest Missouri, and clients in the program are referred through Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation. There are currently 17 clients being served by the program.

Services include working with the clients to assess their needs, skills and interests; job coaching and training; teaching resume writing and interview skills; job placement; and assisting employers in developing any needed accommodations to ensure employment success. 

"Some of our clients come to us with college degrees and training in highly skilled areas, but are having trouble finding work because employers are unwilling to open those doors for them," Hessee said. "We work to educate business owners about the contribution these clients can make to their businesses."

She said other clients aren't sure what they want to do so we meet with them, talk about their skills and interests, and try to match them up with a job. Sometimes, that may involve the client visiting a workplace for a day to see what people in that profession do.

Another major component of the program is community outreach, which includes speaking with community members, business owners, educators, hospital personnel and law enforcement about the unique challenges they might face when communicating with deaf and hard of hearing people. Hessee said it is also important for members of the community to recognize that people with hearing loss have valuable skills and can contribute greatly to the community.

Other than Hessee, there are two other members of the program staff -- Dana Burk and Taci Mathers. Taci also has a deep appreciation and understanding for the challenges faced by people who are deaf and hard of hearing. She was raised in a home where both of her parents were deaf.

Employment Services also offers an employment program for the blind, which Lesia also oversees, and Preferred Family Healthcare's Community Services line also offers services for clients who are deaf or hard of hearing and have been diagnosed with a developmental disability. They operate a number of Individual Supported Living Homes, which allow clients to live and thrive in their own home environment.

For more information about the program, contact Hessee at


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