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Breaking the sound barrier – First deaf employee completes Category 3 User Shop Crane Operator Training

By PSNS & IMF Public Affairs | Jan. 13, 2020


Kitsap County native Brandon Salley is the only deaf member of his family and the first member of his family to work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility.

As of Dec. 3, 2019, he’s also the first deaf employee at the shipyard to complete Category 3 User Shop Crane Operator Training.

Salley, whose primary method of communication is American Sign Language, has worked at PSNS & IMF for more than three years, most recently as a marine electrician in Shop 51, Electricians. His chief responsibility is the in-shop overhaul of circuit breakers for aircraft carriers and submarines. It’s fitting work for a self-described tinkerer who enjoys taking things apart and putting them back together.

“The major goal of the breaker work is overhauls,” said Salley. “We bring the breakers in from the waterfront in a crate. Since the breakers are extremely heavy, we use cranes to lift them up and out of the box. We put them on a cart or test stand where we work on disassembling, reassembling, testing, and certifying them. Then we use the cranes to lift them back into the crates to be returned to the ship or supply.”

For Salley, completing the Category 3 training was an important part of being an efficient team member.

“I felt like it was really important for me to learn how to use these cranes because of the work I do from beginning to end,” he said. “If I can’t perform, then I can’t get my work done, and I’d have to rely on other people to do part of my job. I wanted to learn to do it myself. Now that I have the qualification, I can use the cranes without having to ask my coworker to operate the crane for me, and that saves everyone time.”

The standard training offered to hearing employees is a two-day process that includes classroom lectures and practical hands-on instruction. The adjusted version of the training required Salley to spend a full day on his own reviewing the lecture materials to prepare for hands-on instruction the following day.

Brandon and his interpreter, Marlene Bell, worked with Shop 51; Code 740, Lifting and Handling; Code 724, Lifting and Handling Training Branch; Code 106, Occupational Health and Safety and the CrossAbilities Employee Resource Group to suitably modify the training.

“I feel honored to be part of this piece of history,” said Salley. “It wouldn’t have happened without Marlene and my supervisors and coworkers who have been supporting me through this. Marlene not only interpreted but she also advocated for all of deaf and hard of hearing employees, not just me. Because of her, we were able to do more and get more involved with people breaking down the barriers. Plus the safety crew and the ERG and Code 740 supported me as well. At first they were hesitant and weren’t sure what the training would look like for a deaf employee, but I explained how important it was for the work I do, and the instructor typed up a memo with specific instructions to accommodate a deaf crane operator. Without that coordination, none of this would have happened.”

According to Code 724 Supervisory Training Specialist Jay Lucas, the collaboration also extended well beyond the local level.

“When the request for Brandon's training was first submitted, we reached out to the other three shipyards and the Navy Crane Center,” he said. “We wanted to know whether this would be possible, or if any of them had ever come across this type of request before. Come to find out, a similar scenario had been presented at one of the other shipyards but was not pursued. Needless to say, the other yards are extremely interested in hearing how we accomplished this.”

Now that Salley is qualified, he can operate the cranes like any other employee, with one exception.

“I have to rely on a coworker within eyeshot to act as my ears, basically. So as I’m running the crane another employee will be listening for things and watching out for the surrounding area I can’t hear.”

Bell, who is the first full time interpreter working at PSNS & IMF, described the training as a great success.

“I liked that Brandon was able to ask a lot of questions, and because he wasn’t in a classroom environment, the one-on-one training really allowed him to be more thorough with his questions,” she said. “There were a lot of things he asked that maybe the instructor wouldn’t have thought to say but was happy to answer them all.”

Salley is happy he’s opened the door for future deaf or hard of hearing employees to complete the training.

“It’s going to be easier for them in the future and there won’t be the same barriers so they can get the training if they need it. I’m proud that I am part of that.”