“When some people realize that I am deaf, naturally they become hesitant,” said Ayres. “When I observe customers trying to figure how to respond to me … I quickly introduce my ASL interpreter to show them they can communicate with me easily.”
Ayres said she considered herself very fortunate to have an ASL interpreter, who volunteered to deploy as well, with her. The interpreter was on call all the time to support Ayres should customers have an urgent need or question.
While deployed, Schaffer’s primary duty was to interpret, but she also served as a staff officer for the GEOINT support team.
“When I wasn’t interpreting, I printed finished map products for customers and delivered them as well and I uploaded finished products to the Enterprise Geographic Information System, a portal to help enable non-standard [products and data] to be discoverable and disseminated,” said Schaffer. “I also updated the [GEOINT support team’s] Intellipedia page with situational reports and other relevant information.”
Schaffer said she also interpreted the everyday conversation and banter in the office environment which built team comradery.
Using an ASL interpreter is an excellent communication tool, said Ayres. The excitement grew when they got together and have great conversations through the ASL interpreter.
“The team comradery was also unique,” she said. “Working 12-hour days every day of the week makes for a close-knit office environment there, which I loved.”
Ayres and Shaffer both agreed that deploying is a great way to see NGA employees in action and how customers use agency products and services, as well as feel more connected to the mission.
Through the six deployments, Ayres said there has always been at least one person she met who knows some ASL, and it helps break down the communication barrier and challenge.
“I got very excited when someone knows American Sign Language,” she said. “My team was very eager to learn more about the deaf culture and American Sign Language to communicate with me.”
Even when Schaffer was not in the room or available, Ayres said the team constantly made sure she was not left behind by writing or gesturing with her.
“This is an excellent example of how we overcame communication challenges and built a strong bridge to both hearing and deaf worlds,” said Ayres. “I appreciated the close-knit and supportive culture on the team, and felt I had a voice and a real kinship with those around me.”
Job satisfaction is as much about being part of a compelling mission as it is about the people working together to accomplish it, said Ayres. Overall, the NGA mission in a deployed environment is a very rewarding experience.
Ayres said she loves the agency mission and vision and the NGA mission in a deployed environment is a very rewarding experience.
“NGA is fully supportive of people with disabilities,” Ayres said. “My deployment experiences sharpened my GEOINT skills, helped me acquire new capabilities and enhanced networking.”
Ayres said she takes pride in representing NGA to everyone she meets, and has discovered her purpose.
“It’s been very fulfilling, and one of the reasons people join the [intelligence community] is to make a difference and support our military forces abroad,” she said. “I would encourage [everyone] to widen their horizons and realize the endless opportunities that may come knocking at their door and encourage them to answer it.”
After being an NGA employee for 15 years, Ayres said she feels giving back and volunteering is a significant part of her own personal values and work ethic, and encourages deaf NGA employees to volunteer for deployments and other events.
“We, the D/HH NGA employees, are just as collaborative, hardworking and resourceful as hearing employees,” said Ayres.