She's deaf, but it doesn't define her.
Jane Croft, an IT quality control analyst who works from home in Ridgefield, recently returned from Boston where she was honored by Careers & the disABLED magazine as one of its 10 U.S. employees of the year. She was also profiled along with other winners in the national publication's April issue.
The 47-year-old was born profoundly deaf, meaning without any hearing. She's an advocate for shining light on the "invisible" disability that affects the nearly 36 million Americans who have some degree of hearing loss.
Croft, who wears digital hearing aids, said in an email interview that many people with limited or no hearing take strides to hide their condition in "fear of social and employment rejections due to public lack of awareness, discrimination and sometimes ignorance.
"But yet, the deaf community, regardless of their culture or self-identity, is always hungry for inclusion -- to be socially accepted by our peers for our abilities not by our disabilities," Croft said.
Before moving to this area a few years ago Croft lived in California, where she served for four years as president of that state's chapter of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Croft said she never expected to be nominated, let alone win. She eagerly awaited the results in the months after she learned the "diversity team" of her employer, managed health care company WellPoint, had suggested her for the award.
When Croft woke to read an email saying she had won, excitement burst out of her.
"I gleefully screamed and jumped around in my home office in my bathrobe. Thankfully, I didn't wake up any of my neighbors," she said.
For WellPoint, Croft volunteers in an employee resource group, Abilities Beyond Limited Expectations. In 2011, the ABLE group worked to make some of its websites more accessible to those with disabilities.
She's also been a speaker at a number of emergency management conferences, most recently discussing deafness, social media and technology at the Resilience NW 2012 disaster preparedness conference in Portland.
During her first 20 years in the health care industry, Croft said she fulfilled her duties through email. But as technology improved, instant messaging, captioned phone systems and other advances helped her better communicate in the digital workplace.
In her April 11 acceptance speech in Boston, Croft emphasized that she and others in the deaf community strive to fully contribute at work and in society. Since she was a young girl, Croft said she realized she was "different." But she also knew her purpose in life was to be "plain Jane" — an average, hard-working woman who inspires by being herself, so that deafness becomes a mere footnote to her accomplishments.
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