Deafness Doesn’t Dim Career In Conn. Banking
Determination, Online Propel
Waterbury Woman’s Career
By Rosanne Simborski
Trudi Kuibeda is a 32-year-old Waterbury woman with more than eight years’ experience in the banking business. She is a bright person who finds herself gently reminding people that English is her second language.
That’s not such an unusual declaration in an increasingly varied culture. But Kuibeda’s first language isn’t Spanish. It’s not French and it’s not Polish. It’s not even spoken. Her first language is American Sign Language.
The hearing public, as well as her hearing-impaired friends and acquaintances, react with surprise when she tells them what she does for a living.
"They often are astonished to hear that I work for the bank because there are not many deaf people who work in professional jobs, such as banks," she said.
Kuibeda’s English for being a second language is easy to understand and exhibits the usual occasional missing word or incorrect verb tense associated with trying to master a new language. It in no way is a barrier to performing her responsibilities as a customer information clerk at Thomaston Savings Bank in Thomaston. She largely communicates with co-workers by exchanging notes and sending e-mails. Her supervisor, however, Operations Department Vice President Deb Skinner, knows some sign language, which is Kuibeda’s easiest way to communicate.
When she was 13 months old, Kuibeda became deaf after contracting a virus that led to a high fever and damage to hearing nerves. Her older brother lost his hearing under similar conditions. She also has a hearing brother.
Her father is a former Unisys foreman who later retired after 11 years as a part-time driver at a private school. Her mother works in the Waterbury school system with a student who has a cochlear implant.
Skinner remembered being more than impressed when Kuibeda applied for a job almost three years ago. She had responded to an ad in the paper for a position requiring some work as a backup telephone operator. Her father accompanied her just in case he was needed for communication. He stayed in the lobby when she left for the interview.
"Obviously she’s not going to be able to answer the phone," Skinner said. "… Here’s this person who is deaf who is coming in to apply for a job that entails answering the phone. That took a lot of courage and it says a lot about her."
After the interview they happened to meet the bank’s president and chairman in the elevator. They greeted her with hellos but didn’t know she was deaf until Skinner informed them.
Kuibeda said, "They sounded astonished a little bit but were happy to see me and they waved, indicating ‘hi’ to me." Three days later, she got the job in the operations department.
Kuibeda verifies all new account information and regularly updates customer information in the bank’s computer system. For branch managers and senior officers, she compiles the monthly activity report for the telephone banking system. She also monitors money market accounts and notifies customers by mail when necessary. Along with sorting and distributing interoffice mail and filing, Kuibeda also helps the research department put records on microfilm.
"She prides herself on being able to help people in other areas," Skinner said. "Trudi’s really a remarkable person."
If anything stands out about Kuibeda, it is her courage and determination, rather than her hearing impairment.
"My qualifications are telling me that I have an ability to do anything, except hear," she said. "… I am pursuing a general banking diploma to meet my dream. I’m going to reach that dream."
She has begun her journey by taking a banking course offered by the Center for Financial Training of Southern New England based in Norwich. She took the course by computer, a pathway she initially resisted because she prefers classroom learning with a signer. She graduated from the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford and attended Northwestern Community College in Winsted. She transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York. A business/computer major, she earned an associate’s degree.
Kuibeda became one of the 5,000 to 6,000 students enrolled yearly in traditional and online courses offered by the training center. CFT of Southern New England is one of the many former regional American Institute of Banking centers that began in 1909. The Norwich CFT office, one of 25 such centers nationwide, operates out of the Dime Savings Bank building on Broadway and serves about 300 financial institutions in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Students taking entry-level courses for training as tellers, new account representatives and bank office administrators make up about 70 percent of enrollment. Cost for a course ranges from $300 to $400. CFT also sponsors workshops for branch managers, department heads and vice presidents.
Students earn various diplomas and certificates and can transfer course credits to any state community college and a handful of other colleges and universities. They attend classes held at banks, credit unions, community colleges and high schools.
CFT President Michael Meakem and Vice President Scott Briggs talked with Thomaston’s Marketing Coordinator Janet Reynolds and discussed the best options available to accommodate Kuibeda. CFT is required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act in the same manner as any educational institution.
Initially, they talked about hiring a person versed in sign language, especially because Kuibeda wanted to be part of a classroom environment. But with encouragement from Meakem, Reynolds and Skinner, Kuibeda agreed, with trepidation, to take her Principles of Banking course online. Meakem noted that Kuibeda’s fear is a common reaction to learning by computer.
"For those who have taken an online class, there’s always a reluctance," Meakem said, whether it be from fear of technology or from unfamiliarity with logistics. Some people think a high-speed Internet connection is essential to taking online courses. (It’s not.) People also think they need to be online at a specific time. (They don’t.)
Online students must complete weekly assignments and can confer with the instructor and also chat among other students. The classes by computer also represent a cross section of students unlike that usually found in traditional classrooms. CFT students have begun course work here and finished in Europe or South America, Meakem said.
"The landscape as far as student population is very diverse geographically as well as culturally."
Meakem, the former chief financial officer and operations officer for the Bank of Southeastern Connecticut (which merged with Norwich Savings Society and became part of People’s Bank) taught Kuibeda’s course and he also got an education.
"I found myself challenged to communicate with her because you have to think through everything – everything I said, everything I type – to make sure it was clear or what I thought to be clear," he said. "It was very enlightening … I can’t recall a circumstance where I was challenged as a teacher like that."
The online course proved to be the best alternative for everyone. It eliminated the expense of an interpreter or a signer and it offered a reasonable way to convey information to Kuibeda.
While she still felt apprehensive after enrolling in the class, Kuibeda said she realized it made more sense to take the class by computer, the same way in which some hearing students learned the course.
"I know the deaf world is only my particular world and that has to be integrated with the hearing world because it is the majority," she said.
Kuibeda worked through the class at her own pace, and noted, "English is my second language and I could read things a couple of times if necessary."
Before working for Thomaston, she was employed by North American Bank & Trust Co. for five years before its collapse. Kuibeda’s banking career really began as a teen-ager when she worked summers at Bank of Boston in Waterbury.
From those early days in the 1980s to now, Kuibeda has continued to set her sights high and accomplish her goals. Her class motto as a senior at American School for the Deaf was "Reach for the Stars," a saying she has turned into reality.
But, she said, her determination has nothing to do with her deafness.
"It is just part of my character and personality."
She grew up in a nurturing environment in a strong-willed family and said she is fortunate to have loving and supportive parents who guided her into the employment world.
"Whenever I want something, I usually set a goal and go for it when the right time occurs …" Kuibeda said. "Also, being deaf, I always can try something new until I fail something.
"There is no harm done if I haven’t tried."
Words to live by in any language.
This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of the Connecticut Financial Tribune, published by Law Tribune Newspapers. It is reprinted with permission of the publisher. ©2004 Connecticut Financial Tribune.