L&I Employee Honored for Exemplary Leadership in Advocating for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing During Pandemic (May 23, 2022)

Governor Tom Wolf has honored Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) employee Melissa Hawkins with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in recognition of her work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate the delivery of critical, life-saving information to Pennsylvanians with disabilities through the services of certified deaf interpreters.

In her role as director of Pennsylvania’s Office for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing (ODHH) within L&I’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), Hawkins collaborated with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and Department of Health to bring critical information to Pennsylvanians who are deaf and hard of hearing to keep them informed of the latest information related to COVID-19.

At the start of the pandemic, to keep the deaf and hard of hearing community informed, Hawkins and ODHH teamed up with health officials to create educational videos in American Sign Language during the COVID-19 pandemic, including: “Coping and Mental Health Tactics,” “What is a Pandemic,” “How to Communicate with Your Children,” and many more developed by Commonwealth Media Services – ultimately empowering the deaf and hard of hearing community to make informed decisions for themselves and loved ones.

In 2020, ODHH created a COVID-19 Communication Card, geared toward Call Centers established as COVID-19 hotlines for individuals who needed information about vaccinations, hospitals, and Department of Health resources. As a result, the COVID-19 Communication Cards were used as a tool to help those answering the calls relay communication and health-related assistance to individuals during the pandemic. Hawkins also worked closely with L&I’s Unemployment Compensation office to implement assisted technology so people who are deaf or hard of hearing could apply for UC benefits.

For more information, visit the L&I website.