Thomas Waldschmidt, safety specialist in Risk Management and Safety, joined the University in January, along with his service dog Bodie, a 5-month-old golden retriever that’s been his partner since March. Waldschmidt is training Bodie as a hearing service dog. “Notre Dame has been nothing but supportive,” he says.
Waldschmidt, who’s from Bourbonnais, Illinois, was born with sensorineural bilateral hearing loss, which occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. “For my first five years, I couldn’t speak more than a few words,” he says.
In kindergarten and first grade, he learned basic words at the Moog Center for Deaf Education in St. Louis. At age 14 months, he wore two hearing aids. He had his first cochlear implant in 2006. “I was losing more hearing in my right ear, and as my hearing went down, my grades went down.” His second implant was in December 2016, just before he started his job in risk management.
Waldschmidt completed his B.S. in environmental sustainability, health and safety from the College of Applied Science and Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York.
At RIT, approximately 1,200 deaf and hard-of-hearing students live, study, work and socialize with 15,000 hearing students. About 57 percent of these students are working toward associate degrees at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf; the other 43 percent are pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees at RIT.
RIT offers many support services to enable those who are deaf or hard of hearing to participate in highly competitive academic programs — including American Sign Language-English interpretation, trained student note takers and real-time captioning services.
Waldschmidt had been interested in obtaining a hearing service dog, but his previous job at Lippert Components in Elkhart, a noisy manufacturing environment, wasn’t ideal for a dog. And the wait for a service dog can be as long as three years. “But I got lucky,” he says.
His parents live near a service dog training school, Peggy Moran’s School for Dogs, LLC. Moran works as service dog training director for 1pet1vet Inc. NFP (1pet1vet.com) at her Manteno, Illinois, dog training facility. The not-for-profit organization focuses on training dogs for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who need service dogs, as well as those just needing a canine companion. His mother called to ask for information, and found out Bodie was available.
“Bodie is a little bit yappy — he barks, which can be triggering for those with PTSD,” says Waldschmidt. “And he has an overbite — his top teeth don’t meet the bottom teeth, so he couldn’t be trained as a police dog.”
Moran continues to work with Bodie’s training, as Waldschmidt learns to train Bodie himself.
The dog will be a critical help to him. “I live independently. But the implants do occasionally run out of batteries, so there are times when I can’t hear at all — the oven, the carbon monoxide detector, the doorbell. He’ll be trained to assist me. I can hear pretty well with the implants, but sometimes I have a hard time telling where sounds are coming from.” Bodie is learning to nudge Waldschmidt when he hears certain sounds.
The hard part for those who meet Bodie around campus is that he can’t be petted or played with while he’s on duty.
“When he’s working, he can’t be petted, but people are welcome to come say hello. But no treats.”
Bodie also knows his workday ends at 5 p.m., and — like a lot of staffers — Waldschmidt says he starts to get antsy about 4:30.
Accommodations available for employees under ADA, FMLA
Monique Frazier,Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and employment compliance program manager in the Office of Institutional Equity, works with faculty, staff and job applicants regarding accommodations they might need in the workplace to complete essential functions of their role. The goal is to maximize productivity by eliminating workplace barriers.
“Every accommodation can be different, depending on the disability,” she says.
A diabetic, for example, might need breaks to administer insulin. Others might need Family and Medical Leave Act time for doctor’s appointments or to take care of an ill family member.
Accommodations for those with visual impairments can include adjusting lighting, providing magnification devices or screen-magnification software programs or synthetic speech software that can translate text to speech.
Any employee who feels in need of an accommodation to perform job duties can contact Frazier directly via email (email@example.com) or phone (631-0444); inform their supervisor; reach out to their Human Resources Consultant or call the askHR helpline, 631-5900.
Submitting a Reasonable Accommodation Request Form, available online at equity.nd.edu, initiates a collaborative process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation is available to assist the employee in performing the essential functions of the role. Employees must provide proper documentation — requests are analyzed according to guidelines set forth by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Information on accommodations for visitors and job applicants is also available on the human resources website, hr.nd.edu/ada.
Click here to read the May 2017 issue of NDWorks.