Executive Secretary Breaks Sound Barrier
June 19, 2012
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Signing In – TMS executive secretary Patricia West (left) uses sign language to greet Toyota Financial Services associate Gina Baxted. West interpreted a recent Town Hall for Baxted, who is hard of hearing.
In American Sign Language, three sentences can be condensed into four signs. So before she interpreted a recent Toyota Town Hall, Patricia West spent hours translating the written speeches into hand gestures.
Then, at the beginning of the meeting, Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) President Jim Lentz deviated from the script to make a special introduction.
“I didn’t even realize what he’d said until after he said it, and then I thought, ‘Oh, that’s me,’” says West, whose hands didn’t miss a beat as she interpreted her own introduction.
The May 3 Town Hall was the first to be translated into sign language for an associate who is hard of hearing. Not only does West hope to lend a hand at future meetings, she also wants to bridge the gap between the deaf community and Toyota.
“There’s a great need in the deaf community that Toyota can tap into,” she says. “I’d like to be a deaf culture advocate. How can we help them? And how can they help Toyota?”
An executive secretary in TMS’ Corporate Communications Division, West enjoys mastering new skills. “You’ve got to keep moving forward, or you’ll get stuck and be left behind,” she says. “You’ve got to keep reinventing yourself.”
She did just that in 1999 when she left a janitorial supply company to work as a temp in the collections department at Toyota Financial Services for three months. She then held administrative assistant positions in TMS Marketing and Lexus Marketing.
In 2007, West assumed her current duties, which include supporting multiple managers and compiling briefing books – dubbed “brain books” – for media events hosted by Environmental, Safety and Quality Communications and Product Communications. The job is particularly challenging when both departments are planning events at the same time.
Staying on Message – Patricia West signs while executives speak at a Town Hall meeting.
“My top strength is adaptability,” she says. “I just go with the flow. We have a to-do list. I do one or two items a day and just keep crossing them off until we get to Friday and hope it’s quiet so we can cross off the rest.”
West is more interested in branching out than climbing up the traditional career ladder. She began studying sign language in 2008 after attending a meeting in her pastor’s living room, where church members carried on multiple conversations about an upcoming retreat.
“The pastor’s wife was hard of hearing,” West recalls. “The multiple conversations made it challenging for her hearing aid to differentiate the voices, and she had to leave the room. I felt awful for her.”
Since then, West has maintained an “A” average in classes that often last from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., twice a week. She hopes to earn her AA degree in Deaf Studies and American Sign Language from El Camino College by the end of the year.
Learning sign language hasn’t been easy. “Like any language, it has its own slang,” West says. “Different words may require the same signs, depending on the context of the sentence. You have a split second to comprehend the concept because you’re interpreting while people continue talking.”
She interpreted the Town Hall for Gina Baxted, Toyota Financial Services interactive marketing administrator. “Diversity plays a big role in our daily lives,” Baxted says. “I’m sure many will agree that helping others, like Patricia did with me, brings joy to all of us.”
Biking for Bucks – Patricia West and her husband, Keith, participate in an autism fund-raiser, one of many causes they support. Now that their son and daughter are grown, the high school sweethearts enjoy dating again, powering up motorcycles and propelling down zip lines.
On her Fridays off, West volunteers at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles, where she does tactile interpreting for deaf and blind people who put their hands over hers to interpret the signs. At TMS, she organizes Jeans Days that raise money for community organizations. She supports charities like the March of Dimes, inspired by her own fragile start in life.
West was born prematurely and had open heart surgery when she was just a few months old.
“I weighed 2 pounds 1 ounce when I was born, and here I am!” she says. “I often question, ‘Why?’ There’s a larger purpose in store for me, and I welcome the challenge.”
By Susan Pack