Faces of Food Safety: Bridgette Keefe-Hodgson
To her colleagues at the Food Safety and Inspection Service, Bridgette Keefe-Hodgson is a top-notch communicator who can make sense out of the most complex language and fashion it so that it is easily understood by consumers. But for deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers needing food safety information, Keefe-Hodgson is a godsend, or perhaps more importantly, a lifeline.
The job of communicating food safety information to deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers is, literally, in Keefe-Hodgson's hands.
Deaf since birth, she knows what it's like to live in a silent world, where all of her information is gleaned from the written word or from the assistance of an interpreter who can translate what is heard into American Sign Language (ASL). She cannot hear the shriek of a warning siren, the blare of a horn or a scream of danger. "And that's a problem," Keefe-Hodgson said through an interpreter. "People who can hear can turn on the radio to hear about an emergency, but we can't. They can overhear conversations, but we can't."
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
Keefe-Hodgson's community of friends told her that important food safety information, such as recalls, came way too late. She knew they needed to know about recalls when they happen — before they got to a restaurant or before they actually ate a recalled product from their refrigerator. Keefe-Hodgson stepped up to the job.
For the past 7 years, she has been the chief communicator to, and an advocate for, deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers needing information from FSIS. She has authored a number of outreach materials, including press releases, fact sheets and podcasts over the years, but perhaps one of her greatest creations are a series of videocasts in ASL featuring text-captioning.
"I am always thinking about ways to help deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals realize the same opportunities as hearing individuals."
The videocasts are designed to inform deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers about foodborne illness and raise the level of awareness of the dangers associated with the improper handling and undercooking of food. The videocasts are also available on YouTube, and the amount of subscribers has grown from 3,400 to 25,000 according to the latest data. The online audience comes from around the world — most thanking her and others lamenting that their countries don't offer the same service.
"I am glad that we are providing this service and that it is being well-received. I think about the information that I'd like to receive, and I work to provide it to our deaf and hard-of-hearing audience," said Keefe-Hodgson. "This proves that we have improved our outreach and reaching our target," Keefe-Hodgson added.
In addition to her outreach to deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences, Keefe-Hodgson is also using her talents to recruit other deaf and hard-of-hearing employees to the agency. USDA currently employs between 50-100 deaf and hard-of-hearing employees, with 4 employed at FSIS.
A graduate of the Washington, D.C.-based Gallaudet University, a liberal arts university that enjoys a stellar reputation for programs geared toward deaf and hard-of-hearing students, Keefe-Hodgson is encouraging students at the school to consider a career at FSIS. To that end, she is working on an FSIS recruitment video — one that says the agency is a welcoming environment.
"I'd like for other deaf people to know how accessible and open FSIS is," she said. Her work here — whether it is providing valuable food safety information or recruiting employees to the agency — "offers important opportunities to break down the barriers brick by brick," she said. "I am always thinking about ways to help deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals realize the same opportunities as hearing individuals."
An inspiration for hearing and deaf colleagues
Keefe-Hodgson has come a long way — both personally and professionally — from her early days growing up as one of two deaf children in a family of four children in Long Island, N.Y. While she did not set out to make a difference in the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing community, she relishes in knowing she has.
So what's next? Jokingly referring to herself as a "jewel of all trades," Keefe-Hodgson said she is looking for additional ways to reach out to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. "If I can remove the barriers for one person or make hearing audiences appreciate what deaf and hard-of-hearing people have to offer, I've done a good job and feel very content."
You can check out videos Keefe-Hodgson produced at www.youtube.com/usdafoodsafety#g/c/E2CA3E2B8C6504CF.