Profile of a Professional: Adam Stratychuck — The Silent Tower
by Gary Lund—
This young tower knows there's more than one way to communicate. Deaf from birth, he doesn't let that dampen any part of his working or personal lives.
Adam Stratychuk, an enthusiastic member of the team at Big Hill Towing in Cochrane, Alberta, was born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He is one of two sons of Brad Stratychuk and Tammy Benson of Brad’s Towing, whom this magazine profiled in 2014. Adam is deaf, and has been from birth. He is proof that deafness is no real barrier to having a towing career, or to most other endeavours.
Adam received a cochlear implant at age three, but experienced sound as confusing and upsetting; then, and even now, he has felt there is no point in having the device. Before starting school in his home city, Adam attended preschool in Surrey with the Deaf Children’s Society in British Columbia. There, he and his parents learned to communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). Over the years, the three returned to Surrey several times to learn more ASL.
Adam was bullied occasionally.
Meanwhile, Adam attended kindergarten to grade 12 in Saskatoon, completing his final credits and graduating at the beginning of 2013. In the classroom, Adam had an ASL interpreter with him constantly—but during breaks, he was on his own, relying on phone texting or note-writing on paper.
During Adam’s time in elementary school, plenty of other students were interested in learning ASL to communicate with him, but afterwards he writes, “They just faded away. As I noticed in high school, people form their own groups of friends, and I rarely felt I fit in.”
Adam was bullied occasionally, too. In elementary school, someone in authority usually put a stop to any bullying, but not so much in high school. “Some students would just randomly talk to me and laugh, then walk off,” Adam recalls. “I didn’t take this seriously.” But there was one student who would bump into Adam deliberately in every hallway encounter. Adam devised an effective deterrent.
He explains: “One day I was prepared before we saw each other; I had my car key sticking through my fisted hand. Before he could bump me, I stubbed my key and fist into his hip, and he never did that again, ever.”
With his parents in the towing business, Adam gained experience in the industry as he was growing up. In the shop, he washed and waxed trucks, cleaned up, moved equipment, and went on pick-up and delivery runs. In winter, he operated a Bobcat to clear snow from the yard and driveway. In the summer after he turned 17, he began going out on tow calls. When school resumed, he would park a tow truck at the school for the day and afterwards take it directly from there to go out for towing calls.
Adam likes the independence that comes with towing. “I love to work alone,” he writes, “where I can figure things out on my own and make things go as smoothly as I can without anyone interrupting me.”
When asked whether he was nervous about meeting a customer on his first solo call, he responds, “I was quite nervous because of my previous experience at a bowling alley and restaurant—I always had a hard time communicating with people. But in a towing job, I can just focus on my work while they leave me alone to do my job. (Sometimes they watch over my shoulder, which is my huge pet peeve! I can’t blame them for that anyway.) When I was unsure, I would text the dispatcher for advice or to send another driver to help me out. I always had paper or my smartphone ready to write notes to the customer.”
People form their own groups of friends, and I rarely felt I fit in.
Adam describes some of his other early interactions with customers: “Sometimes when I’d come up to a customer, they would start talking and look away from me before I could explain that I can’t hear. I waited for them to stop talking nonsense and look back at me again. I’d put my finger to my ear and shake my head to tell them I can’t hear. Their reaction was always like ‘Oh!’ and then we’d figure out a way to communicate. I always try to find a way to make a customer feel settled and not confused because of my deafness. In my first year with Brad’s Towing, there were lots of confused customers, so I had an idea—I asked the dispatcher to prepare the customer, to explain over the phone that their driver would be unable to hear or to speak. This helped; the less confused the customer, the less time on the scene!”
Instead of radio, Adam’s connection to dispatch is strictly visual by text. Adam explains: “I’d get a text from a dispatcher with a heads-up for a call coming through, and then a detailed message on the customer’s make/ model, breakdown location, and destination location.” Now that he is with Big Hill Towing, the dispatcher uses an app called Towbook that’s linked with Adam’s smartphone and the dispatcher’s computer. Adam writes: “When they have a call for me to do, Towbook on my phone will notify me with all the customer and vehicle details, plus additional information if there’s any special access or direction to get there.”
Moving to Alberta
Adam moved to Calgary in April 2013. After feeling left out and ignored so often during his school life in Saskatchewan, he wanted to move to Alberta to be closer to the larger Deaf community there, where he could feel more connected. He likes the location, too: “I’m glad to live where the mountains are close on one side and prairie is on the other side! It’s about new experiences and meeting new people and going places I’ve not been before. Sometimes I just like to be independent.”
Adam has been working for Big Hill Towing in nearby Cochrane since August 2014. He is also a delivery driver for Green Earth Organics, a Calgary grocer.
Big Hill covers an area south to Bragg Creek, west to the Stoney Nakoda Casino area (Kananaskis country), north to the Cremona area, and east to some parts of Calgary such as Tuscany and Rocky Oak. Adam sums it up: “Basically just a lot of highway driving!”
The company operates three decks, three wreckers, and one heavy-duty wrecker. Adam aims to get an air brake license in addition to his current Class 5 so that he can operate the deck and the wrecker that have that equipment. Adam currently handles any of the other vehicles, but prefers using the deck: with all the highway driving, dollies slow him down.
Adam’s work in Cochrane differs from his work in Saskatoon. He explains: “I’ve worked with the RCMP in Cochrane quite a bit more. It was rare to call me out for a police call in Saskatoon. Instead, I did a lot of repo calls and SGI (Saskatchewan Government Insurance) inspection “drive-throughs,” where I would take the vehicle to salvage if it was being written off or drop it off at an autobody repair shop. In Cochrane, it's straightforward picking up wrecks that just happened.”
Adam also recalls an interesting experience by the Trans-Canada Highway in Morley, Alberta: “I was dispatched to pick up a car that had caught on fire the night before. I was just doing my job, getting it out of the field, but before I winched it in, I took my coat off and put it inside the truck. As soon I slammed the door, there were really loud repeating bangs that I could feel with my whole body. I looked around, thinking someone was shooting at me. But then a helicopter landed on the field, and nine guys got out. I texted my dispatcher Jackie to see if she knew about it, but she didn’t. I met one of the guys. As soon as I explained to him I needed to communicate by paper and pen, he took his notepad out of his coat pocket and started writing, to ask me if I was towing the wreck away. I nodded. They just wanted to check the burnt car before I pulled it. Then they gave me a thumbs up, so I knew it was all good. They watched while I pulled it onto the road; then they left. Pretty cool!”
Recreation and Other Activities
In summer, Adam enjoys boating on the lake, camping, exploring, and hiking. Road trips are his favourite way to see new places. In winter, he goes to the mountains for snowboarding. He would rather be outdoors than indoors, but video editing is a major hobby for him when he is at home. That stems from his outdoor videography and photography.
Sometimes Adam joins in activities for the Deaf community, such as camping, paintball, or frisbee golf, for fun and to stay connected.
Sometimes employers just need to open their eyes and give it a shot!
Adam attended a symposium on Deaf education in Toronto in late 2011. Participants discussed the loss of identity and community among the Deaf; there is a declining Deaf population due to the high number of babies now receiving cochlear implants, who will probably sign very little. Also discussed was the lack of the Deaf-oriented education and school community deaf people need.
Because they live far apart, they cannot come together in a class.
Adam explains, “They’re isolated and have poor social skills. They don’t feel they fit in with the hearing world, and it affects their school life, like I experienced.”
Activities for deaf youth include more than academic symposiums. Adam was one of about 25 deaf youth who went to Victoria, B.C., in March 2012, to spend a week on a sailing ship, the Pacific Grace. The Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS) provides four and five-day (or longer) voyages to the Gulf Islands, training participants to sail a tall ship. The cost was minimal, as the group was sponsored by Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (SDHHS), a support services and advocacy organization.
Adam describes his time there: “It was absolutely a great experience—we went for a week without cellular, riding through a storm with huge waves splashing us everywhere, and then a strong wind when we all had to get the sails down. When we got our feet back on the ground, we still had sea legs and couldn’t stand straight!”
(You can watch the video here: youtube.com/watch?v=K5QEpjE94nw)
When asked to describe a hearing person’s awkwardness with his deafness, Adam tells these stories:
When it’s funny: “My friend and I decided to stop at a restaurant to eat but didn’t plan to stay long. I only asked for one menu because we already knew what we wanted—we both craved Boston Pizza’s spaghetti. I showed the waitress what we wanted, and I told her one for me and one for him. But somehow the waitress misunderstood what I meant by ‘one for me, one for him.’ When the waitress handed us one plate of spaghetti, we sat and waited for another one to come, but it never did. We looked at the plate and saw two forks and spoons...like some sort of Lady and the Tramp scene. We laughed loudly, it caught the waitress’s attention, and she was very embarrassed!”
When it’s not so funny: “When I owned a car, I wanted to get my rear windows tinted. When my friends rode along, we would sign in the air to make it clearly visible, and sometimes people behind thought it looked like some sort of slang sign. Sometimes they’d flip the bird at us, or have a minor road rage. None of these incidents was serious, but [I was afraid] someday we would meet the wrong people. My friend told me of a time his mother [also deaf] was driving and talking (signing) with my friend. The driver behind them thought they were fighting and called police. The police pulled my friend and his mother over and asked what the situation was.”
When it’s insulting: At a previous job in Calgary, Adam was subjected to occasional mocking from his peers. As inappropriate as it was, he managed to take that in stride. But when the assistant manager made a derisive joke, laughing at Adam’s condition, Adam felt especially insulted and let the man know. Adam writes, “He later apologized by text message, then again the next day when we were faceto- face. I told him that I didn’t like the way he laughed at my condition, and he understood. We were fine after that.”
“I like to see good things happen where you can ‘pay it forward,’” declares Adam. “I think it matches my personality to have a towing career where I can help people out. Outside of my work, when people ask for my help, if it’s possible, I’ll say yes. Trustworthiness, honesty, positivity, and good vibes are all I need from myself and others.”
Adam adds, “I really appreciate having the opportunity to do this interview. It’s a big deal for me, and I hope it will help raise awareness across Canada about having a deaf employee. There is always another way to make things work, instead of making the excuse that the deaf can’t work because of a disability, or that the employer feels they don’t know how to deal with people who can’t hear. Sometimes employers just need to open their eyes and give it a shot! Who knows how loyal deaf people will be to the company they’re working for, to show how they appreciate the opportunity? I’m grateful to work for Big Hill Towing. With them, I’ve taken the opportunity and worked hard to show the appreciation I have for them for including me as part of such a great team.
Bullying in the Workplace
Mocking, insulting, or otherwise demeaning a fellow employee is considered bullying and harassment. In many provinces, labour and WCB regulations place legal responsibilities on employers to prevent bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination in the workplace through company policies and education programs.
What Adam Would Like the Hearing to Know
- For most deaf people, their first language is American Sign Language; English, their second language, comes a while later.
- Most deaf people do not have great English or grammar skills, and that may lead others to think they are poorly educated. But those judging underestimate their well-developed ASL skills.
- Many deaf people have great careers. One of Adam’s friends operates his own house building and restoration business. Another is a red seal welder. Another owns an auto mechanic business. Yet another is a chef.
- Adam offers some advice: “There is always another way to communicate without words. You don’t always have to talk or sign in sentences, but imagine with your hands, which you use for thousands of things—like turning a key, typing on a keyboard, making a phone call, clicking a picture on a camera. These objects are not in your hands, but we can understand what you mean if you demonstrate clearly.”
- Adam adds: “Sometimes we will teach some basic sign language that anyone can use any time at a work site, and that makes it easier when we’re at a distance. I like knowing ASL—it’s an advantage because I can talk to friends across a large room that’s loud and crowded with people, or through the window, or over far distances, or under the water—and we understand each other perfectly.”
More of Adam’s photos, besides those published here, can be seen at imgur.com/a/2iGcO and imgur.com/a/eQUoh.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of Tow Canada.