How a Trader Joe’s employee who is deaf communicates with his customers in masks

5 Live

For many grocery store employees working during a pandemic has been a highly stressful experience. Matthew Simmons, an employee at Trader Joe’s had an added challenge present itself when people started wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Matthew is deaf and works as a teacher’s assistant in Vancouver, Washington, and for the past two years, as a crew member at Trader Joe’s.

“When I first started working at Trader Joe’s, the obstacles were small such as learning and improving my lip-reading skills with my co-workers and various customers who have not had much experience talking with a deaf person. But when the pandemic hit and customers and crew members started wearing masks, it caused me to have some anxiety,” Simmons told KTLA.

As a deaf person, Matthew relies heavily on using his lip-reading skills that he has acquired since childhood. So when customers wearing masks came up to him to ask a question on the floor, he always said, “I am deaf and need to read your lips so I can help you”.

When customers didn’t want to lower their masks and walked away from him, it left him feeling defeated. So Matthew worked with his assistant manager to come up with ways to help him communicate with customers. One of the solutions was to print “I’m deaf” on the front of his Trader Joe’s shirt and “tap on the shoulder for help” on the back.

His manager also supplied him with three small whiteboards so customers could write down their questions for Matthew and allowed him to write – “Hi my name is Matthew. I am deaf and read lips” on the plexiglass when he is at the cash register.

Matthew hopes his experiences during this pandemic will make people be more compassionate toward each other.

“I am a proud member of the deaf community who also has acquired skills to navigate in the hearing world and yet both of those worlds often collide or have their own stigmas. If I can help educate or inspire others during this very unique time then that is amazing,” said Simmons.

“I am hopeful because to see the lengths that my fellow Trader Joe’s team went to so that I would feel supported and no different than any other employee really shows the human kindness we have for one another.”

5 Live is KTLA’s digital-only newscast and streams on and the KTLA 5 News app weekdays at 4 p.m.

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This segment aired May 21, 2020.

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