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Meet Wei Ke, CFIA application analyst

The year was 1999.

On a warm August night, I stepped foot on Canadian soil for the first time at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. I didn't know what to expect, but wanted to try my best to see where and how far I could go from here.

My husband and I had emigrated from China with our three-year-old son. There were so many unknowns ahead of us, like whether we'd find work or be able to communicate with others.

My interests and curiosity blossomed as soon as we landed in Toronto. It was the turn of the century and I quickly realized how technology—computers, the internet, IT—was becoming an integral part of our lives.

My name is Wei Ke. This is my story about arriving in Canada as a hard-of-hearing female immigrant 23 years ago, and the obstacles I overcame before thriving as an application analyst at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Adjusting to life (and sound) in Canada

In the early 2000s, IT was a male-dominated field. But I was eager to immerse myself in this growing industry.

I earned a diploma in computer programming from Humber College in Toronto in 2002. It was a trying time, moving to a new country, improving my second language, seeking a job in the IT field, and expanding my family. It took me a while to adjust to Canadian society and the labour market.

I became deafened a few years later. Then, in 2007, I received a cochlear implant, which is a complex electronic device that improves a person's hearing and listening experience.

Rather than amplifying sounds (like a hearing aid), cochlear implants stimulate the auditory nerve directly. Having the surgery helped bring me back to the hearing world, but these devices can't restore 100 per cent of your hearing. In fact, I still learn new sounds everyday.

The cochlear implant helps me be aware of my surroundings and communicate with others. It's also sharpened my listening skills. For example, when I first received the implant, the violin sounded like a saw. Today, I can recognize and experience the beautiful music the instrument makes.

Being deafened is hard on its own, and even more so when my English skills needed improvement. But I had faith that Canada would give everyone—be it a woman, a person with disabilities, or someone from a visible minority group—equal opportunities.

Despite these obstacles, I continued to push myself to learn and practice ways to improve my listening and English skills. My efforts paid off when I landed a job as a programmer with the Technology Information Management and Information Technology Branch at the CFIA in 2008 – now known as the Digital Services Branch.

Empowering those who do business with the CFIA

I eventually joined the Agency's Digital Service Delivery Platform (DSDP) project team. The DSDP system is a key component of the Agency's digitization and transformation efforts.

By making more online tools available to CFIA inspectors, Canadians, industry—and even international partners—our stakeholders are empowered in how they interact and conduct business transactions.

You may have heard of this system as the My CFIA portal, which manages and tracks service requests online, including export certificates and permissions such as licenses, permits, and registrations.

Joining this project was an amazing opportunity for developers like myself to work on many features of this massive, complex system. We all learn from each other and there's never a shortage of encouragement, recognition, and compliments within the team.

Each day, we consider the end-user experience to shape our recommendations for continuing to improve the platform.

Supporting others with special needs

While my team is wonderful, I struggled with the fact that I couldn't work in the same way as my colleagues throughout the day.

When I first joined, I relied on co-workers to take notes for me at meetings and had challenges during oral communication with them. That all changed when we adopted the Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services.

As a member of CFIA's employee accessibility network, I was an advocate for making this word-for-word transcription service (speech to text) more widely accessible to employees. I also helped to create the health accommodation office within the CFIA, a one-stop shop for accommodations and CART services.

Even in this post-pandemic work environment, the tools we use daily produce captions and transcripts during meetings. The CFIA has evolved in terms of being an inclusive workplace for employees who are hearing impaired, continues to work towards providing even more resources for persons with special needs.

Come to work as you are

I'm passionate about supporting my colleagues in any way I can. I appreciate there are so many ways to promote inclusivity at the CFIA.

Beyond the health accommodation office, there are various networks and committees that help drive change within the organization. The goal is to promote an inclusive, respectful and diverse workplace where all employees have room to grow.

For example, there is a diversity office, accessibility advisory committee, LGBTQ2+ network, national Indigenous advisory circle, visible minority forum and women's circle.

Twenty-three years ago, I wished for a technology-driven career where I could make a difference. I'm happy to say that working for the CFIA has helped to make that dream come true.

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