First of all, stay up to date on hearing disabilities, resources, and workplace requirements. Sometimes deaf applicants experience discrimination because employers have misconceptions or misunderstand the facts.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are responsible to provide reasonable accommodations to facilitate effective communications with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some organizations worry these accommodations will bring costs that offset the benefits of a hire. But often, deaf workers and their employers use a variety of communication options, some of them with no costs at all.
Put simply: It is against the law to turn down an applicant solely because he or she is deaf.
And it is easier than you might think to provide the reasonable accommodations needed for that employee to succeed.
So what are “reasonable accommodations” to help a deaf employee do their job? It depends. Solutions can range from having a full-time sign language interpreter to very simple adjustments in company culture. Often, it’s a combination of several.
A sign language interpreter enables someone who is deaf or hearing impaired to understand a spoken language by converting it into sign language. Interpreting is available in-person or remotely over video using simple technology.
Captioning can be an effective communications tool for deaf and hearing-impaired employees in both live and pre-recorded situations. In fact, the use of captions during large group settings, meetings and/or trainings benefits everyone—even those without any degree of hearing loss.
While interpreting and captions require a little
planning to put into place, there are several types of everyday accommodations to help hearing and non-hearing co-workers engage more effectively.
Providing written transcripts, presentations, notes, or summaries of various company communications helps hearing and deaf employees alike.
A digital option for written communications, the Sorenson BuzzCards app lets anyone write an easy-to-read note on the fly. BuzzCards are a friendly, informal way for employees and customers to share quick messages.
Effective communication among deaf and hearing employees is literally at your fingertips. Texting, chat, instant messages, and email are quick, efficient ways to get work done. A variety of options are available which can benefit and engage all employees.
A mobile app from Sorenson Communications, Wavello connects a deaf individual, a sign language interpreter, and a hearing person in one easy mobile call. As long as the deaf employee has a VRS (Video Relay Service) in place, anyone with Wavello can accept a call and have the advantage of seeing what’s being communicated.
Once you have a feel for the many communication options available, put them to work from your first meeting with a deaf or hearing-impaired individual.
Seamlessly scheduling a live interpreter or being prepared with VRI on an employee’s first day shows the character of your work culture.
Help deaf employees find the accommodation that works best for different situations. As part of onboarding, consider discussing the most effective options for company-wide meetings, team updates, colleague interactions, employee reviews, and individual workspaces. Create a simple process for requesting accommodations for certain occasions or special needs. The more you communicate up front, the better workplace communications will be over time.
Don’t think that the HR department and deaf employees are the only ones involved in company accommodations. Make a point of explaining and embracing new communication efforts throughout the company. You might consider ways to engage hearing employees through internal ASL classes, inviting mentorships between deaf and hearing individuals, and make it easy to access communication tips and free apps to talk with co-workers.