As an employer, it is your responsibility to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for deaf or hard of hearing employees. This means helping them communicate and providing the resources they need to be able to succeed in their position. It is helpful to put some of these practices to use even before they are requested because even those without hearing loss have different preferences when it comes to communication. It is also important to discuss a plan for accommodation on a case-by-case basis for new employees who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Below are some options for accommodating an employee who is Deaf or hard of hearing.
Common Workplace Accommodations for Employees who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
- Closed captioning
- CART or live captioning
- American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter
- Text phones or video relay services
- Written memos and company communications
- Visual emergency notifications
- Changes in workspace arrangements
Now let’s discuss in what environments and situations these accommodations can be used.
Corporate & Company-Wide Communications
Communications from the company to all employees should always be available in text format. Make sure there is a designated person that knows to inform the employee of any audio announcements.
During the training process, providing captioning on all training videos will not only make them accessible to the deaf, it can actually help all new hires retain more information. It is important that employees who are Deaf or hard of hearing have access to all training materials to have a fair chance at succeeding in their new job.
Workspace & IT Setup
An employee’s workspace and setup should also be discussed. If they are expecting to get phone calls, you can provide a phone that is capable of video relay calls if they know ASL or a text phone. There may also be computer applications that can help them communicate.
Colleague Communication & Department Awareness
During a new employee’s orientation, everyone who will be working with them should be notified of the new hire’s preferred communication methods. Educate the department on the proper etiquette and how to provide an inclusive environment. Colleagues should know the best way to get the individual’s attention when needed and how to communicate through writing or verbally.
When setting up for a meeting, choose a space that will provide the employee who is Deaf or hard of hearing with good visual access, ample lighting and in direct line of sight if there is a primary speaker. Before the meeting begins, ask the employee how they would like to communicate and contribute during the meeting. Providing an agenda, presentation handouts and other written materials is also a good idea. Try to inform others in the meeting that they should avoid talking over each other and participate one at a time so it is clear who the speaker is. Make sure the meeting is transcribed and noted thoroughly with visual aids, or that CART or live captioning is provided.
In an emergency situation, most environments are not set up to properly notify an employee who is Deaf or hard of hearing. Flashing lights should accompany any alarms that sound. For emergency announcements made over loudspeakers or intercoms, use a buddy system to ensure the employee gets the message. Make use of text and email emergency alerts. All new employees should be walked through evacuation plans during their orientation.
The employment rate among individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing is only 48%. This is partly due to a lack of welcoming and inclusive workplaces where these employees feel comfortable. Providing these accommodations can ensure that employees who are Deaf and hard of hearing can succeed in their position and produce their best possible work for the benefit of the company.