Is ensuring your workplace is inclusive of employees with hearing impairments a part of your organization’s disability inclusion strategy? If not, it should be.
Forty-eight million Americans experience significant hearing loss, whether from birth or over the course of their life, which means there’s a high likelihood that at some point your organization will hire and/or interview a deaf or hard of hearing employee. Implementing the following practices will assist you in cultivating an inclusive work setting for all:
- Assess your Recruitment Process– Ensuring deaf and hard of hearing employees feel welcome in your workplace first means making your recruitment process inviting and accessible. Start by sharing your commitment to disability inclusive hiring on your recruitment materials. Also, be sure to provide an email address and accessible phone number (TTY) for applicants to request accommodations throughout the hiring process. Research resources for sign language interpreters/communication professionals early on so you have this information on-hand if a job applicant or employee requests these services/accommodations. When it’s time to conduct interviews, provide written copies of the interview questions and any other important information (such as company handbooks or other documents) for candidates’ reference. During interviews, be sure to make eye contact with candidates, refrain from covering your mouth as they may be lip reading and address questions to them, not their interpreter.
- Adjust the Work Environment – For day-to-day operations, employers can make various physical adjustments to the work environment. Make certain employees who are hard of hearing can work in areas free from noises and distractions such as kitchen chatter or printer/supply room activity. Consider eliminating unnecessary background noise, such as “elevator music,” as this can also make it difficult for employees who have hearing loss to hear important information. If an employee uses a communication professional, such as a sign language interpreter, consider the need for quality lighting and a large enough seating area for more than one person. Finally, employees who receive and make phone calls will also need appropriate assistive technology. This could be a captioned phone (which provides real-time speech-to-text), or a video telephone for video relay service (VRS). All technology, including work phones and computers, should offer flashing lights to indicate new messages and other alerts.
- Communicate Inclusively – Make organizational communications inclusive by providing everything in text format. This includes writing emails and captioning and transcribing any video content. Internal electronic communication systems (such as Slack) can be great because of “chat” features that allow for quick, ongoing communication among groups of employees.
- Prepare for Emergencies – Traditional methods to alert employees of emergencies often don’t consider deaf and hard of hearing employees. Incorporate visual notifications for emergencies, such as flashing lights that connect to auditory alarm systems. In addition, use texts/emails to contact deaf and hard of hearing employees during emergencies. You may also want to consider using a “buddy system” to alert employees of intercom announcements. Finally, be sure to go over evacuation plans and the location of important signage, i.e. exits, emergency staircases, etc., with all employees during the orientation/onboarding process.
- Make Meetings and Corporate Gatherings Fully Accessible – When conducting meetings that include employees who are deaf or hard of hearing, make sure the room layout provides appropriate visual access and lighting to those speaking and visual aids (such as PowerPoint presentations). Don’t forget to consider accessibility as it relates to events, webinars, conferences and employee trainings/meetings. CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation) services or real-time captioning, delivered on-site or remote, ensure live audio stream is represented visually for viewers with and without hearing loss Be aware of signals that the employee wants to share and ensure only one person speaks at a time, to make it easier to follow conversations.
- When in Doubt, ASK – As with all forms of disability, no one knows their needs more those with lived experience. Thus, the best way to include employees with deafness or hearing loss is to simply ask how you can best accommodate them. This means asking about preferred assistive technology, internal communication methods, and the ways they want to communicate and contribute in meetings.
How will your organization better prepare to include employees with deafness or hearing loss?