Lydia Callis wrote a really nice piece about why you should hire deaf or hard of hearing individuals, which got us thinking. The Americans with Disabilities Act has provided a safe place for many deaf and hard of hearing people to request accommodations that give them a way to be productive and effective in the workplace.
However, there are still lots of questions about how people who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate and workplace environments can sometimes be challenging. Here are some strategies for co-workers, supervisors, or clients to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
1. Many deaf and hard of hearing individuals will tell you that they can read lips but in order to do so effectively, you should try to face them and enunciate your words without exaggerating your speaking. A measured pace without mumbling or jumbling up your words will often make a big difference. A bushy overgrown beard might pose a challenge so try to keep the area around your mouth trimmed.
2. Auditory feedback, hearing aids, and cochlear implants are becoming increasingly common to the point that the vast majority of deaf and hard of hearing individuals have some degree of aided hearing. Keep in mind, though, that levels of hearing or deafness are extremely diverse – from profound deafness to a mild loss. Some aids are extremely effective for some individuals and others simply provide environmental context. Some don’t use or need hearing aids at all! The trick is for you to work with the individual to find out what their circumstances are and what works best for them.
3. Sign Language is a commonly used language for the Deaf Community so if you meet an individual who signs, you may benefit from knowing some Sign Language. There are workshops offered in almost every city in the country. One thing to be aware of is that it is a different language from English or the language of your workplace and therefore, it helps to have interpreters available as communications facilitators when requested.
4. Another mode of communication for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is called cued English, also called Cued Speech. American Sign Language is an absolutely independent language from English with its own vocabulary and syntax. Conversely, Cued Speech parallels the phonemic construct (consonants and vowels) of any verbal language so a deaf or hard of hearing person who is cued to will see exactly what you say, verbatim. It’s like captions for the lips. You write, talk, and read in English so just like those modes, you cue in English to provide accurate and unambiguous access to what you say. Cued Language Transliterators are also available under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide full visual access to what is being said in the workplace. There are also many workshops and certified Cued Language Instructors.
5. There are many real time captioning transcription services that can allow a meeting, conference call, or presentation to be accessible via print. Much like a court transcriptionist, these provide the advantage of having a transcript that can be referred to at the consumer’s convenience.
6. A great way to communicate is through chat interfaces like Google Chat or Skype. Often when a direct conversation is needed, there are third party service providers that act as a go-between but many prefer direct communication and text-based chats are a great way to go since most people in the workplace today are proficient keyboarders. This is one of the main reasons that there’s never been a better time to be deaf in the workplace than today!
7. Many employees who are deaf or hard of hearing utilize VRI (Video Remote Interpreters), which is a service that must be paid for by the party responsible for providing accommodations, for a deaf or hard of hearing employee to communicate with coworkers, customers, or suppliers. VRI companies are generally private businesses that are not overseen by any government entity such as Purple, Sorenson, or ZVRS. The companies mentioned in this point are “VRS” (Video Relay Service) providers. VRS VIs (video interpreters) strictly interpret point-to-point telephone calls at no charge to the users; services are supported by funding from the Universal Access Fund. VRS providers are overseen by the FCC. Many of these apps are also applicable to mobile devices. In short, there’s a great number of strategies that can create an extraordinarily accessible marketplace!
At the end of the day, communications success with a deaf or hard of hearing person in the workplace or in the market requires an open mind and a friendly spirit. People who are deaf and hard of hearing are very well aware that the market is a competitive environment and we are responsible for providing the best products or services possible. We want to work as hard as you do or purchase the same items as you do and when we have access to the same content as everybody else, we’ll deliver with a bang!