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HR Magazine, September 2004 - Ready To Be Heard, Should Looks Count?

By Kathryn Tyler  9/1/2004
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HR Magazine, September 2004

Vol. 49, No. 9

Special Communication Services

The use of technology has greatly reduced communication barriers for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Most use text messaging, which is often sufficient," says Allen Vaala, director of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf's Center on Employment in Rochester, N.Y. "The communication style and needs vary. For example, some people are good at speech reading and prefer to use that. Some are oral [able to speak intelligibly], but deaf."

Individuals may have a greater need for assistive technology or an interpreter in a group setting, Vaala notes. "In all cases, the best policy is to ask the individual what the preferred communication method is."

Here are some options:

  • Speech reading is interpretation of the spoken message by recognizing movements of the lips, jaws and tongue, as well as cues such as body language, gestures and facial expressions.

  • American Sign Language is a visual-gestural language with vocabulary and grammar that is different from English. Not all deaf and hard-of-hearing people use sign language. Interpreters may be required. (See "Sign Language Interpreters.")

  • Video relay service, also known as Internet relay service, is a remote sign language interpreting service. The deaf worker sits at a computer with a web camera, dials the interpreting service's phone number, and a sign language interpreter appears on the screen. Both the worker and the interpreter can see one another. The deaf worker signs to the interpreter, and the interpreter speaks to the hearing person by phone.

  • Teletypewriters (TTY), telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) or text telephones (TT) are devices to convert typed messages into electronic tones that are sent over a phone line, like a fax machine. They consist of a keyboard and an electronic display. The caller and the recipient must both have a device.

  • Relay service is a free service through which deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals can communicate with hearing individuals who don't have TTYs. The deaf individual speaks to the relay service operator using a TTY, and the operator tells the hearing recipient everything the deaf caller wants to say and vice-versa. The operator translates verbatim.

  • Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is the instant conversion of the spoken word into verbatim English text by a translator who uses a stenotype machine, notebook computer and real-time software. Employers can locate CART providers through the Communication Access Information Center in Vienna, Va.

  • Text messaging is sending a short message from your computer through the phone company web site to a text pager, cellular phone or personal digital assistant.

  • Instant messaging alerts users when colleagues are online and allows them to communicate with each other in real time through private online chat areas.

  • Interpretype is a typing device consisting of two preprogrammed laptop-style computer devices. Each device can send and display typed messages to the other, allowing a deaf and hearing person to have a "conversation."

"I rely heavily on instant messaging for communication with supervisors," says Jamie Berke, a guide for the informational web site in Springfield, Va., who was born deaf. "E-mail is a given for everyone. I also use Internet relay services."

Tracie DeFreitas Saab, human factors consultant/clinical instructor for the Job Accommodation Network, a free consulting service from the federal Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy in Morgantown, W.Va., says, "Employers and individuals should select the equipment that meets their specific work-related needs."

For instance, a TTY meets the needs of deaf workers at Lenscrafters at Eastview Mall in Victor, N.Y. "At first, we got a TTY, which works like a keyboard," says Jeff Braun, lab manager, whose assistant and several other colleagues are deaf. "Eventually, we got a dedicated TTY line. We have a separate TTY phone number we advertise to the public that our deaf associates can use."

Saab says, "I encourage employers to provide TTY equipment to employees who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, even when the job functions do not entail telephone work. Under the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act], employees with disabilities should have the same privileges as other workers. If hearing workers are permitted to make and receive telephone calls, so too should employees who are deaf. It makes sense for employees to have TTY access for emergencies, as well."

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