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Simple Accommodations for Deaf Employees You May Have Never Considered

Man​​y people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing do not feel welcome in the American workplace, despite legislation to encourage employment, strong popular support for the use of sign language and large investments in accessible post-secondary education for students who are deaf, a sign language interpreter told SHRM Online.

Sarah Morgan, an interpreter for the National Reconnaissance Office, the federal agency in charge of America’s intelligence satellites, offered simple tips for making the workplace more friendly for individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. For instance, she said, a speaker should never turn his or her back to the audience while writing on a blackboard, and co-workers should address their remarks directly to the person with the hearing difficulty, rather than to the person’s sign-language interpreter.

Morgan gave a presentation titled “Hiring and Managing Deaf and Hard of Hearing People,” in October at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition, which was held in Boston.She conducted a separate interview with SHRM Online in November.

“Deaf people experience inclusion through reasonable accommodations, overcoming communication barriers, and [by] ensuring visual accessibility and safety,” Morgan said.

Interview Considerations

When setting up an interview with a job applicant who is deaf, Morgan said, consider these accommodations:

  • Ask the candidate how he or she prefers to communicate during the interview.
  • If requested, arrange for an interpreter for the interview.
  • Be aware that the candidate may speak for himself or herself, or the interpreter may voice what the candidate signs.
  • During the interview, make eye contact with the candidate.
  • Address your questions directly to the candidate, not the interpreter.
  • Encourage the candidate to let you know if your communication is unclear and be prepared to rephrase if necessary.
  • It is a best practice to provide a written copy of the following: the interview questions, an itinerary of the interview day and company literature.

Suggestions for Workplace Inclusion

These are the things managers must think about when conducting meetings that include employees who are deaf, Morgan said:

  • Ensure that before a meeting, there is good lighting, good visual access to the speaker and a room layout that provides the best possible visual access to anyone else who might be speaking.
  • Watch for signals that the employee wants to contribute.
  • Ask the employee how he or she prefers you to get their attention—for instance, by a tap on the shoulder, or by waving.
  • Ensure that only one person speaks at a time so the employee who is deaf can follow the conversation.
  • Visually indicate who will be speaking next during group discussions.
  • Be sure that no one talks with his or her back to the audience while writing on a blackboard.
  • Have minutes or notes taken, transcribed and disseminated for future reference.
  • Incorporate visual aids, demonstrations, flip charts, written agendas and handouts in presentations.
  • Use captioned films or videotapes.
  • For training sessions, provide an outline of what to expect.
  • Install flashing lights that work in conjunction with incoming telephone calls and doorbells or buzzers.

Emergency Accommodations

Emergencies require special considerations for employees who are deaf, Morgan said. Among her suggestions:

  • Install flashing lights that work in conjunction with emergency auditory alarms.
  • Walk through emergency evacuation routes and rally locations during the new employee’s orientation.
  • Use a buddy system to alert employees who are deaf or hard of hearing to emergency situations that are announced by intercom.
  • Use texting, e-mail or pagers to contact employees who are deaf or hard of hearing during an emergency.
  • Inform everyone—including front desk receptionists, security officers, janitorial staff and parking attendants—that there’s an employee who is deaf onsite.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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