Diversity is important in any workplace. Diversity also means more than just making sure different genders and races are represented. You can, and should, hire people with disabilities as well.
Yes, you will probably have to implement extra accommodations to make sure such employees can thrive in your workplace. Yes, you may have to combat some resentment or ill will from other employees. The rewards, though, are well worth the effort.
Today we’re going to discuss deaf or hard of hearing hires. These people have to deal with a lot of misconceptions and discrimination in the workplace, but they can be just as valuable as any other employee when they’re allowed to thrive. Disability does not mean a lack of ability to perform in a role.
Misconceptions Regarding Deaf Employees
One of the first hurdles to leap when considering hiring a deaf or hard of hearing individual as an employee is learning, recognizing, and fighting misconceptions that might get in the way of either the hiring process or their role in the workplace.
Misconception #1: All deaf and hard of hearing individuals know sign language. Sign language isn’t necessary for many hard of hearing individuals, and even some deaf individuals don’t know it or don’t like to use it. As with any culture and language, it varies from person to person. Some are fluent in sign language, others only know a bare minimum to communicate, and still, others don’t know any at all, and prefer to communicate in different ways.
Misconception #2: All sign language is the same. Sign language is not a universal language. The first thing that most will think of is ASL or American Sign Language. There are other regional sign languages, like British Sign Language, French Sign Language, and others. Attempts have been made to make standardized sign languages, resulting in languages like International Sign, but it’s not widely adopted.
Misconception #3: Accommodating deaf employees is expensive. Many accommodations for hard of hearing individuals are cheap or free, and the average cost for many one-time accommodations is under $500. For example, you don’t necessarily need an ASL interpreter on staff when email and a company Slack work just fine.
Misconception #4: Deaf employees cannot hear at all. Hearing loss is a wide spectrum of disability. People who are fully deaf aren’t able to hear anything at all, but many hard of hearing individuals can hear some of what goes on around them but may have trouble making out words or identifying when someone is trying to get their attention.
Additionally, hearing aids and cochlear implants can enable many hard of hearing individuals with an improved level of hearing.
Misconception #5: Deaf employees cannot drive. Some employers are hesitant to hire deaf employees under the assumption that they cannot drive, making it harder for them to get to work on time and reliably through public transportation or other means. The reality is much more complicated.
Deaf people can drive, and varying studies suggest that they’re as safe as any other driver. They often face discrimination in licensing but can drive just as well as anyone else when they’re given the opportunity. Besides, as part of your application process, you likely have a line saying “must have reliable transportation.” If they have reliable transportation, their license, and are insured, then they meet the requirements.
Misconception #6: Deaf people can read lips. Lip reading is a skill much like sign language, and it’s not inherent to being hard of hearing.
Lip reading is difficult; only 30% of spoken English is even visible on the lips. Facial hair can also make it more difficult to read lips. It’s not some magic replacement for hearing; it’s a means to help interpret when hearing is muddled and difficult.
Misconception #7: Deaf people have “super-senses” in other ways. Much like the stereotype that blind people have enhanced hearing, many people attribute enhanced sight or other characteristics to the deaf. The truth is, while deaf people may need to focus on using other senses to compensate for a lack of hearing – and thus might catch what others miss – it’s more a matter of attention and practice than any inherent advantage.
As it turns out, many of the reasons that companies fail to hire deaf employees are more about personal biases, stereotypes, and lack of experience rather than a reason that would disqualify them from being able to carry out the duties of the position. Add to that all of the possible benefits a deaf or hard of hearing employee brings to the table, and you’ll wonder why these hard-working individuals have been excluded from many positions.
Benefits of Hiring Deaf or Hard of Hearing Employees
Why should you go about hiring a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual for your business? Well, first and foremost, they’re human beings with lives, experiences, and skills just like anyone else. Being able to hear doesn’t necessarily make someone more efficient or better at handling certain tasks. There’s also the inherent benefits of a diverse workplace, which shouldn’t need to be explained. But, to put things in more specific terms, here are some tangible benefits to hiring such people.
Deaf and HH individuals are generally extremely adaptable. Lydia Callis writes:
“People who are deaf spend much of their lives finding ways to adapt within hearing culture. Because of this, deaf employees may exhibit impressive patience and flexibility in the face of a challenge.”
We’ve all experienced an employee who, when presented with a problem, simply locks up. They don’t pursue a solution, and they’ll only take action when pushed to do so. More often, they seem to use it as an excuse to do nothing. This is much less common with deaf employees, who are used to solving their own problems as necessary.
Deaf and HH individuals bring unique life experiences to the team. This is one of the biggest benefits of workplace diversity of any kind. Everyone has their own unique life experiences, with different pressures and different perspectives developed from their unique situations. Whether it’s the color of their skin, their gender presentation, or their disabilities, diverse employees bring unique thoughts to the table. There’s rarely a time where this isn’t beneficial to a company.
With deaf or hard-of-hearing employees, you can expect recommendations or suggestions for enhancing accessibility and accommodations for others with hearing loss, which can make your products, services, and marketing more acceptable and applicable to an entire audience you previously missed.
Deaf and HH individuals tend to be very loyal to their jobs. In a time when turnover is high and employee loyalty is tied more to a paycheck than a company, employee loyalty is a highly valued trait. Deaf individuals have a hard time finding a job – unemployment amongst the deaf is around 50%, though it depends on the precise definitions of both employment and hearing loss – so they know to value a job when they have it.
That’s not just an assumption, either. A U.S. Department of Education study found that:
“Disabled employees, in general, are average or above average in performance, quality and quantity of work, flexibility, and attendance.”
Deaf and HH groups have their own job boards you can use to hire them specifically. Given how hard it is for the average hard-of-hearing individual to be given the time of day by a typical hiring manager, it’s no surprise that deaf people have created their own resources. Sites like DeafJobWizard serve as job boards where the hard-of-hearing can browse open positions specifically offered to the deaf. More importantly, you as a business owner can use these sites to post jobs where you’re willing to hire a hard-of-hearing employee.
Deaf and HH individuals tend to be very detail-oriented. This can be beneficial in a few different ways. For example, deaf employees often take good notes during meetings with clients or customers, and those notes can be a valuable asset for the team after the meeting is over. These individuals are also frequently good at reading body language and developing an impression of the people around them. This gives them more insight into a variety of different situations. As the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association says:
“There can often be a mismatch between what is spoken and their body language, which may very well be overlooked by our hearing peers if they are just focusing on what they hear.”
Businesses can qualify for tax credits for hiring hard-of-hearing individuals. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit, or WOTC, is a federal tax credit offered to businesses for hiring individuals from certain groups who typically face discrimination in hiring or in the workplace.
Accommodations You Should Make
If you’ve decided that it could be a good idea to hire a hard-of-hearing person to work for your company, you’ll want to make sure you can properly accommodate their disability. A lot goes into this, but thankfully, most of it isn’t very difficult or expensive. You also have a lot of options.
For the application process, you hardly need accommodations at all. Make sure that any mandatory media is accessible, such as making accurate closed captions available for videos. Most applications are either paper documents or online forms, neither of which is impacted by hearing loss.
For the interview process, you should start by asking the interviewee how they prefer to communicate. The ADA requires that your company cover the cost of an ASL interpreter if one is needed, but some hard-of-hearing candidates won’t want or need an interpreter.
If an interpreter is present, make sure to focus on the candidate. A common etiquette mistake is addressing questions and making eye contact with the interpreter when it is the candidate you’re interviewing. Talk to and address the candidate, make eye contact with them, and – as hard as it may be – treat the interpreter as a tool or accessory, at least for the duration of the interview.
Additionally, make sure to provide paper copies of any documents, itineraries, questions, and media you need to give the candidate.
For an inclusive workplace, you’ll typically want to focus on a few different categories of accommodations. Emergency coverage, workplace training, and business process accommodations are the name of the game.
First, you’ll want to provide training for existing employees on how to integrate a hard-of-hearing coworker. You want your employees to feel supported and at home, and a hostile work environment is not conducive to a positive workplace experience.
Training should involve debunking myths, providing a venue for employees to ask questions, and providing training on the etiquette on dealing with hearing loss. Primarily, you’ll want to focus on making sure your other employees don’t discriminate against your new employee or make their environment hostile or toxic to work in.
Next, you’ll want to make sure you have accommodations in place for communication. Phone calls may or may not be viable depending on the level of hearing loss the employee has, but there’s nothing wrong with using email, Slack, or another text-based communications channel. There are also technological options for phones, such as captions phones or video relay services that route a call through an interpreter via a video phone.
Don’t forget to ensure that any disaster warning systems, such as fire alarms, are accommodating as well; flashing lights and visual markers for exits and directions are crucial.
Another area where you can be accommodating is at workplace meetings. Meetings should be held in areas with good lighting, where your hard-of-hearing employees can always see who is speaking. You may also want to implement practices that better indicate who “has the floor” and is speaking at any given time. Visual aids, notes, and meeting minutes are all good as well.
You may note that many of the accommodations for a hard-of-hearing or deaf employee are behavioral more than technological; this is why they’re as cheap as they are. It doesn’t take much to be accommodating.
Bringing a deaf or hard-of-hearing employee on board can be a great boon to any company, with their unique perspective, their loyalty, and their skills. It might take a little adjustment, and you may have to smooth over some wrinkles in the general workforce, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
Are you considering hiring somebody that is deaf or hard of hearing, or have you already? What have your experiences been? Let us know in the comments below!
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.