The chances are good that someone with a hearing loss will apply to work at your business at some point. In fact, about forty-eight million people across the country are deaf or hard of hearing.
If you are unfamiliar with the kinds of accommodations that will allow those with hearing loss to experience fair employment opportunities, you may find yourself facing allegations of discrimination. However, such accommodations may be simpler than you think.
Accommodating your employees with hearing loss
The accommodations that a deaf or hard of hearing employee requires are often reasonable and attainable, and the goal is enhancing the level of communication for your employee. In many cases, it is a matter of adjusting your methods of communicating and being willing to learn the most effective ways to make the workplace comfortable and productive. Some examples include the following:
- Ensuring that hard of hearing employees have a work area that is exposed to minimal noises that may be a distraction, such as machinery or employee chatter
- Reducing background music that may muddle important information for someone with hearing loss
- Providing adequate lighting and space for an employee who works with a sign language interpreter
- Providing appropriate technology to assist someone with hearing loss, such as a captioned phone or video relay capability
- Providing a sign language interpreter to an employee who requests one
- Including text formats or captions for any communications
- Creating meetings that are inclusive, such as having a clear line of vision, adequate lighting and rules that discourage more than one person speaking at a time
- Adjusting emergency alerts to include visual cues, such as text messages and flashing lights, in addition to auditory alarms and intercom announcements
These and other adjustments may allow your employee to contribute effectively and thrive in the work environment.
Accommodations from the beginning
The risk of discrimination against those with hearing loss may begin before you even extend a job offer. Do your recruitment materials include contact information beside a phone number, such as an email or accessible TTY number? Do you have sign language interpreters available for interviews with candidates who are deaf? Are you aware of methods of communicating effectively with those who have hearing loss, such as keeping your hands away from your mouth and speaking to the candidate instead of the interpreter?
If you are unsure if these or other accommodations are welcome, it is always appropriate to ask the employee what will work best for him or her. You may also wish to learn more about California laws for avoiding discriminatory behavior against workers who are deaf or have hearing loss.