It has become important for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to be able to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, either as a supervisor or an employee. But they are at a higher risk of missing out on getting the information they need to maximize their work performance when working remotely.
If not configured effectively, many programs that enable remote work do not let supervisors or employees who are deaf or hard of hearing maximize their work performance.
As a co-owner of Signing Edge, a sign language interpreting agency that is 100% deaf-owned, I have to work from home every day. As a result, I have learned how to maximize my own performance while working remotely.
Here are my top 10 tips for helping your colleagues who are deaf or hard of hearing:
- The most important thing companies can do to empower supervisors and/or employees who are deaf or hard of hearing is to ask them what their preferred mode of communication is.
This is so important is for two reasons: 1) It enables individuals who are deaf to feel like they are in control of how they communicate and more importantly and 2) It prevents assumptions resulting in incorrect information being conveyed in both directions.For example, a person who is deaf or hard of hearing and does not know sign language will not get all the information he or she needs from a sign language interpreter. Similarly, a person who is deaf or hard of hearing and relies on American Sign Language will not get all the information he or she needs from closed captions (the structure and syntax of ASL is markedly different than English).
- Remember that effectively accommodating employees who are deaf does not mean providing sign language interpreters all the time. In fact, members of the deaf community are remarkably efficient about adopting multiple modes of communication to get the information they want to convey across to other individuals.When you were out and about, you will see individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing employing text messaging, emails, using the notes function in their smartphones to convey information and yes, the tried and true standby: paper and pen. At Signing Edge, we believe that accommodations for a deaf person does not mean expensive.
- Look into providing all of your employees a chance to learn basic sign language. This is, of course, assuming that the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing uses sign language as their primary form of communication.This can really open up the lines of communication, increase morale and boost the personal connections that your company has with employees who are deaf. It also creates a welcoming remote-work environment that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing truly want to be part of.
- When using Zoom, my top recommendation is to institute two rules: 1) One person speaks at a time and 2) Speak clearly. These two rules can enable a sign language interpreter to more effectively hear all the information being conveyed and accurately express that information in sign language.
- If your company is using Zoom (or another online video-meeting software) to facilitate communications between employees who are deaf and using sign language and hearing employees who know sign language, make sure that the internet connection at both ends is at the highest possible speed.
This is particularly important because video that is chopped or pixelated will not accurately capture the signs and body language being expressed (contrary to what many people think, the face, shoulders and body spacing are an integral part of ASL, similar to how hearing people use the tone of voice and body language to convey information).
- Teach your employees who are deaf how to “pin” the interpreter on Zoom meetings. This is particularly important when you have Zoom meetings that involve more than three people.The more people that are on Zoom, the smaller the video box for each participant and it becomes harder and harder to see the interpreter. Pinning the interpreter’s video box will ensure that the video box for the interpreter is as large as possible and facilitate effective communication in both directions.
- For deaf individuals who do not use sign language (this is a very common occurrence), look into providing laptops or computers that can connect with cochlear implants (via Bluetooth or other technology) or providing captioning during Zoom meetings. Always remember to follow Tip #1 and ask the deaf employees if they prefer connecting their hearing aid/cochlear implant or captions.
- Remember that deaf people love to talk. Truly we do. Connecting with other people is such a joy for deaf people that we grab every opportunity to connect. But sometimes we miss the cues that say “OK, you can talk now.”Sometimes this results in us interrupting people. So to minimize that, always remember to provide space for the deaf employee to talk and provide his or her input. A great way to do so might be to say, “These are great suggestions, but I noticed we have not heard from Dave. Dave, we would love to hear what you think.”
- Try to grab every opportunity to have side conversations with your deaf employees just like you do with other employees. Its okay to say, “How is your family?” “Anything new happening?” or “Hey, how about these Cardinals? Great game, huh!”Connecting on a personal level can truly improve productivity when individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are working remotely. Many times, a deaf employee can feel isolated even when working at an office, and the isolation can be magnified in a remote work situation. Often times, it is because people are not sure how to connect with them or how to approach them.
- Remember Tip #1. Ask, ask, ask. It is perfectly fine and completely legal to ask a supervisor or employee who is deaf or hard of hearing how he or she prefers to communicate. Communication is at the heart of the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act related to people who are deaf. And it is difficult to comply with these provisions without asking the employee who is deaf.
These 10 tips can really help your company maximize the contributions of supervisors and/or employees who are deaf or hard of hearing, and create a remote work environment that is welcoming for them.
About the author
The author of this article is James Frost, who sees himself as more than just a deaf person. In addition to being a board member of Starkloff Disability Institute, he is a licensed attorney in the State of Missouri with over 20 years of experience. He has also assisted two other interpreting agencies successfully launch their sign language interpreting businesses.
James has over 10 years of experience with the sign language interpreting industry and can count many sign language interpreters as his mentors. If you need additional assistance, please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.