Some ways to make the workplace accessible for deaf people
From communication barriers at the interview stage to the workplace itself, deaf people face many barriers when it comes to finding a job. Including deaf people at the workplace does not need any major reorganisation. Some simple accommodations can enable them to be productive.
For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, navigating the workplace can be difficult and frustrating. Because hearing loss is not visible to the eye, it can be hard for employers to establish when and what kind of help they need to offer. Conducting meetings, networking events, interviews and telephone conferences can be challenging without the necessary support functions. It is also important to ensure deaf employees don’t feel socially isolated and are part of the office chatter and banter.
Communication is key
All of this needs effective communication. There are some simple ways to make this happen provided it is carefully thought out, says Ruma Roka. Ruma is the Founder of Noida Deaf Society (NDS). NDS offers education and skilling training to enable deaf people to lead independent, productive lives.
“The inclusion has to happen top down and become like a business strategy”, says Ruma. “There has to be proper job mapping that can help a deaf person be productive. The environment and the workplace must be made inclusive. One has to be patient. It might take longer to integrate a deaf person, but you will have a diverse workplace and employees who will stay on for long”.
USE TECHNOLOGIES TO ENABLE COMMUNICATION
Simple tools and technologies can help drive this inclusion. Voice recognition speech-to text apps, flashing screen alerts on mobile phones to notify users of incoming calls, videos with captions, and interpreters are some options companies should look at.
“There is a diversity of communication needs when it comes to the deaf community”, points out P Rajashekharan, Co-founder, v-shesh. V-shesh is an award-winning enterprise that works with disabled students and jobseekers. It also assists employers in hiring disabled people.
The basic divide arises from a lack of understanding among the hearing community about what they need to communicate. People assume that everyone who is deaf lip reads or knows sign language but there are multiple modes of communication. If you have a hearing aid, you may be lip reading. Or you could be only signing. Some people are in the middle. This awareness is important. – P Rajashekharan, Co-founder, v-shesh
Tips to make the workplace accessible
Some simple tips for inclusion that Rajashekharan recommends:
- Ensure availability of Text-to-Speech or Speech-to-Text software
- Have an interpreter present at group meetings.
- If an interpreter is not feasible, write key points on a notepad and keep sharing with the deaf person present so he/she understands and can contribute.
- Make sure training material has proper captioning. Make training programmes visual in nature and textual.
- Sign language insets should be a part of training materials.
- Buddy system to help the deaf employee get oriented to the workplace.
- Basic sign language knowledge awareness in the larger team.
Karthik Natarajan is the Co-founder of Chennai-based Inthree Access Services Pvt Ltd. which provides rural assisted commerce platform. There are five deaf employees in the company. “We have a Town Hall every 15 days and there were communication challenges initially as we did not have interpreters. Once we brought them in, things changed. The deaf employees are able to lip read and the others have picked up sign language so now we have many colleagues who communicate in sign language”. The presence of deaf workers, says Karthik, has made a positive difference. “Our deaf employees are super smart and the level of rigour they apply to their work is phenomenal. It motivates all of us to do well”.
Arun Natarajan, Founder, Venture Intelligence, shares the sentiments. Venture Intelligence provides information on the financials of private companies. “We have three deaf employees working with us and they are a delight to work with”. Arun says their presence has been welcomed by everyone in the organisation. “We had a year-end gathering to talk about the highlights of 2019 and everyone said the best part was hiring deaf people. Their presence has energised human communications and we are the better for it”.
Clearly making the workplace accessible for people who are deaf and hard of hearing puts companies on track to not only being more productive but also creating a happier and inclusive workforce.