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Accommodating Workers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The Employment Standard under the AODA requires employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.  Employers can make the workplace accessible for workers who are deaf or hard of hearing if they learn about the kinds of accommodations workers might need.

Here we outline some ways that employers and colleagues can communicate with and accommodate workers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Workers will explain the communication methods that work best for them.

Accommodating Workers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

American Sign Language (ASL)

English-Canadian people who are Deaf often use American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a visual language. For instance, signers convey meaning through:

  • Hand shapes and positions
  • Movements
  • Facial expressions

ASL is a complete language with its own grammar. Moreover, many people identify ASL as their first language and learn English as a second language. Workers may communicate with people who do not sign by either:

  • Speaking;
  • Gesturing; or
  • Writing

Sign Language Interpretation

Sign language interpreters are professionals who understand Deaf and hearing cultures. They are trained to interpret between signed and spoken languages. Employers or workers should arrange to have an interpreter at various work events. For instance, at:

  • Job interviews
  • Training
  • Meetings
  • Disciplinary Actions
  • Performance reviews

Ontario Interpreter Services (OIS) makes such events accessible. You must book an interpreter two to four weeks in advance. OIS will pay for interpretation for job interviews, up to seven hours of training, and three other sessions. However, employers are legally required to pay for later sessions. Interpreters only interpret: they do not offer opinions or advice.

When working with interpreters:

  • Address the worker, not the interpreter
  • Make sure the interpreter is always visible
  • Schedule one ten-minute break per hour before meetings start
  • Interpreters may ask fast speakers to clarify or repeat
  • Only one person should speak at a time
  • Sit in a circle or U-shape so the worker can see everyone

Other Communication Methods

Workers may also speechread. Speechreading is a way to understand speech through people’s:

  • Facial movements and expressions
  • Body language
  • Context

Workers attending group events, such as meetings, may use real-Time Captioning (RTC). A trained captioner records speech and it appears almost right away on a large screen. If RTC is not available for an event, a typist can summarize key points. This process is called computerized note-taking.

Employers or colleagues can communicate one-on-one by:

  • Exchanging notes on paper
  • Emailing
  • Texting

Also, confirm key points to make sure nothing vital is left out of notes.

People who are hard of hearing rely on their remaining hearing with the help of hearing aids, cochlear implants, or assistive listening devices. Hearing aids amplify sound, but they do not work for everyone. Cochlear implants are prostheses in people’s inner ears that transmit sound directly to the brain. People receive a great deal of training to learn to use their implants. Additionally, some people who have implants may continue to sign. Assistive listening devices transmit one speaker’s voice straight to a person’s ear and bypass background noise.

Communication Tips

Here are some communication tips when speaking to workers who are deaf or hard of hearing:

  • Attract workers’ attention, such as by waving or by tapping the floor, their desks, or their shoulders
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Speak at a normal pace and volume
  • Stay on topic
  • Sit near the worker while remaining professional
  • Stay still while speaking
  • Always leave the worker’s hands free to write or sign
  • Converse in well-lit areas with little background noise

Workers may frown as they focus on speech, or use facial expressions that have certain meanings in ASL rather than to express emotions. Of course, the best way to understand a worker’s state of mind, simply to ask.

Workers who are hard of hearing may sometimes speak too loudly, or respond verbally in ways that do not fit the discussion because they have not heard correctly.

Telephones

Some people who are hard of hearing can use telephones with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Others use them with amplifiers that interact with certain hearing aids to diminish background noise and increase ringing and conversation volume, or with lights or vibrations that signal when the telephone rings. Some people who are Deaf use TTYs (teletypewriters), devices carrying typed conversation over telephone lines. Furthermore, TTY users can contact someone who does not use TTY through a telephone relay operator. In addition, workers who are deaf may also use video relay service (VRS) to communicate over the Internet in ASL with smartphones or computers.

Interpreters are available so that service-users can call or receive calls from people who do not sign. Some workers may prefer to reassign job tasks so that a hearing person answers the telephone while they perform other tasks.

Employers will gain skilled and dedicated workers by accommodating workers who are deaf or hard of hearing. They will also show any current workers losing their hearing that they value the presence and well-being of those members of the company.