Tips for Hiring Deaf Individuals: Practical Advice for Employers

hiring deaf workersCarol and Teri. I’ll never forget them as long as I live.

These two women were amazing. Always bright and cheerful, I couldn’t help but smile as well any time they were around. And they taught me an incredible amount not just about the technical aspects of the job I did at the time, but also about interoffice politics (how to avoid them) workplace dynamics (how to read others’ emotions) and more.

Carol was the quiet one. She kept to herself, did great work, and didn’t bother anyone. However, she was the first to send you a message when she thought you needed a pick-me-up.

Teri was definitely more vocal, but she also had a way about her that just made me smile. She was very interested in the work I was doing and wasn’t afraid to give me pointers on how to improve.

Oh, and neither of them could hear. Yes, while both of these wonderful ladies were deaf, they still had an amazing impact on me from the earliest days of my career.

With that in mind, I reached out to Bobbie LeMere at Tangram to give me some practical advice for employers looking to make a concerted effort to hire more deaf or hearing-impaired individuals. LeMere says that 80 percent of people who are deaf or hard of hearing do not work, which paints a dismal picture of today’s work environment. Her tips below give employers ideas on how to support these workers and give this population a fighting chance to succeed in the workforce today.

Practical Tips for Hiring and Working with Deaf Individuals

  1. Use on-site interpreters for interviews and meetings—While technology has made it possible
    for those who are hearing and those who are deaf to communicate, through apps,
    videophones, text messaging, and other methods, an on-site interpreter can best ensure that
    all individuals are able to participate fully in the conversation.
  2. Provide disability awareness and etiquette training to all employees—Training is an essential part of ensuring that your company is prepared to hire and integrate individuals with all types of disability in your workforce. Providing a forum for employees to learn about disabilities and to debunk the myths around disability will ultimately lead to a more cohesive and productive workplace where employees of all abilities are comfortable with each other.
  3. Hire individuals based on their skills and their ability to complete the essential functions of their job—Hiring someone for charity is just as inadvisable as not hiring someone because of misconceptions about disability. When interviewing someone with a disability, be sure to focus on their ability to complete the job. Don’t make assumptions about what someone is able to do.
  4. Get buy-in from leadership—If your organization doesn’t have support from the top, disability inclusion is less likely to succeed. Be sure that all levels of an organization understand the importance and benefits of disability inclusion so that all employees feel valued and can thrive.
  5. Find the right accommodations—Ask the person what accommodations would work best for them. There are many technological tools that can help a person who is deaf or hard of hearing communicate, such as:
    1. Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)—this can be of use in one-on- one meetings, basic conversations, short meetings or exchanges, or meetings where the primary goal is to sign paperwork.
    2. Video Relay Services (VRS): this allows individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate over video telephones with those who are hearing in real-time via a sign language interpreter.
    3. Video Phone Technology—these web camera videophone and videoconferencing systems can serve as complements to personal computers and are connected to other participants by computer and VolP networks (ex. Skype).
    4. Other tools—dry erase boards, notepads, text messaging, apps, Boogie Board, and other tools can be useful for very simple conversations or exchanges. You could also learn basic American Sign Language to help bridge the communication gap.
  6. According to a survey conducted by the Job Accommodation Network, most employers report no cost associated with accommodations. The typical one-time cost for accommodations is around $500.
  7. Safety First—Are your emergency procedures inclusive of those with disabilities? For those who are deaf and hard of hearing, you may choose to install special alert lights or implement a buddy system to inform employees when there is an emergency. If an employee who is deaf or hard of hearing faces away from an entrance or doorway in their workspace, use a mirror so they can easily see when they have visitors or when someone is approaching them from behind.

I hope these tips and ideas help you and your own team to be more inclusive of your hearing impaired workers!

Employee Leave Management-It’s a Manager’s Game

Yesterday I attended day one of the Alabama SHRM Conference. The pre-con session on employee leave management was an interesting one for me, and I quickly saw three key areas where many companies can trip up if managers are not properly prepared. Just a word of warning–none of them are a quick fix. They require training, patience, and more training.

HR’s not the center of the employee leave management universe

employee leave managementWith the managers on the front lines with regard to employee communication, your organization can be in trouble before you ever know what hit you. It’s critical to train managers on what Family Medical Leave Act requirements are and how those should be routed to you or the appropriate person for employee leave management purposes. You should also cover the other key legal areas (Americans with Disabilities Act, etc.) so they know to come to you whenever one of these potentially sticky areas presents itself.

If you assume managers will know what to do, you’re kidding yourself.

Handling the “favorite” child

Another discussion I had today was around ADA accommodations for employees who request them. I think we understand the implications of offering accommodations, and some managers even seem to have a grasp on that side of the equation. I think one of the challenges that spins out of that is how the other employees see the accommodation.

Maybe someone gets an office on the first floor because they can’t climb stairs. Maybe they get a nicer chair because they have back issues. Whatever the case, it’s important to head off any commentary from the unaffected employees if it crops up.

All the work put in to provide accommodations and assist the employee can be undone by insensitive comments from other peers. I’d hope that nobody would say anything, but I’ve been around long enough to know it’s always a possibility. Situations where people think someone else is getting a benefit they don’t have, even when it’s related to employee leave management, tend to cloud peoples’ judgement at times.

Changing the mindset

Picture yourself as a supervisor with an employee on intermittent FMLA status. That’s a pretty typical employee leave management situation. When it comes time to rate employee performance, how are you going to keep the leave separate from the actual performance on the job? If I was in that situation, I admit that it would be a difficult proposition.

I think supervisors need support and encouragement to continue focusing on the work accomplishments and getting people back up to full productivity, not looking at what is not getting done due to someone being on leave for some protected status.

It would be very difficult not to, in some corner of your mind, consider the employees on FMLA as slackers compared to the rest of the staff. In this example you can substitute USERRA or ADA just as easily. I think it’s important to get it out there and off the table as soon as possible when discussing with managers.

“I know Katy’s leave is making it tough on you guys to get your deliverables completed on time, but let’s focus on the positive side of things and work to get her back up to speed as quickly and safely as possible. She’s a good worker and wants to get back to work full speed as soon as she can.”

Simple, easy, but probably a rare conversation.

Again, these are only a few of the key areas that I’ve seen can become issues if not dealt with early in the process. Have you seen these play out well (or not so well) in your own organization? Care to share any best practices around employee leave management?