From the view of a non-disabled person -- or the perspective of someone who is not familiar -- the daily work routine of an individual with a hearing-related disability may look just like any other. The truth is, not all disabilities are readily visible. This doesn't mean that they don't present challenges that are equal to, or even greater than, disabilities that are easily seen by the non-disabled. Hearing disabilities can range from mild to moderate (where the person may be able to hear some things) to severe or profound (where the person cannot hear anything at all.)
As an inclusive employer, there are steps you can take to provide an accessible, accommodating environment for persons with hearing-related disabilities. This is by no means a complete list -- but it's a great place to get the conversation started, and your company on the way to becoming more inclusive.
Acceptance and awareness of hearing disabilities
It will be important for those in the workplace to be aware of any employees who may be affected by a hearing disability. There are, of course, appropriate and tactful ways to accomplish this -- but no hard rule that is "set in stone." Employers can work with their employee to discuss ways this can be tackled. Disability awareness training is one avenue, and is offered by many private and non-profit institutions devoted to helping companies become more inclusive. Or, it could be as open and simple as an all-employee meeting to openly discuss awareness of the issue, even including the employees that it affects. Employers may want to consult the ADA guidelines for further advice on what is (and what is not) appropriate. No matter which solution a company chooses, acceptance and awareness starts from the top down, throughout the whole organization.
Consider your office plan and layout
Tamara, an office worker in London who has moderate hearing loss, wrote that an "open" type of office layout can present some unique challenges. These challenges may not be immediately apparent to the non-disabled. Things like increased background noise and "chit-chat" making it difficult to lip-read or utilize a hearing aid. Unexpected noises that travel more easily through an open floorplan, or co-workers not facing her when they speak (making it extremely difficult to hear them even with hearing technology) are a few other examples.
Sometimes, a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a mild to moderate hearing disability -- such as the location or position of their desk -- could make all the difference. Think of factors such as how sound carries and echoes through a space, for example.
Closed captioning, company communications, and meetings
For employees with a hearing disability, all official company communication such as bulletins, announcements, etc. should have a text version available. Videos should provide closed captioning. Any new employee onboarding or training materials should also provide text versions.
Companies will want to ensure that all their employees can participate fully in meetings, including individuals with hearing disabilities. This includes asking the employees how they would like to participate in the meeting, and also providing written materials, presentations, or agendas whenever possible. (You'll find some examples below, too, on how technology can help during meetings!)
A sign language interpreter or an employee who knows sign language may also be helpful to accommodate employees with hearing loss, in the event they use sign language.
Leverage the power of technology
The benefits that vastly improved accessibility technology have brought to those with hearing loss can't be understated. Many will think of certain technologies right away, such as advanced cochlear implants, sound processors, and modern hearing aids. But what about in the workplace?
- Real-time subtitles for presentations (Microsoft PowerPoint)
- Autogenerating captions for company videos (Microsoft Stream)
- Ease of Access, CC, and notification settings (Microsoft Windows 10)
Ready to get started?
If you’re an employer looking to take the next step to becoming inclusive, remember that there are many ways you can remove barriers for your employees with hearing-related disabilities. Combine this with a true commitment to a diverse workforce and a dedication to hiring persons with disabilities and you’re on your way to increasing productivity and equality for all employees.