When was the last time you hired someone who was d/Deaf or hard of hearing? Probably more recently than you know! According to the d/Deaf People and Employment in the US report, the workforce is composed of at least 48% of people who are d/ Deaf or hard of hearing. In many instances, these employees are not being accommodated in the workplace. As the popular diversity and inclusion statement goes, ‘If you’re not intentionally including, you are unintentionally excluding.’
If your organization’s goal is to be more inclusive, ensure you are specifically considering the needs of the d/Deaf community.
What exactly does it mean to be d/Deaf or hard of hearing? With most things, there is a spectrum that is diverse and situational. A d/Deaf person’s ‘style’ of communicating is highly dependent on their upbringing. In many instances, a d/Deaf person born into a d/Deaf family will grow up using American Sign Language and may even attend a d/Deaf school. Sometimes, when a d/ Deaf person is born into a hearing family, they will attend school with hearing children, may have a cochlear implant, or attend an oral school to learn to speak. Around 90% of d/Deaf children are born to hearing parents. Contrary to popular belief, not all d/Deaf people learn or know American Sign Language, but instead may communicate using Cued Speech. According to the National Cued Speech Association, Cued Speech is ‘a visual communication system that uses eight handshapes in four different placements near the face in combination with the mouth movements of speech to make the sounds of spoken language look different from each other’. As with most types of language, different groups adopt colloquialisms that may differ from perfect American Sign Language.
Even whether d/Deaf is capitalized, or not, is significant! According to Very Well Health, people who ‘identify themselves as culturally Deaf and have a strong Deaf identity use a big D. People who do not associate with other members of the deaf community.’ While the distinct is small, it is important!
Hearing loss may be hard to notice in someone you randomly meet, but over 28 million people in the US live with some form of hearing loss. It’s also possible that a person has hearing loss over time that may require hearing aids or a cochlear implant.
Answer this, how many times have you met a person who is d/ Deaf or hard of hearing and assumed that they couldn’t do the job? Often, we miss the thoughts, creativeness, and difference in perspectives because we assume that someone who is d/Deaf is unequipped to do the job. When we think inclusiveness we often, and perhaps unintentionally, exclude those who are d/Deaf.
Being d/Deaf or hard of hearing means having to adapt. It’s this adaption that can create unique benefits for the d/Deaf person, your team, and the overall organization. People who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing must rely on senses other than hearing to be successful in the world and in the workplace. Over 55% of the way we communicate is through nonverbal body language. For most people, these nonverbal signals go unnoticed, but for someone who is d/Deaf, body language can be more telling than the actual words being communicated. A person of the d/Deaf community is more in tune with these behaviors and can better understand how someone is feeling through their nonverbal behavior. Another unique characteristic that many people in the d/Deaf community have is their ability to not be distracted. Communicating using cued speech or American Sign Language means paying particular attention to the person communicating to fully grasp what they are saying. Think about the last time you were in a crowded room trying to communicate with someone. Did you find it difficult to remain focused? Did you find yourself drifting into the conversation of someone around you?
If you have avoided hiring someone who is d/Deaf or hard of hearing, or just not sure how to be inclusive, here are 5 things you can start doing today!
1. Offer d/Deaf Culture Classes. Host d/Deaf culture classes in the workplace to help introduce current employees on strategies to connect and understand people who are d/Deaf. Have the class lead by a d/Deaf person and provide an interpreter so other employees can see how a d/Deaf person communicates in a business setting. Schedule a panel of d/Deaf people from the community to come in and share their experiences with being d/ Deaf. Bring in people with a variety of hearing abilities to better understand the various forms of communication.
2. Offer Sign Language Classes. Host American Sign Language (ASL) classes for employees to attend in the mornings or during lunch. They can learn basic signs and business terminology that they can use on a daily basis.
3. Create a Specific Plan to Recruit D/Deaf People. Meet with your HR recruiting team and schedule a d/Deaf etiquette session. Include a d/Deaf person and an interpreter. This will allow the recruiting team to ask questions and gain knowledge of the various ways a d/Deaf person may process the questions being asked. Attend a job fair at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), National Technical Institute of the D/Deaf (NTID) and similar schools to specifically recruit people who are d/Deaf.
4. Invite the D/Deaf Community in for a Visit. Allow people in the d/Deaf community to come in and tour your facility. Provide lunch and show your organization’s willingness to change the culture to include them. Also, it allows employees to see d/Deaf people using ASL with the hopes of increasing the level of comfort for everyone.
5. Provide Accommodations. Provide interpreters and let employees know that you are willing to provide this accommodation. Provide interpreters at meetings, conferences, and anywhere else deemed necessary. Add closed captioning to all videos, ads, commercials, or anything with audio. Provide visual emergency notifications and create safe spaces for those in the d/ Deaf community to discuss issues they may be facing. Lastly, ask the d/Deaf employee their preference on how their workplace is set up so they can work effectively and comfortably.
Bonus tip! Include those who are hard of hearing in your inclusivity practices. While you may not know that someone is hard of hearing, you can create an environment that is mindful of everyone on the spectrum. Many of the accommodations that are necessary for people of the d/Deaf community to bring their entire self to work, may also help others perform at their highest level.
Sherry Glenn -- creator and champion of the Deaf initiative at Brown-Forman.
Demetria Miles-McDonald -- intersectionality expert, KYSHRM Diversity and Inclusion Director, Founder of Decide Diversity