Headed back to the office? Here’s what you can do to support your Deaf or Hard-of-hearing colleagues.
The passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 was historic. Although not perfect, since its passing, it has provided access for people with disabilities in a myriad of ways.
One of the most impactful aspects of the ADA is its protection of the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace: employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation and they cannot discriminate against anyone with disabilities.
But accessibility isn’t just the right thing to do or good practice, it’s also good business. A recent study shows that accessibility can enrich your bottom line, in addition to enhancing your company’s work culture and experience:
Linking accessibility to corporate strategy, future needs, the employee experience and bottom-line performance will have the added benefit of engaging the C-suite and other leadership in efforts that might otherwise be confined to HR, line managers and IT teams. Doing so will therefore turbo-charge inclusion and diversity while also growing the business — a win-win situation!
For Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks, this can mean a lot of different things. There’s no one right answer (other than that there should be proper accommodations in place).
But it’s not just up to employers to uphold an accessible workplace environment, it’s a team effort.
So here’s what can you do to support your colleagues while you’re in the office:
1. Always ask their preferred method of communication
If it’s not clear, just ask! This shows that you care enough to put in the effort, plus it’s a good way to introduce yourself and make a new friend!
2. Don’t yell to get someone’s attention
Instead, try waving, gently tapping their shoulder, or stomping your foot on the ground (some people may be accustomed to feeling vibrations on the floor).
3. Use Assistive Technology
There is an abundance of assistive technologies out there. It’s important to recognize that each person’s needs may differ. Some people might prefer to follow along with captions, others may require video relay services (VRS), and some may work best with both! If you’re in a position to make decisions, do some homework and take the time to understand what accommodations would fit best.
The Ava app (for your phone and computer alike!) provides high-quality captions in real-time by listening to what is said. Ava can be used on its own or in conjunction with other accommodations for total accessibility. It’s perfect for virtual meetings on any conference calling software. The best part? Ava works with HR teams to get captions sponsored for free.
You can download a free version here.
4. Check for understanding
Even with all the accessibility measures in place, it’s possible for some things to get missed or lost in translation.
If you suspect that something you or someone said may have been unclear, don’t be afraid to check-in and ask if your colleague is following along 👍
If you’re using captioning software, you can also be proactive by announcing your name every time you speak (“This is Julio, I wanted to ask…”) and watching your captions to ensure that what you are saying is captioned correctly.
5. Keep you and your officemates safe!
If you’re practicing COVID-friendly safety measures in your office, make sure to do just that.
Social distancing and mask-wearing are super important during the pandemic. But it’s no secret that the masks make it exceptionally hard for people who depend on lipreading or facial cues. Consider getting clear masks for your team or using Ava to caption through the masks!
Bottom line: do what you can to keep yourself and your teammate safe. If you need to unmask, do so safely.
6. Make sure you have strong internet connection
If you’re working remotely, make sure that your internet connection is stable and strong.
It’s hard enough to follow along in a remote environment, where body language and in-person interaction, in general, are amiss. It’s important so that video, audio, and any accommodations can be shown at the best quality possible.
Do what you can to ensure that your internet allows for productivity and accessibility.
7. Caption your presentations
Research shows that 80% of closed caption users aren’t Deaf or hard-of-hearing. In fact, captions are helpful to those who are not fluent in the primary language, those with auditory processing disorders, and other people with disabilities.
Keep in mind that automated captioning has the potential for errors, especially with specialized vocabulary or names. Consider captions that incorporate a human who can correct in real-time so that it’s as accessible as possible (make sure to check out Ava Scribe).
By captioning your presentations, you make them accessible to everyone!
8. Use alternative text for pictures and graphs in your documents, reports, presentations
For those that might also experience low-vision in addition to deafness, adding alternative text allows someone who uses screen-readers or other assistive devices to get a full understanding of the document.
Microsoft and Google have made it easy to add alt. text (Microsoft will even generate alt. text for you based on what it thinks the image is! Make sure to double-check, though, because it’s not always perfect.)
For tips on how to write effective alt. text, check out this guide.
9. Educate yourself and understand your bias
It’s fair that you’re not an expert on all things inclusion. But you can still do what you can to learn more about people with disabilities and any pre-existing biases you may hold. For starters, you can educate yourself on hearing privilege.
Take the time to engage in respectful dialogue and listen to your colleagues to gain perspective. Keep your mind open and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
10. Be patient, be flexible, and be understanding
Active efforts for inclusion and accessibility may be new to your and your team, but don’t give up!
Don’t brush off something because they didn’t get what you said right away. Take a second to repeat yourself.
Also, it’s important to consider the learning curve when setting up new accommodations. It may take a while the first few times, but don’t rush.
If you’re getting frustrated and impatient, imagine what it must be like for your colleague. Just try your best and you can’t go wrong!