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Adjusting to a new workplace as a Deaf or hard-of-hearing employee can be challenging. Deaf workers may feel discouraged and even become isolated if colleagues don’t foster an inclusive, welcoming environment — and it goes beyond bare minimum accommodations, says Corey Axelrod, founder of Chicago-based strategic consulting and training firm 2axend.
“Providing accommodations isn't simply just providing accommodations,” says Axelrod, who is Deaf. “It doesn’t create an environment that celebrates inclusivity in the sense that Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals feel welcomed and valued in their respective work environment.”
So what does? How should HR professionals and other teams approach onboarding new hires? We spoke with Axelrod and other distinguished voices in the world of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to shed light on answers. Here are 5 things HR professionals should know before hiring Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
1. Check your Assumptions at the Door
The Deaf and hard-of-hearing community isn’t a monolith. No single experience encapsulates the Deaf experience in its entirety; and this, according to Norma Morán, is crucial. “Just like you, Deaf and hard-of-hearing people come from all walks of life,” says Morán, a Deaf, Washington D.C.-based DEI consultant. “Each has their values, beliefs, perspectives, philosophies, and other elements that constitute their unique humanity. Their lived experiences and personal identities will vary.”
And if no single narrative sums up the Deaf experience, Morán goes on to say, then don’t assume a one-size-fits-all accommodation approach will suffice. “Do not expect cookie-cutter accommodations for your Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees, as there is no singular accommodation or experience that will fit and work for everyone,” she says.
2. Prioritize Communication Accessibility
It’s paramount to evaluate communication accessibility from the perspectives of Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and candidates — this will help gauge the experience throughout all aspects of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and day-to-day interactions. “Understanding this involves incorporating Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals as a part of the process of making sure the experience is welcoming for all,” says Axelrod.
Norma Morán also supports this integrated onboarding approach: “Do your research thoroughly and thoughtfully then proactively offer multiple options — captions, interpreters, the use of technology platforms, and so forth,’’ says Morán. “It will assist in lightening the load that Deaf and hard-of-hearing candidates experience.”
3. Get Buy-In Beyond Human Resources
Human Resources departments are part of the equation. However, to solidify an inclusive hiring process and work environment for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees, non-HR colleagues need to invest too.
Even small changes, such as rethinking the traditional office meeting, can lead to companywide rewards, according to Kellynette Gomez, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the State of Massachusetts, who is Deaf. “Create a company culture where meeting agendas are always sent out ahead of time, and keynotes and action items are always shared out afterward,” says Gomez. “This creates clarity for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and actually helps everyone.”
Gomez, who assists Deaf and hard-of-hearing job seekers in her state secure long-term employment, sees the need for a paradigm shift. Workforces should be working harder to understand how to welcome Deaf employees, as opposed to placing the burden squarely on new Deaf hires. “I think Deaf people should be able to feel secure and understood in any job,” she says. “I would suggest if you’ve never met a Deaf person, take some training, maybe a diversity training, or work with your local vocational rehabilitation agency. It’s not just about race, but it’s also about ability and it’s about a culture.”
4. The Basics: Using Tech to Create an Inclusive Culture
In the era of hybrid remote work, meetings and other workplace interactions tend to be in front of screens. Naturally, complications abound for Deaf and hard-of-hearing team members. But basic solutions are out there, says Catarina Rivera, founder of Blindish Latina, a platform that smashes disability stigmas through storytelling, advocacy, and education.
Rivera, who lives with progressive vision loss and moderate-to-severe hearing loss, believes it doesn’t take much to boost inclusivity for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees in the remote work reality we find ourselves in. “Using the hand-raising button in virtual meetings makes meetings more accessible for Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks,” she says. “Instead of asking participants to ‘jump in,’ the chat function also helps everyone participate. In meetings, make sure microphones are muted and only one person has an unmuted mic to reduce background noise.”
5. Your Company Stands to Benefit
Yes, Deaf and hard-of-hearing new hires benefit from landing a new exciting job. But what about companies who hire them? How much do they stand to benefit?
“A lot!” Gomez says. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m Deaf. But companies need to know that hiring people with different abilities makes the environment so much richer. It adds different perspectives and a Deaf person can identify specific things that other people have missed and even help make productivity better.”
What’s often missed by companies, according to Hannah Olson, founder of Chronically Capable, is that hiring Deaf and hard-of-hearing job seekers also impacts the bottom line of businesses. “These people are their consumers, as well, and they, their friends, and their loved ones have big spending power,” she says. “They need to have those people on their teams and understand the marketing, the messaging, and how to build products that are more accessible.”
By Oren Peleg