The pandemic has made the workplace exponentially more difficult for the hearing impaired. Already struggling with feelings of loneliness before COVID-19, they must now contend with even more profound isolation. To make matters worse, the communication gaps faced before the pandemic have only worsened from an already abysmal state. In this post, we will see the most frustrating things about remote work for the hard of hearing and D/deaf community.
Due to underutilized technology or a lack of reliable tools, the hard of hearing and D/deaf communities have been forced to overcome massive hurdles over the past 18 months. We’re going to go over a few of the most frustrating. But, more importantly, we’ll discuss what you as an employer can do both now and in the future.
The Problem With Phone Calls
It’s shocking how few major consumer corporations, banks, and even government agencies lack options for the hearing impaired aside from outdated Text Telephone (TTY) systems. It’s impossible to even get a quote for employee health insurance without using a phone, and there’s a drastic shortage of interpreter services as well.
Ultimately, these issues together leave a vast number of people without options even to do their jobs or obtain basic care.
What You Can Do
Aside from bringing in an interpreter, think about how your business processes may contribute to the problem. For example, avoid connecting with your hearing-impaired staff via phone, and instead, ask them how they’d prefer to communicate. More importantly, update your external processes with accessibility options beyond telephones and telecoils.
Finally, act as an advocate for your employees when they run into trouble with things related to their work.
The rise of virtual resources and events has filled a gap for the hearing impaired. Still, it’s a hollow gesture without decent captioning and other accessibility measures — like watching a TV on mute. Virtual meetings have the potential to be even worse. From the overwhelming noise created by multiple participants trying to talk at once to poor video quality making lip-reading nearly impossible, even a single meeting can be an absolute nightmare.
What You Can Do
The Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Resource Center offers the following advice in regards to making your meetings more accessible for the hearing impaired;
- Ensure your meetings are as small as possible.
- Define roles for each meeting.
- Manage turn-taking, and mandate that people who aren’t currently talking have their mics off.
- Bring in an interpreter.
- Consider turning off video except for interpreters and other critical roles.
- Consider providing your employees with a second screen and subsidizing their Internet bills so they can afford a better connection.
A Lack of Employer Accommodation
There’s no denying that workplaces need more tools to increase accessibility. But the attitudes necessary to accomplish this are conspicuously absent. And the battle for accommodations goes all the way to the highest governing bodies in the land.
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), for instance, sued the White House last year over a refusal to provide interpreters for national COVID-19 announcements.
What You Can Do
Listen to your hard of hearing and D/deaf employees. Address the accessibility pitfalls of your own organizational culture, and consider donating to a nonprofit supporting or advocating for the hearing impaired. Be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
The Need to Do Better
The pandemic has driven home one crucial truth where the hearing impaired are concerned — accessibility can no longer be an afterthought. Companies need better hearing options than telecoils. And businesses must consider their role in creating this atmosphere and their role in changing it for the better.
About the Author:
Pauline Dinnauer is the VP of Audiological Care at Connect Hearing, which provides industry-leading hearing loss, hearing testing, and hearing aid consultation across the US.