The new year brings a fresh start to our lives; it’s a natural time to reflect on the year past and make plans for the coming year. At the start of 2019 The Mind Hears offered a post on making your academic workplace more accessible for your deaf/HoH colleagues. For 2020, we’ve updated the list of recommendations on the google doc and expanded below on the reasons why you should work to improve your workplace’s inclusivity today.
Universal design your workplace: Our spaces become more inclusive for all when we improve access for any subgroup of our community. Consequently, by increasing the accessibility of our workplaces for our deaf and hard of hearing colleagues, we create a better workplace for everyone. This includes hearing folks who have auditory processing disorder, use English as their second language or are acquiring hearing loss during their careers. Chances are that someone in your department has hearing loss, whether they’ve disclosed this or not, and will benefit from your efforts to make your workplace more accessible (see post on Where are the deaf/HoH academics). This is why you should universal design your workplace now and not wait until someone who is struggling asks you to make modifications.
Sharing the work: With a google search you can find several resources on workplace accessibility for deaf/HoH employees, such as the Hearing Loss Association of America’s (HLAA) very useful employment toolkit. One drawback of these resources is that nearly all of the suggestions are framed as actions for the deaf/HoH employee. While deaf and hard of hearing academics need to be strong self-advocates and take steps to improve their accommodations, our hearing colleagues can help us tremendously by sharing the work and not expecting us to bear all of the burden of creating accessible workplaces. Speech reading conversations, planning accommodations and making sure that technology/accommodations function is never-ending and exhausting work that we do above and beyond our teaching, research and service. Your understanding and your help changing our workplaces can make a huge difference to us. For example, if a speaker doesn’t repeat the question, ask them to repeat even if you heard the question just fine. The people who didn’t hear the question are already stressed and fatigued from working hard to listen, so why expect them to do the added work of ensuring speakers repeat questions. Repeating the question benefits everyone.
One size doesn’t fit all: If a participant requests accommodation for a presentation or meeting, follow up with them and be prepared to iterate to a solution that works. It may be signed interpreters (there are different kinds of signing), oral interpreters, CART (see post on Captions and Craptions), or FM systems (see post on Using FM systems at conferences). It could be rearranging the room or modifying the way that the meeting is run. Keep in mind that what works for one deaf/HoH person may not work for another person with similar deafness. What works for someone in one situation may not work at all for that same person in another situation, even if the situations seem similar to you. The best solution will probably not be the first approach that you try nor may it be the quickest or cheapest approach; it will be the one that allows your deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues to participate fully and contribute to the discussion. Reaching the goal of achieving an academic workplace accessible to deaf/HoH academics is a journey.
What to be a better ally and make your workplace accessible for your deaf and hard of hearing colleagues? Follow this link to read our list of recommendations. This is a living document and we welcome your comments and suggestions either to this post or directly within the document.