New Year’s Resolution 2023: Improve accessibility of your workplace for your deaf/HoH colleagues

crumpled post-its notes with various New Years goals, such as manage debt. Includes "make workplace accessible".

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. In what is becoming a The Mind Hears New Year tradition (see posts from 20192020, 2021 and 2022), we have updated our list of recommendations for making your workplace accessible and refined the layout of the recommendations. You can view and download the full list of recommendations for making your workplaces (in-person, hybrid and remote) accessible for your deaf and hard of hearing colleagues at this link. Below we provide an outline of the best approaches for increasing workplace accessibility and provide links to blog posts that explore particular aspects in detail.

Universally 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 (HoH) 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 The Mind Hears blog post about where are all the deaf and hard of hearing academics). This is why you should universally 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 to create accessible workplaces. Speech reading conversations, planning accommodations, and making sure that technology/accommodations work as intended is never-ending and exhausting labor that we do above and beyond our teaching, research, and service. Your understanding and your help can make a large impact. For example, if a speaker doesn’t repeat a question they were asked, 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 asking speakers to repeat? (see The Mind Hears blog post on listening fatigue). Repeating the question benefits everyone. The changes you make today can also help your workplace align with equal opportunity requirements for best hiring practices (see The Mind Hears blog posts about applying for jobs when deaf/HoH here and here). The Mind Hears coordinated the listing of advice for different academic settings below to help you become better allies today.

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 (Communication Access Realtime Translation), or Assistive Listening Devices(formerly called FM systems). 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. And what works for someone in one situation may not work at all for that same person in another situation, even if these 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.

Want 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. We welcome your comments and suggestions either to this post or directly within the document at this link.

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