Common knowledge points out that workplace situations involving groups or excessive noise cause difficulties for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. This is particularly true when receiving instructions, participating in meetings, socializing, and getting training.
A five-year project involving 201 employees with hearing impairment (and 51 employers) assessed current practices in workplace accommodations using forced-choice questions and open-ended questions. The majority (44%) of employees worked in managerial or professional positions, 35% worked in sales, support, or technical positions, and the rest worked in service or other occupations. Their employers were more aware of employees having deafness than employees who were hard of hearing. The majority of companies stated that they had less than six employees with hearing impairments. Most companies, too, had more than 25 employees, which made them have to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act provisions.
Employers said they often had frustrations when accommodating employees with hearing impairment, for example, finding a sign language interpreter for last minute meetings. Employees said the most common accommodation was assistive devices. The device most often cited was an amplified phone (66%). Assistive devices such as real-time captioning or infrared systems were used by only 18% of respondents. Most accommodations were for one-on-one communication and not for group situations. Support personnel (for example, a secretary) was mentioned by 25% of respondents. Most support came from co-workers. Job restructuring (for example, assignment exchange, procedure redesign) factored in only 25% of the employees' jobs.
One reason that employees did not have more accommodations may be because 75% of the employers said employees had to make the first step in getting accommodations. This first step was usually a request to the immediate supervisor who often does not process the requests or determine whether the request was needed. Employers said it would be useful when receiving requests if the employee provided a specific reason why the change was needed, the cost, technical information about the request, and how the change will employee job performance.
Are accommodations being denied? Employers didn't think so. In fact, 78% said they approved 100% of accommodation requests the previous year. If a request was refused, employers said, it was because the request was inappropriate as a problem solution. Survey results indicated that employers want to provide appropriate accommodation but often do not know what is available or needed.
Recommendations stemming from the results were:
Develop problem-solving training to assist worker in identifying appropriate accommodations
Teach workers that marketing is an exchange of benefits. So, when making a request, explain how it would benefit the company not how it would benefit the individual
Have access to accommodation resources for the deaf or hard of hearing
Research for this article was funded by the National Institute of Disability Rehabilitation and Research in the U.S. Department of Education. #172
Scherich, D. L. (1996, April/May/June). Job accommodations in the workplace for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing: Current practices and recommendations. Journal of Rehabilitation, 27-35.
Keyword: Americans With Disabilities Act
Copyright. The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Independent Living.