Working with hearing impaired employees: How to make offices more accessible for them

Working with hearing impaired employees: How to make offices more accessible for them

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While the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (This link will take you to the People with Disability Australia website about the Disability Discrimination Act) states that it is unlawful to discriminate against an individual in many public areas of life including employment due to a certain physical or intellectual barrier they possess, it is up for debate on whether it has been instilled in the minds of the masses.

An individual with an auditory impairment can possess the same levels of a certain skill as an individual without. However, more often than not, it is the individual who doesn't have an impediment that is chosen to carry out the duty.

This can be due to a lack of confidence when employing a person with a hearing impairment or simply because the employer doesn’t possess the tools to provide the proper access to transform an office environment into an all-inclusive one.

Here’s what you can do as an employer to make the office more accessible and its staff more aware of what working with hearing impaired employees is like.

Building a more inclusive workspace

Make the departments aware of their colleague’s limitations in hearing and educate them on how they can make the workplace a more inclusive one.

Meetings are an integral part of any office. Make use of assistive technology (This link will take you to a page on the Assistive Technology Australia website about assistive technology) apps that provide high-quality, real-time captions so that no one is left out of the loop during important discussions.

Ask your employee what method of communication they prefer to use when having to contribute during a discussion and accommodate the request to the best of your ability.

Most individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing lip-read. To make it convenient for them to do so, make sure their workspace is positioned where they can see their coworkers' faces clearly for easier communication.

Improving company-employee communication

In the event an audio company announcement is made to its employees, assign an individual to inform their colleague of the audio message being relayed. 

Follow this up with a text format of the announcement to keep any employees that are unable to follow public announcements updated.

Adding visual alarms for emergencies 

Most emergency alert systems in office buildings are through alarms. This is ineffective when it comes to alerting an individual with an auditory impairment.

Instead, opt to install flashing lights that accompany the sound alarms, send emergency text messages and assign a colleague to assist an employee with hearing impairment during an emergency.

Increasing support for employees with hearing impairments

The employment rate among individuals who are hard of hearing is extremely low (This link will take you to a landing page on Shine SC about why inclusion in the workplace is important) due to the lack of inclusive and unwelcoming office environments.

Here are some ways to make your office more all-inclusive:

    • Educating the workforce on the importance of being an all-inclusive place of work.
    • Be patient - remember, an auditory impairment isn't related to intelligence.
    • Don’t be afraid to check in on the employee to make sure they’re following along.
    • Provide agendas of meetings ahead of time so the employee is on track.

Making an effort to make an office more inclusive will not pose any setbacks to its work culture or business. 

Having an all-inclusive workforce promotes diversity among employees, creates equal job opportunities and encourages more individuals with physical or intellectual impairments to integrate into society.

Communicating with an employee who has an auditory impairment

Never leave a colleague with an auditory impediment out of a conversation. While conversing, do not dismiss them if they don’t catch on to what you are saying.

Instead, here are some ways to improve communication with your coworker:

Asking what helps

Don’t be afraid to ask your coworker what form of communication they prefer. It could make the communication process a lot smoother for both parties.

Once you know whether your coworker prefers lip reading, signing or a combination of both you can proceed to accommodate the most suitable way to communicate.

Learning sign language

If the employee prefers sign language as a method of communication, it won’t hurt to know a few basic signs. Not only will this ease and improve communication, but it will also make the employee feel valued.

Having good body language

For an employee who prefers to lip-read, make sure they have a clear view of your face to make it easier for them to see your facial expressions and lips.

Don’t speak too slowly or too quickly, and remember to speak clearly without shouting. This will only make it more difficult for the employee to understand.

Hiring an interpreter

When possible, it is always good to have a sign language interpreter. Especially, if the employee prefers to use sign language as their main form of communication.

This is extremely beneficial if the employee is contributing their input in a professional setting, like a meeting or presentation.

An interpreter can get the message across efficiently, reducing the chances of miscommunication.

Improve accessibility for employees with an auditory impairment 

Just like an office building catering to the needs of people who have physical limitations and providing them with structures like ramps for mobility assistance, an inclusive workplace should include assistive features for an employee with a sensory impairment.

Here are some features that can be included in an office building to assist an employee with a hearing impairment:

    • Provide suitable visual aids throughout the workspace, such as simple, clearly written signs and visual guides in sign language.
    • Audio loops through an amplified sound system to improve the quality of hearing for an employee wearing a hearing aid.

Create the ideal environment for working with hearing impaired employees

Providing an employee with an auditory impediment with the suitable tools to make their job easier is only one part of making the office more accommodating.

An individual with a hearing impairment may find it challenging and may require some time to settle into a working environment where the majority of its employees don’t have the same impairments.

Let employees know that support is available whenever it is needed and encourage coworkers and managers to check in with their coworkers. 

Being a workplace with an all-inclusive environment that employs people of all abilities is a source of empowerment for such individuals. 

Recognising them for their strengths and not their impairments builds confidence and self-esteem. For more information get in touch with the nearest disability service provider and contribute to making the employment field an all-inclusive one.

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