Tips for Communicating with Deaf/Hard of Hearing Employees

Published June 7, 2022

Starting a new job can be daunting for any employee, but it’s even more difficult if you have a hearing disability. The following article looks at managing contact between your employees when someone in the office is D/deaf or hard of hearing.

Learn the employee's communication preferences

Living with a hearing disability can be challenging, but most people have found their own ways of managing social or workplace situations. It’s essential to get to know your employee and how their disability or Deaf identity works for them. For example, someone who identifies as Deaf likely uses American Sign Language (ASL). They may require a sign language interpreter, or they may be able to lipread. 

However, others who identify as D/deaf or hard of hearing (HoH) may not understand ASL and will instead require alternative methods of communication. The deaf and hard of hearing spectrum covers a wide range of hearing ability and communication preferences, but some of the most common methods used include:

  • Lipreading
  • Note-taking
  • Transcriptions and captions
  • Speech-to-text software
  • Dictation apps

Discover alternate methods for alerts

Someone who is profoundly or severely deaf is unlikely to understand an audible conversation at all, and they may also struggle to understand louder sounds like fire alarms. It’s essential to check with your employees whether or not they need an alternative to a fire alarm or any other signals usually found in your workplace.

Alternative methods include assistive devices that are:

  • Visible (such as flashing lights)
  • Vibrotactile (a vibrating component)
  • Auditory (increased amplification and/or lower frequency sounds)

Click here to read more about assistive devices for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Awareness of yourself and your surroundings

People who identify as hard of hearing can usually understand conversation with some support. Many rely on lipreading and hearing aids, but each individual is very different. Find out if your D/deaf or hard of hearing employee needs to lipread, and let the rest of your team know, so they can ensure they are facing the employee with hearing loss when they speak.

It’s much harder to hear clearly if there is a lot of background noise or if several conversations are going on in the same room. You’ll also want to consider the use of telephone calls. Many hard of hearing employees have difficulty using a telephone. Some alternatives to phone calls include Slack or other IMs, text/SMS, and email.

Don’t forget about social events

It’s essential to remember your D/deaf or hard of hearing employee when you arrange team bonding events or office parties. Whether they’re at work or not, your D/deaf or hard-of-hearing teammate will need the same accommodations they have in the office, such as being able to see faces to lipread, avoiding background noise, and an alternative to a telephone.

If your team is working away from their usual location, consider how this will affect your employees who live with a disability or who identify as Deaf or differently-abled. A change in location might be easy for you, but it can be challenging for someone with a disability.

With these tips, you’ll find your D/deaf or hard of hearing employee manages office communication with other employees with ease.

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