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Ensure Everyone Can Communicate

leadership transition Aug 16, 2023
ASL okay man

- By Sophie Pinkoski

The rise of remote and hybrid work over the years has proven that we are resilient and capable of so much more than we anticipated before the pandemic changed the professional world forever. One thing that has become evident is what can be done to support deaf and hard of hearing professionals. Now more than ever, we have easy access to technology and resources to accommodate every person's needs. 

Organizations can be confident in hiring more deaf and hard of hearing team members as awareness toward communication accessibility grows. 

There are many options for accommodating deaf and hard of hearing participants in virtual and in person meetings. Naturally, each individual will have their own preferences, therefore it’s important to ask individuals what works best for them. They will likely have a process they’re already comfortable with, so take their lead and use the technology or resources that they’re most used to. As Sarah Morgan, of the National Reconnaissance Office states, “Deaf people experience inclusion through reasonable accommodations, overcoming communication barriers, and [by] ensuring visual accessibility and safety.” 

By putting inclusive accommodations in place for them, it will be easier for them to take part in meetings alongside their hearing colleagues.  

Here are some tools to consider implementing to simplify virtual communications with your deaf and hard of hearing team members during meetings: 

Assistive Technology –– Technology is available to help connect your organization with professionals who can ease the communication between hearing and hard of hearing team members during meetings. Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) equipment employs the services of a sign language interpreter, who will sign what hearing participants are saying to their deaf or hard of hearing peers. Meanwhile, Communication Access Real Time Translation (CART) captioning utilizes a stenographer, who transcribes what is being said in real time for participants. This is a more immediate and accurate alternative to the automated captions that already come with virtual conferencing apps like Zoom. It’s helpful to have these assistive technologies on hand in addition to the accessibility options available within your video conferencing app of choice. 

Sign language interpreters –– Another option for hiring an interpreter is to do it through an agency. It’s recommended that you follow your deaf or hard of hearing team members’ lead on this, as they may already have an agency in mind that they prefer. Select someone familiar with the topic at hand to ensure they are capable of accurately communicating the specialized language particular to your meeting. The chosen interpreter will join the meeting the same as everyone else, and the designated meeting host should pin their screen to keep them visible to those who need them. 

Virtual setup rules –– We all know the drill by now when it comes to going over meeting etiquette at the start of a meeting. Proper procedure when including deaf or hard of hearing participants might already be familiar to many people. 

There should be a clear sense of order to make it as easy as possible to follow discussions. 

The host, speaker, moderator, and interpreter should be prioritized on video meetings. Everyone else should keep their video and mics off unless they are speaking. The moderator should manage the conversation through a queue system of hand-raising and turn taking. They should monitor the chat box for new questions and announce who is speaking next. 

Minimizing distractions –– There are things everyone can do to make it easier for deaf and hard of hearing colleagues to comprehend them. Keep your video screen well-lit and centered. They will need to see your face –– covering your mouth is as bad as turning your back to your audience. Avoid any background noise and respect who is speaking at any given time by waiting to talk until given permission to do so. 

Many aspects of remote video etiquette have become common practice during virtual meetings. When it comes to accommodating deaf and hard of hearing participants, it simply takes applying assistive technology to already familiar practices. They key is to work collaboratively with the individual to decide which option is best based on the individual’s preferences and needs. 

Being open-minded to existing accommodation options will make it easier to adapt your organization to include other deaf and hard of hearing professionals in the future. 

Building this level of accessibility for them signals that they are valued and have a supported place in the workforce. 


Further Reading

Simple Accommodations for Deaf Employees You May Have Never Considered, SHRM

Accommodating Deaf and Hard of Hearing of Employees, Sure Hire

Accessible Remote Work Meetings for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Employees, Hearing Loss Association of America

A Guide to Accommodating Employees Who are Deaf, Verbit

Accommodation and Compliance: Deafness, Job Accommodation Network

Remote Workplace Communications Access: Recommendations for Employers During Times of Expanded Telework, Hearing Loss Association of America

Communicating with Hard-of-Hearing Colleagues, Mind Tools


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