Deaf Culture in the Workplace

Elizabeth Carter Blogging, Michigan Creative

Companies nowadays are always moving towards accessibility. One of the most important parts of making an environment accessible is understanding the needs of those you work with.

MY EXPERIENCE.

Since earning an Associate Degree in American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting, I have learned a lot about different solutions to improve communication, but not all are 100% effective. For example, a paper from the University of California San Diego mentions “gesture recognizing gloves,” which translate American Sign Language into English. However, the gloves have been critiqued and questioned by linguists, ASL experts and specialists, and the deaf and hard of hearing (HOH) community. They are worn by the signer who signs the words and is then roughly translated into English for the hearing person. There is no way for the hearing person to communicate back to the signer (unless they know sign language). 

How else can we keep the workplace accessible for the deaf and HOH?

  1. Have your staff learn basic ASL. There are apps, classes, and books with easy-to-learn ASL basics. Even mastering the fingerspelling alphabet will allow you to have basic communication with a deaf or HOH person. 
  2. When in doubt, write it out! If you cannot establish effective communication with your deaf client, try writing back and forth. Making the effort to reach a basic understanding means a lot to a deaf or HOH person.
  3. Make sure you have an interpreter available at the client’s request. According to the American with Disabilities Act, companies, “must provide auxiliary aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities.” 
  4. Interpret your online presence. Since ASL is entirely separate from English, written English can sometimes be a struggle for the deaf and HOH community to understand. It becomes even more difficult when a website full of complicated words and ideas is involved. An interpretation video on your website would increase your accessibility. If you are interested in creating a video for your webpages, contact our video team!

Educating yourself on the community will be the best way to make your work environment accessible. To learn more, here is a FAQ from the National Association of the Deaf.