Last week, RIT/NTID hosted a webinar for employers who are transitioning to working from home and who have deaf and hearing employees. The panelists, a combination of deaf and hearing individuals, discussed best practices for making a work from home workplace inclusive and accessible to deaf and hard of hearing employees. Keep reading to see what we learned!
Use the Technology You Have
“So many tools [that we’re already using] have accessibility features built in that we can leverage to facilitate communication between deaf and hearing employees,” explained panelist David Heafitz from Prudential.
For example, Microsoft Office has automatic captions for PowerPoint presentations. While automatic captions are not always accurate, they are certainly more accessible than no accommodations at all. Microsoft Teams, Skype and Google also provide live auto-captions for meetings and webinars. If your company doesn’t use these platforms, apps like Ava provide speech-to-text services right on your phone.
Most of the panelists stated that they use Slack, instant messages, email, and text messages to communicate now that they work from home. The great thing about these is that they are accessible, most people already know how to use them, and they are tools you can continue to use if/when you return to the office.
Make Interpreters a Priority
“Automatic speech interpretation is good – but it doesn’t replace an interpreter. Most deaf people prefer ASL, so having an interpreter is a priority for me,” said Thomas Chappell from Prudential Financial.
Having an interpreter join in on Zoom meetings and presentations make these discussions more accessible for your deaf and hard of hearing employees. It also increases opportunities for participation and makes communicating back and forth easier. As mentioned above, automatic captioning is not always accurate, and can lead to miscommunication and missed points, so an interpreter is frequently the preferred option.
There are many ways your company can find qualified interpreters – contracting through a specific agency, hiring staff interpreters, VRS, and more. One way to find out which works best for your employees is to have a meeting and discuss their preferences.
One thing you can do to make your company’s use of interpreters even more successful is having a dedicated pool of interpreters. This allows interpreters to learn about your company’s projects, jargon, and culture so they can more accurately convey messages between hearing and deaf coworkers.
Using new interpreters puts added responsibility on your employees to make sure their messaging is clear and conveyed accurately. By having familiar interpreters, everyone can focus on the task at hand.
Provide Your Employees with the Tools They Need
Working from home means more screen time. For deaf and hard of hearing employees it means a need for more screen space too. “In virtual meetings deaf employees need to be able to clearly see the interpreter, the participants, and the content being presented in order to have full access,” explained Claudia Gordon, with Sprint. That visibility isn’t easy to do on just one screen – multiple monitors are a must.
One pain point brought up during this event was the burden of having to serve as your own IT person. Back when your employees were in the same building as your IT team it was easy to connect and have issues solved. Now more of these responsibilities are falling on employees who may not have the experience. Clear step-by-step guides are one solution. Another is to hire deaf employees or work with companies who can provide customer service directly in ASL. This will allow your deaf and hard of hearing employees the opportunity to get troubleshooting advice in their native language.
Visit aslnow.com to find organizations that prioritize customer service in ASL.
Establish a System for Feedback
In addition to providing your employees with the right technology and tech support, it’s also important to provide opportunities for follow up and clarification. Panelist Kelly Murphy, of Dow Chemical, makes a point to meet with her D/HH employees before and after large meetings to go over what was being discussed and clear up any possible miscommunications. Clear agendas and meeting notes are also a great option to make your meetings more accessible.
Make Your Workplace More Accessible with CSD Works
There are always opportunities to make your workplace more deaf-friendly, and with the evolution of technology, there are even more options on the horizon. CSD Works can support your organization on its path to becoming more accessible. Download one of our free eGuides today or fill out this form to learn more about our services.
This webinar was made possible through the collaboration of RIT/NTID, Gallaudet University, The National Association of the Deaf, and CSD.