update: how can we best accommodate a deaf employee?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was about to make a job offer to a candidate who was deaf and was wondering about the best accommodations to offer her? (#5 at the link) Here’s the update.

First let me say thank you to Alison for posting my question and thank you to the readers for all of your input. It was quite helpful.

Now for the update. As some of you pointed out, I’m a very proactive person. It’s how I deal with any anxiety that I have… so I put the cart ahead of the horse on this one trying to prepare to onboard her before it was final. I’m sorry to say it didn’t work out. Her offer was contingent on passing a background screening and she did not (which is not as bad as it sounds; in this industry it can be as innocuous as not having good enough credit). But the information is not a lost effort! I was inspired by all of the insight that you provided and examples of things that your workplaces have done in the past to accommodate employees.

Before hearing from you I was unaware of sites like JAN, which opened up a resource not just for deaf accommodation but also a host of other accommodations (even things that aren’t technically a “disability” according to ADA guidelines, like some eating disorders). I didn’t know that products like the pressure mat with light existed. Mango was new to me, but unfortunately the library here doesn’t have it. Still, alternatives like Lifeprint and the apps people have suggested are great to know about.

A big thanks to the people who helped me reframe my thinking about the IM issue. We haven’t been allowed to have IM or email on work-processing computers for security reasons. But I don’t really know if that’s a company security restriction or an industry one. If it’s a company one, maybe bringing it up as a disability accommodation would supersede the security aspect? Maybe not, but it’s worth a shot in asking. I think I’ll have more success in asking since I have a specific program to suggest (one commenter suggested LanTalk XP since it’s a closed one) and that would cut down on research that IT would have to do.

Understanding that written English and ASL are really different languages even if finger spelling in ASL produces the same word was a huge eye-opener as well. In my mind I had kind of equated the two, which turned out to be a false understanding. It changes the way I’ll look at written instructions for deaf employees in the future. Understanding the difference between deaf and Deaf was another big cultural opening for me. So thanks to you I’ll be sensitive to that as well, should the opportunity arise. And I think it will. This whole process has led to me realizing just how good a job fit this work could be for deaf/HOH people. There’s nothing that couldn’t be relayed in writing and there is no client-employee interaction that would necessitate hearing. I’m going to look into placing ads with our local universities’ deaf schools to try and catch grads looking for jobs fresh out of college. We don’t need a long work history, you just have to be able to type and follow instructions well.

This got really long, but the main thing I wanted to convey is thank you. I never would have known about all of these resources without you. I now feel like I won’t fail at the gate if I go down this track again, which makes all the difference to me.

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. Stinky Socks*

    “I’m going to look into placing ads with our local universities’ deaf schools to try and catch grads looking for jobs fresh out of college. We don’t need a long work history, you just have to be able to type and follow instructions well.”

    I can’t tell you how much I love this. My oldest is disabled, although not HOH. One of the biggest, ongoing worries for parents of disabled youth (and the individuals themselves as they become more aware of the larger world) is helping them to find meaningful, “real” jobs. If the majority of potential employers had your kind of attitude, it would be life-changing.

    1. hard of hearing employee*

      I second this! Those of us who are disabled know we have to work even harder to prove ourselves and while it’s illegal to deny someone a job because of disability it’s damn hard to prove a company is actually discriminating against someone with a disability. And then the other reality is there’s still the employment law in the books that allows employers in the US to pay disabled employees less than minimum wage…

    2. Venus*


      There are many organisations which try to help out people with specific disabilities, and they would likely be willing to post a job opportunity, or suggest suitable candidates. It gives me hope that the LW is keen to pursue this more in future.

    3. Woodswoman*

      Yes, this update is amazing. There is so much job discrimination against people with disabilities, and the OP is making a conscious choice to remove barriers and open doors.

    4. WFH Lurker*

      I love that you’re going out of your way to not only learn about accommodations, but also to deliberately target that population of folks who NEED an entry into the work force. You’ve identified a job type that is workable and allows these folks to get some much-needed beginning job experience. This will allow them to get over the hump of not being able to get a job without experience, but not being able to get experience because it’s difficult to find a job that is accommodating to their disability. Good job, you!

    5. CanadaTag*

      I am actually tearing up here because of this update. (In a good way, I assure you!) I am neither d/Deaf nor hard of hearing (though my sister was as a child, due to ear infections), but I do have other disabilities, and I’ve been doing work as an advocate for my disability in the last few years.

      This is… you know, I’d love to work for/with you? You have a wonderful attitude, and I think both that attitude and your determination are going to carry you far and do a lot of good for more than a few people. I’m cheering you on!

  2. Mimmy*

    Sorry to hear that it didn’t work out with this employee. However, I am thrilled to see how much our responses inspired you to learn more and to reach out to schools to try to recruit deaf grads. We need more hiring managers like you!

    The JAN website is awesome – it is chock full of resources on a wide variety of disabilities and the ADA. One could easily lose a day just reading through everything!

    1. Tinker*

      I didn’t know that site was a thing, and reading through the discussion of issues / accommodations for autism spectrum conditions gives me… substantial food for thought, since at this very moment I’m doing a lot of troubleshooting of my present work environment and the way my job is structured.


      1. CanadaTag*

        Oh, yes, it’s good for that. JAN was the first place I went when I was looking for potential accomodations for autism-related issues. :) Admittedly, I haven’t visited that site in a few years, and I came up with my own requirements, and I’m likely not going back to the traditional workforce… but even for life in general, it has some neat hints!

  3. Observer*

    What a nice update.

    One thing to think about. In addition to specific managed IM type programs, it can be worth looking at what your email vendor offers. For instance, if you are the enterprise version of Gmail, the Hangouts chat can be very useful. If you have Office 365, Teams might work for you. What’s nice about these products is that they integrate quite seamlessly into your existing compliance infrastructure.

  4. Nursingnotes212*

    This is the perfect Christmas Eve update! Even though you weren’t able to hire the candidate, I hope the information you learned contributes to great success for your company in the coming year!

  5. Wrench Turner*

    This is lovely to read for so many reasons. Even if the job didn’t work out, I love that you are proactively opening opportunities for others.

  6. Anon today*

    Thanks for the update!

    The original letter was very helpful to me, as I’m helping my boss hire for an open position and we received an application from someone who mentioned in their cover letter that they are deaf. My boss had some doubts about this, as the person will have to be on a LOT of teleconferences – but I remembered the letter and said “well, if you decide to interview them, we can just ask them what kind of accommodations they’d need. There are probably a bunch of technologies out there that you and I wouldn’t even be aware of”. We’re still working on drawing up a shortlist, but my boss agreed that we definitely shouldn’t rule anyone out before exploring what accommodations are actually possible. So, thank you OP, Alison, and commenters for this conversation!

    1. EC*

      I work for a company that makes a captioned telephone for people who are deaf or hard of hearing—we caption conference calls all of the time!

    2. Craig*

      >deaf. My boss had some doubts about this, as the person will have to be on a LOT of teleconferences

      My deaf colleague is better at teleconferencing than any of the hearing people in the office. Since she can lip read extremely well and can’t hear the background noises,she is the go to for any noisy , hard to hear video chat.

      You do have to avoid muting the mic and talking on the phone

      1. Anon today*

        We don’t currently use video calls, so we’d have to get every single person we work with (based all over the world, in various organizations) to switch over. Which is obviously doable, but there might be some resistance from people who have to dial in at 6 am or 11 pm (I always picture them huddled up on their sofa with a hoodie on), people who usually call from their cars, people who don’t want us to know that they’re multitasking during calls, etc.

  7. Anonicat*

    OP, I can’t tell you how happy your attitude in this letter has made me. I’m reading this on Christmas morning after opening presents and it’s like having an extra awesome present from an internet stranger!

  8. Blarg*

    I love so much that you asked a question, got answers, researched the answers even more, and are developing a plan not just for “next time” but to ensure there is a next time. May all your hires be bright, innovative, resourceful team members!

Comments are closed.