Category Archives: Deaf in the workplace

Creating Opportunities for Deaf Employees

deaf-employees-employment-jobs-opportunity“Where do you work?” “What do you do for a living?” In America, these are among the first questions a new acquaintance will ask us. This simple inquiry reflects the cultural emphasis placed on work and career choice in the modern world. But for many, this dreaded question serves as a reminder that even work is a privilege.

A recent survey conducted by TotalJobs, one of the UK’s leading jobs boards, revealed that more than half of d/Deaf and hard of hearing employees have faced discrimination at some point during their career because of their deafness. Approximately 25% of the survey’s respondents reported leaving a job as a result of discrimination. Just last year in the United States, deaf protestors marched on Washington D.C. to demand access to work, holding a banner that read “75% of Deaf are not working in USA.” What these numbers and actions suggest is that while companies are proudly touting diversity initiatives and proclaiming themselves to be “equal opportunity employers,” the reality does not match the narrative.

Discrimination in Hiring

Often, discrimination against deaf individuals begins right in the interview stage. Deaf / HoH job candidates face the difficult task of revealing their disability to a potential employer, knowing full well how this might impact their chances of getting hired.

Deaf job seekers who use ASL as their primary form of communication are forced to decide whether they will hire their own interpreter for a job interview and pay out-of-pocket; or whether they will invoke their ADA right to have an interpreter provided by the company they are interviewing with.

deaf-hoh-job-employment-discriminationWhile it might seem obvious that companies should provide interpreters for interviewees, as legally required, the unfortunate reality is that this makes deaf job candidates seem like a “burden” right off the bat. At this stage, a person who is d/Deaf is trying their best to make a good impression and, fair or not, asking a company to pay for reasonable accommodation during the interview process creates a stigma that is hard to overcome.

Take the example of Ricky Washington who applied for a job at McDonalds in 2012. Washington was a qualified employee with experience as a cook. He disclosed on his application that he was deaf and he was granted an interview, however once he asked McDonald’s to provide an interpreter for the interview, it was cancelled and never rescheduled. The restaurant management continued to interview and hire new workers while denying Washington the opportunity to interview. This is discrimination and it’s a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Enforcement Guidelines on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship:

An employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified applicant with a disability that will enable the individual to have an equal opportunity to participate in the application process and to be considered for a job. Thus, individuals with disabilities who meet initial requirements to be considered for a job should not be excluded from the application process because the employer speculates, based on a request for reasonable accommodation for the application process, that it will be unable to provide the individual with reasonable accommodation to perform the job. In many instances, employers will be unable to determine whether an individual needs reasonable accommodation to perform a job based solely on a request for accommodation during the application process.

Although those who use auditory communication (ie: cochlear implants, hearing aids, lip reading) may not utilize an interpreter for job interviews, they face a similar set of difficulties during the hiring process. If the interviewer does not face the interviewee and speak clearly for the duration of the interview, the deaf/HoH person may struggle with understanding exactly what is being said. If the deaf/HoH interviewee asks the interviewer to repeat themselves too many times, the interviewer might become frustrated. If the deaf/HoH person chooses not to disclose their disability, they run the risk of the interviewer assuming they are just not paying enough attention or, even worse, that they are not intelligent because they cannot follow the conversation.

Workplace Discrimination

If all goes well in the interview phase and the company decides to hire a d/Deaf/HoH employee, they may not even realize that their workplace is not set up for accessibility. They might not notice that their employees are not culturally competent. They might not fully understand what steps need to be taken to ensure a productive work environment for a diverse team. Creating a deaf-friendly workplace begins with basic communication needs and extends all the way into corporate culture.

deaf-hoh-job-workplace-discrimination-03“If an organization or business is interested in hiring deaf people, they must have commitment or buy-in from all levels,” explains Karen Cook, Director of the Career Center at Gallaudet University. “From top executives, CEOs, Board of directors, to managers, supervisors and HR staff. They must educate themselves about deaf people, Deaf culture, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other legislations that can advise them of proper procedures and regulations.”

Management sets the tone for how deaf employees will be treated in the workplace. Cultural competency education is a critical piece of this puzzle. Cultural competency education helps erase stereotypes and assumptions, providing a foundational understanding of what it means to be deaf, what accommodations deaf individuals may need, and how to best connect across the language and cultural divide to most effectively collaborate when working with a diverse team.

deaf-hoh-job-workplace-discrimination-04Of course outright discrimination still exists in the workplace— we can find examples of deaf people being made fun of by other employees or denied interpreters for important meetings— but there are other, more subtle forms of discrimination that can hinder a deaf person’s career. Being left out of social activities, such as lunches or happy hours, can create a sense of isolation. If a deaf employee feels marginalized by their coworkers, they are less likely to share their valuable thoughts and opinions, defeating the entire premise of a multicultural group. If deaf employees ask other workers to repeat themselves and are told “never mind” or “it wasn’t that important” too many times, they may just cease to ask questions and retreat into the background.

The Total Jobs survey showed that discrimination against d/Deaf/HoH individuals in the workplace is sadly common, with 1 in 4 deaf workers having left a job as a result. As previously mentioned, jobs can be difficult to come by and therefore deaf workers are not typically eager to leave their hard earned positions. But when they believe their needs as an employee are not being met, or they perceive hostility from other employees or management, these workers feel left with no other choice.

Barriers to Advancement

deaf-hoh-job-employment-barriers-advancement-05When people who are d/Deaf/HoH are not able to access conversations and are left out of information exchange, they are automatically placed in a position of disadvantage. Even casual communication in the workplace is important, as it builds rapport and a sense of camaraderie.

If a deaf worker doesn’t feel comfortable in a group, or they aren’t able to fully participate in projects due to lack necessary accommodations (ie: captioning, interpreter, etc), they are less likely be considered when the time comes to offer promotions. If hearing workers are invited for dinners or rounds of golf with the boss, while deaf workers are overlooked for these invitations, guess which individuals will feel more confident and self-assured as professionals. In this way, hearing employees are able to benefit from even indirect mentorship simply because access to their superior is not limited by the boss’s willingness to reach across a communication gap.

Often times employees who are deaf are overlooked for promotions just because management is culturally unaware. They may fear that advancing deaf workers will be challenging for hearing subordinates (it’s not), or that the company will incur too many “additional expenses” (ADA provisions are part of running a business). Instead of recognizing the true potential of an individual and striving to remove barriers for everyone’s benefit, organizations tend to end diversity initiatives where the bottom line begins. Instead of analyzing the actual needs of deaf/ HoH employees, organizations might just assume that it will be too costly and time consuming to give deaf workers more responsibility. This uninformed and audist attitude toward creating opportunities effectively prevents companies from getting the most out of their deaf/HoH employees, since there seems to be no hope for upward mobility.

How Can Deaf Individuals Take Action?

According to Cook, there are a number of ways deaf job seekers can improve their odds of being hired. Consider the following:

  1. deaf-hoh-job-employment-discrimination-take-actionLearn how to advocate for yourself. Be able to talk about your abilities and what accommodations you anticipate needing in the workplace, and provide five examples of your accomplishments.
  2. Practice interviewing with someone before an actual interview, and receive feedback on how to improve interview skills.
  3. Develop a resume with good format and no spelling or grammatical errors, which clearly highlights accomplishments, education, work experience. A good resume is what gets the attention of an employer and gets you an interview.
  4. Work with agencies that assist people with disabilities to find jobs (i.e. Vocational Rehabilitation)
  5. If individual is a college student or alumni, they can attend job fairs sponsored by their institution as employers who attend these Fairs are already interested in hiring them.
  6. Research employers and organizations such as US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) that promote inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce. Other organizations include National Organization on Disability (NOD) which is a non-profit that focuses on increasing employment opportunities for working-age Americans with disabilities who are unemployed, and Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) which is a national association of colleges and employers focused on career employment of college graduates with disabilities.

How Can Employers Make Their Organizations More Deaf-Friendly?

Employment and workplace discrimination is a complex problem that requires cooperation at all levels. The foundation for a positive and productive multicultural workplace begins with recognizing diversity as an asset. Cultural competency training for all employees, from the top executives to support staff, can help foster a deeper understanding of the value deaf individuals bring to organizations.

deaf-hoh-employment-workplace-more-deaf-friendly-7Beyond basic cultural competency training, Cook says that Human Resources departments should “work to ensure their processes, qualification standards, and job descriptions do not prevent the hiring and advancement of qualified persons who are deaf/HoH.” This means taking a look at current and future job postings to identify language that marginalizes those who experience hearing loss or deafness.

Cook also suggests that companies develop internship programs that bring in deaf students, with the potential to become full time positions for well-performing individuals. HR coordinators can partner with universities, such as Gallaudet and RIT/NTID, as well as vocational rehabilitation organizations to help create pipelines from school to work. Hiring managers can reach out to organizations involved in providing job opportunities for people with disabilities, such as US Business Leadership Network, Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, and National Organization on Disability to learn about best practices.

Once the decision has been made to add deaf/HoH employees to the team, employers should take time to learn about that employee’s communication needs and the different technologies that are available to accommodate deafness in the workplace. A great suggestion for welcoming a deaf individual who uses sign language to the organization is to offer ASL classes to any interested supervisors, managers, and coworkers. Besides helping hearing people learn to communicate with deaf individuals, ASL training can be a fun group activity!

If a person who is deaf feels like they are a valuable part of the workforce, they are likely to perform better and feel more invested in the success of the company. Cook points out that if an employer treats deaf/HoH employees well by providing accommodations, increasing job responsibilities, and offering opportunities for promotion, they will also be more likely to tell other deaf people that it is a great place to work. This creates a snowball effect for the diversity of the organization.

Working Together

working-with-deaf-hoh-people-8As we progress through the 21st century, previously marginalized groups are finding ways to fight back against the inherent oppression of mainstream culture. People with different identities are standing up and advocating for access to opportunity, including the basic right to make a living. Without these opportunities, a cycle of financial, spiritual, and cultural poverty is created.

By welcoming people who are d/Deaf/HoH into workplaces and setting them up with the tools they need to succeed, the entire organization can reap the benefits of diversity. Deaf employees bring a unique perspective and new ideas. When they feel comfortable, supported, and included as part of the team, they can focus on contributing to the overall success of your company.

LC Interpreting Services is thrilled to partner with Innovative Inclusion, LLC offer Cultural Competency Training seminars for businesses and organizations on a national level. Learn how to effectively integrate deaf/HoH employees in the workplace and provide them the support they need, while educating other staff members and management about deafness and Deaf culture. Our cultural competency training is comprehensive, informative, and a great team-building exercise!

Also visit our new ADA Compliance Consulting Blog at https://www.adacomplianceconsultantfordeaf.com/

Deaf Protestors in DC Demand the Opportunity to Work

deaf-hoh-employment-protest-dc-01On September 5 and 6, 2015, a group of Americans marched on the White House to advocate for their rights. Marginalized and generally silenced within mainstream society, members of the Deaf community stood together at the Deaf Protest in Washington, DC to make their voices heard loud and clear. A large banner held by those at the front of the march explained to onlookers what they were witnessing: “Deaf Protest on Jobs. 75% of Deaf are not working in USA.”

deaf-hoh-employment-protest-district-columbiaThe Deaf Protest march was intended to raise awareness about the discrimination, high rates of unemployment, civil rights violations, and lack of communication access that deaf people endure on a daily basis. Frustrated by his own experience trying to find a job, protest organizer Charlton Lachase decided it was time to take action. Although Lachase is educated and qualified, he is deaf and has low-vision, so he says prejudiced employers would rather not hire him. “Deaf people are discriminated against regularly,” he explained. “And we just put up with it. We’re not getting the services we deserve and we need to speak out.”

deaf-hoh-employment-protest-dc-03There are millions of deaf Americans who struggle from the time they are children just to access the world around them and more than 500,000 deaf individuals who use ASL as their primary language. Because English is challenging to learn, especially for those who cannot hear it, deaf people find the odds stacked against them. Even deaf people who work hard to excel in school and obtain a degree or certification face discrimination in the hiring process. Take the recent case of Kelly Osborne, a qualified plasma center technician whose conditional job offer was rescinded after her employer realized they would need to make a few adjustments to the workflow to accommodate a deaf employee.

Misconceptions about deafness and inadequate cultural competency training serve as barriers to employment. Organizations claim to encourage diversity, while at the same time denying career opportunities for qualified individuals. These businesses use diversity as a buzzword without ever considering the infrastructure that is necessary to support employees with a variety of skills and needs.

deaf-hoh-employment-problem-04It is well known in the Deaf community that a person’s best chance of being considered for a job is to bring their own interpreter for the interview— even though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally requires hiring entities to cover this cost. Sadly, instead of organizations accommodating the needs of a diverse workforce, deaf individuals have to accommodate for discriminatory hiring practices. Then if they do get hired, after paying for their own interpreter, deaf individuals often continue to encounter both overt and subtle workplace discrimination. They are left out of meetings, discussions, and social events. There is little support or opportunity for advancement.

deaf-hoh-employment-problem-05Deaf people want to work and they deserve to feel successful. They are tired of enduring the same oppressive practices that the ADA was supposed to protect against. More than 1500 people turned out for the Deaf Protest to make themselves seen and heard. Not because they expected a major victory, but because they are tired of sitting idly while their community struggles for the basic right to gainful employment.

deaf-hoh-employment-problem-dc-protest-05The spirited Deaf Protest went on for two days— but where were the reporters and TV cameras? Lachase contacted several news outlets to cover the Deaf Protest, but the mainstream media decided that a civil rights rally happening right in our nation’s capital was not newsworthy. While major networks simply ignored the march, passing up a great opportunity to support a growing movement, DeafNation did an incredible job documenting the Deaf Protest on social media. A short documentary about the experience can be found on the DeafNation website. In the video, deaf people share their powerful stories of oppression, demand equal opportunities, and call upon the rest of America to fight for true equality.

deaf-hoh-employment-problem-dc-protest-05b“People were very motivated and helpful,” reported Joel Barish, host of “No Barriers with Joel Barish” on DeafNation. Barish added that he was excited to take part in the march and document the experience, saying, “at least we made some noise in DC.”

Justice and inclusivity remain at the center of our current national dialogue; now we need to turn all that talk into action. Minority groups across the spectrum are battling for equality in both a social and legal sense. The success of movements such as marriage equality reflect the changing tides of public opinion.

deaf-hoh-employment-problem-dc-protest-05c“I think that what it comes down to is visibility,” said Lachase. “The deaf community needs exposure. We need to use social media and get out in the streets. We are looking to do another protest in March or April and we hope to see our numbers grow.”

Let us be fueled by the passion that burns within our community! The time is right for deaf/ HoH individuals and deaf allies to bring national attention to the shameful employment gap that keeps the Deaf community in a state of social and economic poverty. Let’s encourage one another to keep moving forward, again and again, until we break through those barriers of institutional oppression together.

Hiring and Supporting Deaf Employees

hiring-deaf-employees-01Applying for jobs can be exciting and nerve-wracking. You revise your resume until it is in top form, hoping your professional skills are strong enough about to be considered for the position. When a company contacts you to schedule a formal interview, gushing about how well qualified you are, they suggest that the job is essentially yours. It seems like everything is going great, right up until you inform the hiring manager that you are deaf and will need a sign language interpreter for the interview. “Oh, we will have to get back to you about that,” they say. But they almost never do.

hiring-deaf-employees-02It is well known in the Deaf community that a persons’ best chance of being considered for a job to bring their own interpreter for the interview– even though the ADA legally requires hiring entities to cover this cost. Sadly, instead of organizations accommodating the needs of a diverse workforce, deaf individuals have to accommodate for discriminatory hiring practices. And if they do get hired, after paying for their own interpreter, deaf individuals often continue to encounter both overt and subtle workplace discrimination.

supporting-deaf-employees-03Deaf people have to constantly push back against a society that was not designed for them to succeed. As an interpreter and CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), it can be hard to witness the structural injustice faced by my deaf colleagues and family members on a daily basis. I was recently on an assignment where the deaf consumer shared with me their frustration that the only times they were ever provided an interpreter was when it was absolutely necessary to moving forward on a project. This deaf individual works for a federal agency– an organization with plenty of funding to properly support their employees– yet has to work harder than any of their coworkers just to participate in the workplace.

Hiring-Deaf-Employees-of-ColorAlmost everyone has been in a work situation, at one time or another, where you were not provided the appropriate resources for the job. When you don’t have the tools you need, it can be difficult or even impossible to complete a task. This is discouraging and, if this pattern continues over a period of time, employees begin to feel disengaged from the organization. Employees perform best and are able to excel when they feel supported. The needs of deaf employees are a little different, and can vary from one situation to the next, but accommodations are generally not hard to make. Forming a positive relationship with deaf employees starts, just like any relationship, with a sense of respect.

hiring-deaf-employees-05Respect comes from understanding, from communicating, and from making a person feel appreciated. Before you even interview a deaf job candidate, do a little research on deaf communication and Deaf culture. We live in the age of the internet, where there is a wealth of information available; it only takes a short amount of time to give yourself a basic education. Nobody expects you to be a scholar on deafness– simply that you look beyond the stereotypes and approach the topic with an open mind. Learn that the deaf experience is different for everyone, about the different methods deaf individuals use to navigate the hearing world , and how to provide accommodations for equal access in the workplace.

hiring-deaf-employees-06Besides possessing the general skills required for the job, deaf employees can bring a unique perspective to your organization. Unfortunately, if deaf people do not feel like they are truly part of the team, they are unlikely to open up and contribute. If deaf employees are not able to participate equally in training seminars, team building exercises, meetings, or day-to-day office activities, they will probably not feel connected to the success of the organization. The best way to include deaf individuals in the workplace is to simply ask them what accommodations would make them most comfortable in each situation. Accommodations might range from from creating closed captioned training videos, to implementing Video Relay Service, to acquiring sign language interpreters. Reasonable accommodations will vary from person to person, but they are generally neither inconvenient nor cost prohibitive to provide. In the end, the entire organization benefits when they can get the most out of their employees.

hiring-deaf-employees-07In our current shifting social climate, organizations of all sizes are looking for ways to create workplace diversity. Diversity initiatives might be good intentioned, but many times they are poorly implemented, leaving these minority employees to sink or swim. Supporting deaf staff on an ongoing basis is like providing hardware and software updates, it is like making sure the break room has coffee– it is a crucial part of creating a healthy and functional working environment. It is simple, and the right thing to do.

LC Interpreting Services is pleased to offer sign language interpreting services and cultural competency training for businesses and organizations. Provide your deaf employees with the professional support they need; and learn how to truly benefit from having deaf employees join the team.

Deaf Rights: What You Need to Know

Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski_MAWorking in the Deaf community, I’ve noticed a great deal of confusion surrounding the legal rights of the Deaf. Both Deaf and hearing individuals have difficulty understanding what accommodations deaf people are entitled to, and how exactly those needs
get met. I recently had a chance to discuss these important issues with Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski, who serves as a Deaf legal liaison, and Deaf discrimination attorney Andrew Rozynski, Esq.

Deaf Rights

Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski — who serves as Deaf Liaison at Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing — explains that Deaf persons frequently encounter barriers when trying to protect their rights. Profoundly deaf since birth, Eisenberg-Michalowski has personally witnessed discrimination against deaf individuals from all walks of life, in a wide variety of scenarios. Utilizing her extensive experience, Eisenberg-Michalowski serves as an advocate for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind individuals; helping people better understand how to protect themselves against discrimination.

professional-asl-communication-nyc“Imagine yourself as a deaf individual with virtually no knowledge regarding the law. You may have been faced with job discrimination, personal injury, sexual harassment, or denied ASL interpreters for medical care. Obviously, legal assistance is needed, but the lawyer who takes your case may have no knowledge of Deaf culture or the needs of deaf individuals.” Eisenberg-Michalowski explains that many attorneys will take valid discrimination cases, but neglect to provide guidance for their Deaf client. “Without interpreters, clear communication with your lawyer is nonexistent. Where are your rights?

“Over the years, many laws have been passed in order to improve quality of life for deaf individuals,” she continued. “But even with today’s laws, I still see so much Audism– a term meaning the oppression of the Deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind.”

Andrew_Rozynski_EsqAndrew Rozynski, a Deaf discrimination litigation attorney and partner at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, offers some insight into Federal legal obligations to provide reasonable accommodations. Rozynski comes from a Deaf family, and his clientele is almost exclusively deaf. He is one of only a handful of attorneys in the United States who focuses his practice on the protection of Deaf persons rights.

“As a Deaf rights attorney, I focus my practice of law on combating discrimination against the Deaf in a variety of settings,” said Rozynski. “Hospitals, government, businesses; these are just some of the areas of everyday life where Deaf people require accommodations.”

ada-deaf-hohThe Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires many public and private entities to provide reasonable accommodations for the Deaf to ensure effective communication. What is a reasonable accommodation varies from situation to situation, and the need for accommodation can be different in each setting. Since each Deaf person has individual needs, determining what accommodation is appropriate can sometimes be confusing. Rozynski offered to elaborate:

“Reasonable accommodation is very ‘fact specific,’ which means it is evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” he explained. “It really depends on many factors, however, two important factors that are utilized are: (1) What are the Deaf person’s needs to facilitate effective communication, and (2) The length and complexity of the communication.”

So, how do you know if an interpreter is necessary?

“Assuming the Deaf person uses ASL as their primary form of communication, hospitals are one setting where a qualified sign language interpreter is almost always appropriate because critical communication concerning medical treatment is being conducted. In government settings– such as court proceedings or interviews with the police– interpreters are crucial for effective communication, because ones’ legal rights can be seriously impacted by miscommunication. In the employment setting, having interpreters for business meetings ensures that deaf employees can participate equally in the workplace.”

three_people_ASL_signingRozynski went on to provide further examples. “In the alternative, if you go in to a sandwich shop and request an interpreter, would that be appropriate under those circumstances? Probably not. “

“But, say a Deaf person is looking for a house and needs an interpreter to effectively communicate with the real estate broker. That might be an instance where people don’t know they have the right to request an interpreter. Or if one is getting a mortgage from a bank, that is another instance where a deaf person may be entitled to an interpreter so that they can fully understand the terms of the agreement as explained by the bank”

For brief interactions, like those in retail and restaurant locations, writing notes may be an appropriate option. The amount of information being communicated is often minimal and the content of the communication is simple. However, note writing is not always the solution.

ASL-in-hospital-setting“Sometimes doctors think writing notes back and forth for an appointment is an effective means of communication. It’s often not,” He continued. “Imagine trying to have a 20 minute phone conversation via handwriting. Would you explain yourself just as thoroughly? When people write, they often only give brief summaries of the information they want to convey. Additionally, people whose primary language is ASL may have some difficulty with the English language, making this method ineffective.”

The more critical and complex the communication, and the longer the interaction; the higher likelihood an interpreter will be needed. For example, a business training seminar or disciplinary meeting would both be times where an interpreter is an appropriate accommodation, because the information being relayed to the Deaf individual is very important and specific. ASL interpreters also serve as cultural mediators, bridging any gaps between Deaf and hearing culture so all parties can fully understand the messages being relayed.

“What accommodation is needed, is what provides for effective communication for the Deaf person,” said Rozynski.

asl-in-workplace-video-relayOne strategy that is being utilized across the country is Video Relay Interpreter (VRI) systems, which provide a professional interpreter through a video connection. “There are a lot of Deaf people who complain that VRI does not provide effective communication because the system will freeze, or not turn on, or staff members who are trying to use the VRI don’t know how to use it. Sometimes the screen is very small, or not suitable for the situation. For example, if someone is giving birth they often cannot look at a tablet off to their bedside. It’s generally not effective. Providing effective communication is key to each situation.”

In the work setting, both employer and employee should work together in an interactive process. The Deaf employee should let their manager know clearly what their communication needs are, and what situations they would like an interpreter for. Employers and places of public accommodation should analyze whether they are truly doing everything possible to ensure the Deaf individual receives equal access to all information being provided by the organization. Deaf parties should be realistic about what accommodations are necessary for each specific situation.

asl-in-metropolitan-museum-of-art“People often think that they can just refuse VRI without trying it, which isn’t always the case. Often times, people should try VRI if it’s offered. If it is not effective, you have the right to request a live ASL interpreter so that you can be provided effective communication” said Rozynski. VRI, if it works properly, can be a solution for short one-on-one communication—for instance when a hearing employee needs to have a brief conversation with a Deaf coworker. But in situations where there are multiple parties speaking, the information is critical, or where the equipment is not functioning correctly, VRI is usually unable to provide effective communication for Deaf individuals.

If you are a hearing entity responsible for providing reasonable accommodation, Rozynski has a few tips to ensure you provide equal access. Step one is contacting a reputable interpreting agency. Look for agencies that employ RID Certified interpreters and have a great deal of experience working with Deaf consumers. Businesses should be aware that if a meeting will last more than an hour, depending on the type of meeting, it may be required that 2 interpreters are provided. Also, make your interpreter request as far in advance as possible so that there will be no problems with scheduling, and the interpreter has ample lead time to prepare. Providing a professional interpreter is not optional when it is the only means of providing effective communication for the Deaf individual.

“Using family members or coworkers is also not ok,” he said, unless the coworker is designated by the business entity as a qualified staff ASL interpreter. Otherwise “it’s not appropriate.”

asl-in-the-workplaceIf you are a Deaf person requesting accommodation, Rozynski advises you communicate with a manager and keep a record of your requests. “I always recommend people make their requests in writing, just to be clear that a request has been made. If you still do not get your request for accommodation, I would suggest going up the chain as far as possible. If you still feel like you’re not being provided appropriate accommodations, ask for the reason why.”

Rozynski says that business often claim they are unable to afford sign language interpreters. “This is often disingenuous. Hospitals, banks, and big corporations are often able to pay for an interpreter.” He points out that the ADA looks at the financial strength of the whole organization when considering if an interpreter is cost prohibitive. A large museum, for example, may not refuse to provide an interpreter because it causes them to lose money on a $20 ticket. The same goes for doctors and dentists offices. It is the whole entity that is looked at, not the cost of the individual service provided.

“If you’re an employer or you’re a place of public accommodation, you have an obligation to provide effective communication to that Deaf person. If you do not provide effective communication to a Deaf person, you could potentially be opening yourself up to liability and have a lawsuit that could cost your organization much more than the cost of the interpreting services provided.”

deaf-hoh-asl-in-court-reportingIf the Deaf party still feels that equal access is not being provided, that person may have a legal claim.

“I would suggest someone who feels that their rights are violated should contact either an attorney or a local advocacy organization,” advised Rozynski. “Some attorneys do charge to take on discrimination cases; others don’t have any upfront charges and take the case on contingency, which means you don’t pay unless you win or the case settles. Many attorneys offer free consultations, and will let you know whether you have a viable case or not. It is also important to note that all cases have a statute of limitations, so if you feel your rights may have been violated an attorney should be contacted as soon as possible.”

“I think a lot of people are scared to take this next step because they worry that they will have to pay money to proceed with a lawsuit. Another reason for peoples hesitation is that they might not be comfortable with the legal process. This can be tough for people because they don’t know what to expect. Finding a law firm that a Deaf person can be comfortable with is key. The Deaf public should know that attorneys do have an obligation to provide interpreters– some attorneys are not even aware of that!”

child-asl-signingEisenberg-Michalowski adds that Deaf liaisons are also critical to the legal process because they can empower Deaf individuals to actively advocate for themselves. “We have had clients who are shocked at how involved they are in their cases, when compared to their previous law firms. One client told me that his (former) lawyer just made decisions without him. This treatment is a violation of these individuals’ legal rights.”

At the end of the day, most Deaf people do not want to go through a lengthy court battle to get the accommodations they deserve. They just want the equal access they are legally entitled to by the law. Providing reasonable accommodation is not a burden, it should be an expected cost of doing business. Welcoming Deaf individuals into all spaces is not just the law. It’s the right thing to do.

“I think the point is that these discrimination laws were created so Deaf people could equally participate in society,” concludes Rozynski. “It is our obligation, as a whole society, to ensure Deaf people have equal participation and that they can access the same kind of information that hearing people do in any type of setting.”

If you have any further questions, Andrew Rozynski and Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski can be contacted at:

Eisenberg & Baum, LLP 24 Union Square East, 4th Floor New York, NY 10003 Voice: (212) 353-8700 Video Phone: (646) 807-4096

 

Can Digital Devices Replace Interpreters?

best-ASL-interpreter-NYCWhile walking the streets of New York, nearly every person I see is staring down at a screen, fully engaged with digital devices. Through technology, our world has become incredibly connected; yet disconnected at the same time. There is comfort in being able to communicate without regard to time or distance but, somehow all this personal contact seems so impersonal, so two dimensional, so unnatural. Are we all truly eager to replace all human interaction with virtual realities?

google-gestureDigital Devices for Interpretation

Last week, the internet was buzzing with news of a new device called Google Gesture, a wristband which could reportedly translate sign language into spoken language in real time. The viral clip turned out to be just a concept video released by a group of marketing students in Sweden, but it stirred up some interesting discussions about the role of technology in cross-cultural communication.

Although most deaf/HoH are content with their lives the way they are, it’s nice to imagine a world where everyone is able to communicate seamlessly, and deaf people are not excluded from certain spaces. Over the past 30 years, technology has been viewed as a solution to provide deaf individuals greater opportunity.

cochlear-implant-asl-courses-nycThe most well known device, the cochlear implant, is an electronic device which allows the deaf wearer to “hear” by amplifying sounds and stimulating the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants require invasive surgery, are very costly, and do not allow the wearer to hear exactly the same way a hearing person does — sounds are often muddied, robotic, and can be difficult for the brain to process. Cochlear implants are not perfect, and they create a cultural grey area for wearers, who sometimes feel like they are neither Deaf nor hearing. Still, over the past few decades these devices have provided thousands of wearers with the ability to hear sounds they would otherwise not have been able to hear, and live the kind of lives they so choose to live. Having options is a positive thing.

TTY-deaf-assistive-deviceText messaging was one of the greatest communication revolutions for the Deaf community. Before the widespread use of cell phones, deaf calls had to be made using either a Text Telephone (TTY) or a Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS). TTY allows deaf individuals to type messages, which are then sent over a telephone line to the other party as text. TTY requires both the sender of the message and the receiver to have a TTY device, while TRS involves the hearing party communicating through an operator, who then types responses for the deaf person to read on their TTY.  Relay operators were often unfamiliar with Deaf culture, therefore unable to mediate terminology that did not translate directly. Although definitely a useful invention, TTY/TRS can be inaccurate, cumbersome, and was never a very simple solution.

best-ASL-interpreter-NYCSpeech-to-text services, such as Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), have emerged in the past decade as a “real-time captioning” solution. Using this method, spoken words are transcribed into text, either by a live person or by a computer program. For one-on-one situations where there are no other options available, speech-to-text options are certainly better than nothing. This is an excellent option for hard of hearing individuals or people for whom ASL is not their native language. But the truth is that the technology is unable provide accurate translation and contextual interpretation, meaning messages can easily be misunderstood. Any periphery noise, secondary speakers, or unusual inflections can easily lead to confusion. In addition, speech-to-text does not provide a way for deaf sign language users to respond, therefore only facilitates one way communication.

video-relay-deaf-hoh-nycThe Deaf community were among the first adopters of video chat technologies. Services such as Skype, Google Hangout, and FaceTime have made deaf-to-deaf phone calls infinitely simpler. I can’t even tell you how lovely it is to be able to video chat with my family members using ASL! For conversations between deaf and hearing people, Video Relay Interpreting offers a simple and cost-effective solution. Remote video interpreters are actually certified ASL interpreters who have knowledge of deaf culture, interpreting ethics, and how to mediate any cross-cultural misunderstandings. VRI is certainly convenient, and this technology offers deaf people more opportunity to engage with hearing entities. At the end of the day, however, VRI is designed for brief one-on-one dialogues, since remote interpreters are unable to see or hear every person in the room when they are speaking.

Google-Glass-deaf-hoh-interpreter-nycAs new devices improve all areas of our lives, making communication and information more accessible than ever, will we see a shift away from using live interpreters? In my opinion, interpreting a person’s words is a very delicate and human process. As revolutionary as emerging technologies might be, high quality ASL interpreters simply can not be replaced by a machine. Facial expressions, body language, tone, and context are all very important aspects of dialogue. In fact, research suggests that anywhere between 60% and 90% of interpersonal communication is nonverbal, which means words alone rarely covey the full message. This is specifically true of signed languages.

best-ASL-interpreter-NYCAmerican Sign Language is not a direct translation of English, it is a language all it’s own, with unique grammar, prose, and syntax. Deaf culture has it’s own humor, slang, and turns of phrase. ASL interpreters serve as both language and cultural interpreters. We bridge the social gaps, working to ensure deaf consumers have full access to any spoken English situations they choose. In a noisy environment, or when speakers are using ambiguous terminology, a live interpreter can mediate and provide understanding for all parties.

Technology has improved deaf access in so many ways, but software and screens can never fully replicate the feel of a conversation. They can not comprehend irony, translate sarcasm, or convey emotion the way a live interpreter can. New devices will continue to make the lives of deaf Americans easier, and for this we should all be grateful! When it comes to really communicating between the deaf and hearing worlds, however, no device can replace the human element of a professional ASL interpreter.

Creating Deaf Accessibility In The Workplace 

When interviewing for a job, you only get one chance at a good first impression. You try to wear the right clothes, mentally prepare, and hope you have all the right answers. But what if none of that mattered? What if you didn’t get the job because of the color of your eyes? Or because… Continue Reading