Category Archives: equal access for deaf & HoH in NYC

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

 

Inclusion For All

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-1New York City has so many incredible Summer street festivals, art exhibits, and cultural events to enjoy. Now, imagine how many shows you would go to if you had to contact the event organizers weeks in advance, explain that you need special accommodations, and possibly even explain how to secure those resources. This is the burden placed on deaf people every time they want to attend and event, and it is a far cry from equal access.

Deaf Access

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-2Organizer’s work long and hard to ensure their events are successful, but somewhere along the way they come to the conclusion that providing deaf access is a choice. We live in one of the most diverse countries on the planet, with laws that specifically protect the deaf and hard of hearing, but still excuses are made to exclude interpreters from event budgets. Without considering how challenging this makes it for deaf people to ever show up on a whim, event planners make the assumption that deaf attendees will always go through the steps to identify themselves and their needs.

The message being sent to deaf people is that they are not really invited.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-3Yes, deaf people still get out, they still attend events, and they still know how to have a good time. But, as an event planner, why make that difficult? It’s long past time we stop making excuses and remove the barriers to equal access. Providing an interpreter is so easy and it is an act that deaf people definitely notice.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-4The Americans with Disabilities Act requires auxiliary aids be available at any event that is open to the public, whether it is free or paid. Instead of assuming their event will draw a diverse audience, some event organizers still choose to make deaf attendees go through the steps of requesting accommodation. This is a subtle form of audism, the belief that those who can not hear are inferior, and it is in fact discrimination.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-6Why put months of effort into an event if you don’t want people to feel welcomed? Be proactive– plan for deaf people, and people of all abilities, so that everyone can participate equally. Not only because it’s the law, but because it’s the right thing to do. Hiring interpreters for all your events is not difficult, it is not an outrageous financial burden, and it is a responsible step in ensuring equal accessibility. There are even tax write offs and other forms of financial assistance available to assist organizations with ADA compliance.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-5Having interpreters at music venues, fairs, or outdoor events may seem like a small detail, but for those who rely on ASL, it can make a huge difference. The deaf community truly appreciates organizations which consistently provide access, and regularly patronize establishments which are known to be deaf friendly. Deafness knows no racial, gender, or religious boundaries; it is a beautiful mix of all cultures. I would love to live in a society that truly embraces diversity, instead of one that marginalizes it’s own citizens.

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If you are seeking an event interpreter in New York City, LC Interpreting Services is available. My goal is to make equal access as seamless as possible for both venues and deaf consumers. I am passionate about providing high quality services, and experienced in a wide variety of settings. Let’s work together this summer to remove communication obstacles and ensure the deaf community feels welcome in all spaces.

 

Creating Deaf Accessibility In The Workplace 

deaf-access-in-employment-1When 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 you were too tall? In 2014, this kind of hiring discrimination might sound absurd, but for deaf job candidates it is a difficult reality.

Deaf Access in the workplace

Workplace Deaf Accessibility

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act gives deaf individuals legal protection against discriminatory hiring practices. According to this section of the ADA, an employer may not use ones’ deafness as a basis for not hiring, not advancing, or terminating employment status. Qualified deaf applicants must be considered for career opportunities, so long as they meet the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of a position– with or without reasonable accommodation.

Deaf Access in the workplace

Most hearing people rarely think about deaf accommodations. When it comes to hiring deaf employees, they are concerned that it will be a costly or inconvenient process. Potential employers might worry that communication will be challenging, and the deaf employee will have trouble integrating with the team. These fears are unfounded, and they usually stem from inadequate corporate cultural sensitivity education. The bottom line is that hearing employers simply don’t understand what it means to be deaf, and so it seems easier to just hire a hearing person… even if they are less qualified for the job. This is discrimination, and it’s sadly commonplace.

The first step to hiring a deaf employee is opening a comfortable line of communication. Not sure how? Just ask! Deaf people spend their whole lives learning to interact with mainstream culture, and each person does it a little differently. Some deaf people prefer written communication, others are ok with reading lips, and still others prefer an ASL interpreter– there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Trust me, you will not offend your deaf interviewee by asking him or her what type of communication they like to use!

Deaf Access in the workplace NYCWhen you decide to hire a deaf candidate, some workplace adjustments will need to be made. Your training videos should already be captioned; if they are not, you can have them captioned for a very reasonable fee. According to the ADA, it is the deaf individual’s responsibility to inform an employer where accommodations are needed. Employers are obligated by law to make any “reasonable accommodations” which enable their employee to work effectively. Most of these adjustments will depend on the person’s individual preferences. Not sure? Just ask!

Deaf access in the workplace NYCBusinesses must provide deaf employees with the auxiliary devices they need to communicate equally. With unlimited access to email, text, and chats, it is easier than ever to make your workflow deaf-friendly. Generally, the most important device will be a video phone. Businesses can obtain video phones and Video Relay Services for free, VRS providers are reimbursed by the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund. Using the VRS, your deaf employee is connected with a communications assistant through video chat. The video interpreter will engage with the deaf person using their preferred modality, and vocally interpret for the hearing parties. This means that when a hearing client, manager, or coworker needs to discuss something with a deaf employee, they can just use the VRS to quickly and conveniently do so; whether they are across the country or just across the hall.

Deaf access in workplace NYCFor meetings, you will need to enlist a deaf service provider– either a captionist or interpreter. Meetings can be very involved and fast-paced. Even the most expert lip readers have difficulty keeping up when there are 20 people in the room discussing things out of turn. You want everyone in your organization to feel like their participation is valued, so be sure you ask your deaf employee how you can better facilitate this. When hiring an interpreter or service provider , be sure to submit your request as far in advance as you are able.

As far as cost concerns, there are specific Federal tax credits and tax deductions available to employers, and you will find there are also other public and private sources of funding available for ADA required accommodations. This means service providers and equipment charges can often be reimbursed at little cost to your business.

Deaf Access NYC - Claudia GordonEquality starts from the top down. Diverse leadership promotes social tolerance, and we are finally beginning to see deaf officials in major institutions such the White House and the FCC. When business owners, executives, and managers become educated about multicultural issues, the entire organization benefits. When your staff understands how to integrate a deaf individual onto the team, you are helping bridge the cultural divide and create true equality.


LC Interpreting Services is available for on-site and event interpreting in the greater NYC area. Along with providing quality interpreters and excellence in service, I offer complimentary cultural sensitivity training for your organization. Let’s work together to make your business a place where diversity thrives.

 

CODA does NOT equal interpreter

Last thing you remember, you were walking down the street; now you are lying in a hospital bed. The lights are so bright, you can barely see, and your whole body is in pain. You try asking for assistance, but none of the medical staff can understand you, because none of them communicate by using ASL. They hand you some paperwork and ask you to write your questions on a note pad, but all you want is a conversation. What happened to you? How did you get here? What are you supposed to do now?

Sadly, situations like this are more common than one might expect. Despite the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements that interpreters be provided in medical settings, often this provision comes too little too late. Sometimes, as in the case of Matt Dixon ( See Link here ), the provisions are never made, and the deaf patient is left shouldering the responsibility of finding an interpreter. That is when Children Of Deaf Adults (CODAs) feel obligated to assume a role hearing society has expected them to play their whole lives. CODAs frequently become interpreters for their deaf family members, however unwillingly, simply because they are there.

deaf-driving-policeAs eager as a CODA might be to step up to help their family member, they often lack the medical, technical, or legal knowledge to deliver the news they are being asked to deliver. Medical professionals learn to explain diagnoses in a sensitive manner, because the terminology is complex, and often you are receiving very emotional news. Police and civil servants are trained to communicate with frightened or confused victims. CODAs are generally not equipped to explain medication regimens or legal charges to a family member, especially in a crisis situation. They should not be expected to provide this service simply because they are bilingual.

asl-interpreter-with-dentistYears ago, I attended a medical appointment with my deaf mother. She was referred by her doctor to a specialist near our home. The receptionist called over to make the appointment, but was told that they did not provide an interpreter at that facility, and she referred my mother to a specialist on the other side of town who did accommodate deaf patients. Looking back, I feel so angry about this situation because everyone acted like it was ok for a medical specialist to not accommodate deaf patients. My mother had to travel across town just to see a specialist when there was an office within 2 miles of our home. I wish I could call this discrimination a thing of the past, but those within the deaf community know that certain facilities are more accessible than others. This is not equal access.

I find it unfortunate that the deaf, and families of deaf individuals, are left bearing the burden of communication in crisis situations. It’s hard for CODAs to be assertive and insist that a medical interpreter be provided when their parent is sitting there anxiously awaiting their diagnosis. It is challenging to push against the broken system to fight for the rights you are legally entitled to, when all you feel is afraid and vulnerable.

Iasl-interpreter-in-courtt’s not fair that deaf individuals and CODAs have to assertively request interpreters, but it’s the only way change will ever happen. Don’t let organizations that fall under ADA oversight tell you that they won’t accommodate you– ever! Requesting an interpreter in every public instance you are entitled to one will go a long way in letting institutions know that the demand is there. While it might seem inconvenient at the time, you may be preventing the next deaf individual from having to go through the hassle, effectively paying the equal access forward. If you are not deaf, but want to help be part of the solution, ask around and see what provisions your organization has for equal access. If there are none, push for them! Deaf, CODAs, interpreters, and allies of the Deaf need to work together to change the system from the inside out. With nearly 1 in 10 people in the United States living with some level of hearing loss, it’s time we all stop being silent about Deaf rights.