10 Ways to Open the Door to New Deaf Employees

By Christina Goebel

Whether deaf employees choose sign, voice, or a combination of both to communicate, unless they they are deaf-blind, deaf employees hear with  their eyes. Some employees who are deaf-blind will also use the following techniques if they inform you that they use large print.

Red door on building

Here are 10 ways to open the door to enhanced communication with deaf and deafblind employees.

  1. According to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf website, employers should “ensure upper-level management support.” If employees will need sign language interpreters, captioning or other supports, managers approving these costs need to know.
  2. Providing written information, such as: organizational literature including flowcharts and training manuals, written itineraries, name tags with job titles for staff, links to the company website information, and outlines for training sessions will prepare employees with deafness or hearing loss for communication, according to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf website. Anything in writing helps deaf and partially deaf employees see communication. If employees also have vision loss with deafness, large print materials may be needed, or a manual interpreter if they don’t have enough residual vision.
  3. According to the Employer Assistance and Resource Network website, “When using an interpreter, speak directly to the person and not to the interpreter.” Whether the employee uses a sign language interpreter, a manual interpreter (if they are deafblind), or a live captioner (if they have hearing loss but don’t know sign language well) to assist with communication, it is still the employee you hired and they are the one doing the thinking.
  4. According to Modern Disability blog, employers should “choose well lit, quiet settings and keep your mouth visible” when communicating with individuals who are deaf or partially deaf. Many individuals with hearing loss or deafness read lips and facial and body expressions to help them gain meaning. Having better light enables them to do so efficiently. If they also have partial vision loss, good lighting becomes more essential.
  5. “Gain the person’s attention before starting a conversation (i.e., tap the person gently on the shoulder or arm).” According to the Employer Assistance and Resource Network website, this is another strategy to provide accessible communication with employees. If you imagine that you needed to gain all employees’ attention, the room was loud with chatter and no one could hear you, then you might wave your hands as a visual signal, flicker the lights, or tap someone on the shoulder to help you gain attention. These strategies also work with people who aren’t receiving auditory stimuli like other staff members. Ask your employee about the best method for getting his or her attention.

    Conference room with computers
    It’s not always easy to see or hear across a conference or meeting room.
  6. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network website recommends to “look directly at the person when speaking.” Plan ahead how employees with deafness or partial deafness will participate in the communication when you turn your back to write on a board or walk around the room and they can’t read your lips, facial expressions, or body language. If you plan a meeting with necessary movement, consider using an interpreter or captioner to assist your employee during this process.
  7. According to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf website, if sharing videos, provide videos with captioning, or ensure that the television used has captions activated. Ensure that captions are large enough to be seen from the distance where staff will be seated. Providing seating near the front of the room assists with picking up sound, and reading lips and captions.
  8. According to the Employer Assistance and Resource Network website, “Speak in a normal tone.” While it seems illogical to speak in a normal tone to someone with hearing loss or deafness, hearing loss affects people differently. Some people with hearing loss are sensitive to sound and loud noises may in fact hurt them to hear. Hearing your voice is part of their communication experience. Reading your lips, facial expressions, and body language helps them to gather meaning. In some cases, all of those cues together may not be enough, and an interpreter or captioner may be necessary during extended communications.
  9. According to the Employer Assistance and Resource Network website, “Never touch or distract a service dog without first asking the owner.” Service dogs are working animals and getting them in the habit of being distracted could mean life or death for their owner, who needs the animal at attention for their safety.
  10. Ask your employee which telecommunications method they use, which might be a captioned telephone, videophone, TTY, or mobile phone with text. Then ask which numbers to use. If your employee hasn’t discovered a telecommunications method yet, you can offer them this resource from North Carolina Health and Human Services that discusses telecommunication devices and provides links to learn more. Some telecommunications devices are provided at no charge to the individual.

Hopefully, this list of ways to integrate your new employees with hearing loss or deafness has expanded your communications knowledge and given you new ideas for communicating with all staff.

Woman in business suit listening
1 out of every 8 employees probably needs hearing support.

Don’t forget, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one in eight Americans has hearing loss in both ears, meaning that for every eight employees you have in a meeting, at least one may need communication supports to fully participate in meetings and training sessions.


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