Breaking the Silence in the Workplace with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Resources

by Carmen Green

Across the country, the demand for sign language interpreters who are fluent in American Sign Language is expected to rise 46 percent from 2012 to 2022, an increase of 29,300 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And this number is only expected to increase.

In Arizona alone, there are more than 1.1 million deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing has been serving Arizonans who are deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing since 1977 and is dedicated to ensuring these individuals have the proper resources available to make a difference, especially in the workplace. 

ACDHH works with businesses across Arizona to raise awareness about deaf culture, accommodations and costs associated for deaf employees and to better understand the laws, including the ADA and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, especially for those businesses who receive federal funding. 

Video relay services have increased demand for interpreters because this technology allows people who are deaf and or hard of hearing to communicate through live interpreters via VRS applications. Traditionally, interpretation services were limited to live in-person interaction. Offering video relay services increases the demand.

Denying opportunities for employment to qualified applicants based on deafness or any degree of hearing loss is against the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability, is also leading the way for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to request equal access and the presence of an ASL interpreter to improve their life experiences. People have more access to reading their rights in the workplace; therefore, more people are requesting services in many different facets of life, including interpreter services.

Employers may have concerns about accommodating deaf people in the work place. “The most common request we get is how to provide an accommodation for a deaf or hard of hearing employee and what the costs are,” says Jantz. The most common barrier in the workplace is communication, yet communication barriers are most often easily overcome. And one consideration businesses can leverage is that the cost of accommodations may be tax deductible through the Disabled Access Credit (form 8826). 

ACDHH offers workshops and information sessions for employers across the state that include but are not limited to the following topics: hearing loss, Deaf Culture, ADA and Civil Rights information, legal rights, employment issues and concerns, training for 9-1-1 trainers, as well as a Healthcare Curriculum for Medical Professionals and a Public Safety Curriculum for First Responders. 

“The main objective we aim to get across from the employers’ perspective is to not think about the person’s limitations; think about how they can become an asset to the business,” says Beca Bailey, community engagement liaison at ACDHH. “Think about how you are going to work with them and then ask the person with the disability what they would like to do.”

Ultimately, when a business is considering a qualified candidate for a position with their organization who is deaf or hard of hearing, they can contact ACDHH for resources that are available to ensure the new employee is in a deaf friendly environment.   

Carmen Green is deputy director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing.

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