Truth of the Trade: Deaf Employees

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Alicia Miller PHOTO Brian Tietz

Alicia Miller [PHOTO: Brian Tietz]

It’s easy to judge another industry or set of workers from the outside, with ideas formed by what we see on TV, hear on the news or experience through our friends. But not all stories and stereotypes are true. The best way to debunk myths about employees or an industry? Turning to those who know it best.

The Myth: Deaf or hard-of-hearing people cannot communicate with anyone in the office.

The Truth: “American Sign Language (ASL) is a very visual and expressive language,” Alicia Miller, Sally J. Pimentel Deaf & Hard of Hearing Center’s executive director, says. Still, “there are ways to communicate without knowing sign language.”

Employers and co-workers can initially communicate with deaf or hearing-impaired employees via email and written correspondence when needed but picking up a few words or letters in ASL goes a long way. (Agencies like Sally J. Pimentel Deaf & Hard of Hearing Center can visit offices to teach staff basic sign language for day-to-day communication.)

And just because an employee is deaf or hard of hearing, it doesn’t mean that person will be unable to intake important messages. On the contrary, “deaf people are very detail-oriented. This makes them prone to taking good notes,” Miller says, which can in turn benefit co-workers or employers who need to reference them.

A deaf or hard-of-hearing employee may also be more focused during team meetings, especially if the company has hired an interpreter to relay the details. Ever had a coworker whisper to you during a meeting and suddenly you both missed what the boss said? If a deaf person is in a meeting and relying on an interpreter, “they are focused on that interpreter because looking away is basically like [a hearing person] plugging their ears,” Miller says. “They tend to pay attention more.”

Of course, learning to smoothly communicate with a deaf or hard-of-hearing employee can take time. Be patient, Miller says. “Don’t get frustrated. There is a way to communicate if you don’t know sign language—writing back and forth, emailing, or just demonstrating.”

Be open and willing. If you are, you may just earn someone invaluable to your team.

“People have expectations of everybody, and I think sometimes when a deaf person is hired, everybody around them is [wondering] if they are going to succeed,” Miller says. “They almost work harder than other employees because they want to prove they are capable of doing anything a hearing person could do.” 



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