It is estimated that there are more than 28 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing. Hearing loss is the reduced ability to hear sound and may develop for various reasons. An individual may have a congenital loss from childhood or an adult illness that can result in total loss of hearing. The effects of aging, acute injury, or progressive loss over time due to excessive or prolonged exposure to noise may also result in deafness for some people. Individuals who are deaf may require accommodations to enable successful performance of essential job functions. Accommodations will not always be necessary, nor will they always be effective.
Deafness and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Deafness
People who are deaf may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people who are deaf will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
A meat processor who was deaf was promoted to a position working in a busy warehouse.
The individual needed to communicate with several lead processors throughout the workday. The facility provided handheld text messaging devices for all lead processors.
A field geologist who was deaf and worked alone in remote areas was unable to use two-way radio communication to report his findings.
Text telephone technology was used to allow the geologist to communicate using a cellular telephone.
A government employee who was deaf was not communicating effectively with coworkers.
The employer provided video relay interpreting equipment and service access. According to the employer, the accommodation improved communication.
A medical technician who was deaf could not hear the buzz of a timer, which was necessary for specific laboratory tests.
An indicator light was attached to the equipment.
A municipality recently hired a code inspector who is deaf.
The city decided to provide an interpreter for training and a cell phone with texting to use when working in the field. The inspector was able to inspect buildings and enforce the building codes with these accommodations.
Interested in hiring a candidate who was deaf, a bank manager called JAN for assistance.
The position required conversations with hearing customers. JAN suggested communication access technology that enables two people to type to each other while facing each other. Using the equipment, the teller and customer would be able to type their conversation, both viewing the text on a personal screen. This technology would also enable bank customers who are deaf or hard of hearing to access banking services.
A phlebotomist who is deaf was provided a text to speech device to communicate with patients.
He was also given a vibrating pager with visual display so he could be contacted while in remote locations of the hospital.
A state employer had several employees who were deaf or hard of hearing.
These employees needed to respond to emergency signals and communicate in emergency. Each employee was provided with a vibrating pager that was connected to the alarm system. When the alarm sounded they were paged. Laminated note cards with communication options and flashlights to assist with signs or lip reading were also provided.