How to help the deaf and hard of hearing community in the workplace

Living Local

ROANOKE, Va (WFXR) — More than 10,000,000 people are deaf or hard of hearing. They are a large part of our world that depends on sounds for most of face-to-face conversation. That is why host Kianna Price sat down with Baraka Kasongo, CEO of Volatia Language Network to discuss ways to support our co-workers that may have a very hard time hearing or understanding us right now.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, you can visit Volatia Language Network’s website by clicking here.

Transcript of the Interview:

Kianna Price: Welcome to Coffee with a Coach, where we bring you a cup of confidence to kick off your work week.

More than ten million people are deaf or hard of hearing. They’re a large part of our world that depends on sounds for most of face-to-face conversation.

Baraka Kasongo, CEO of Volatia Language Network, is joining us to discuss ways to support our co-workers that may have a very hard time hearing or understanding us right now.

Good morning, Baraka. Thanks for being with us today.

Baraka Kasongo: Good morning. Pleasure.

Kianna Price: So Baraka, what types of challenges do the deaf and hard of hearing community have at work, especially right now?

Baraka Kasongo: Certainly the primary challenge that many deaf and hard of hearing people really experience is to do with isolation.

We are just now feeling it with COVID-19, but for many of these deaf and hard of hearing individuals they have been feeling it for as long as they have been in the workforce.

An example may be an employee that works on a team that naturally chats and communicates throughout their work day.

But when you’re deaf, if that organization does not have a language access plan, the deaf individual may find that they have to only read lips or write notes back and forth, which ultimately affects how much they can participate in their work.

They have to pause what they are doing in order to participate in a conversation that other people can just multi-task and still accomplish.

So the end result happens to be that that individual will be isolated throughout the day; if they want to be able to get their work done at the same level of their peers or their counterparts.

So ultimately isolation really is a real thing for this population at work.

Kianna Price: So what’s the best way that we can support the deaf or our hard of hearing co-workers?

Baraka Kasongo: Well the primary way to support them is to make them a part of the conversation. Much like you and I, the diversity within the different hard of hearing population is very real. No two deaf people, in most cases, are going to prefer to communicate the same way.

For some deaf individuals, sign language may not even be a form of communication that they use. They may use signs that are designed perhaps at home, but not have had the academic sign language training that you would expect them to be able to use.

So for us as employers, we need to make sure that we’re including them. How do they prefer to communicate? Some of them may be able to read lips. Others may be able to write back and forth.

But as a standard, a language access plan should be available; to be able to provide an interpreter when needed, whether it’s for job interviews, whether it’s in performance evaluations and other things that may be significant.

Kianna Price: And what types of things do deaf or hard of hearing people use, or are given at work, to help with communication, say, in like Zoom meetings?

Baraka Kasongo: Yes. An employer that wants to be inclusive would ensure that they have an access plan for the deaf and hard of hearing who work there.

An example is if they’re using Zoom meetings, such as the session that we’re on right now, they would ensure that captions are turned on. That would enable an interpreter, or a captionist, to ensure that they can document everything that is being said for the purpose of the individual that is deaf or hard of hearing.

Another option is to provide simultaneous interpretation during that Zoom session, where the interpreter would be able to relay all the messages in sign language; and to ensure that goes well, the deaf individual will be able to pin the image of the interpreter on their screen and vice versa on the interpreter’s side – and that would make sure that both parties are able to see one another.

But the big key there being that the employer needs to proactive.

Kianna Price: See, this is just something that I would just probably never have even taken into consideration. So I’m grateful that you are bringing this to our attention.

Well Baraka, you have shared so much with us to consider. We certainly hope that those that are listening will put it into practice so that we are better communicators with those that are deaf and hard of hearing on our jobs.

Thank you so much for your time this morning.

Baraka Kasongo: My pleasure. Thank you.

Kianna Price: And coming up next, there’s some special front line workers that we get to celebrate this week. It’s National Assisted Living Week!

We get all of the details how to celebrate – next

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