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Working with people who are deaf and/or hard-of-hearing can be mutually beneficial and rewarding.

It is the employer’s responsibility to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for employees who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. This includes aiding ease of communication and providing resources they need to succeed in their position.

Experts recommend putting inclusive practices in place before requests are made. Further planning for accommodation should be discussed on a case-by-case basis with new employees.

Below is a quick overview of what to do and not to when communicating with deaf or hard-of-hearing colleagues and a few resources to help to create an inclusive workplace.

Ask deaf or hard-of-hearing employees how they prefer to communicate (email, instant messaging, text, speech reading, writing, signing, demonstration, etc.) Do not assume deaf and hard-of-hearing people prefer to communicate in the same way
Maintain eye contact and face the person you are communicating with Do not look away, turn your back, obstruct, chew or cover your mouth when communicating
Clearly explain the topic of the conversation. Repeat when the topic changes Do not say “I’ll tell you later”, “never mind”, or “it doesn’t matter” – deaf and hard-of-hearing people hear these phrases or variations a lot while being excluded from information or conversations
Encourage deaf or hard-of-hearing employees to ask questions if communication is unclear Do not stand or sit directly in front of a light source, lighting is important for the person to see you clearly sign, speak and communicate
Clarify, ask questions when and if communication is not clear Do not give up when a misunderstanding takes place. A little effort goes a long way in inclusive communication experiences
Repeat and rephrase information. Try using a different word or phrase to clear any misunderstanding Do not creep up or approach deaf or hard-of-hearing people from behind (approach from the side, by waving or tapping their shoulder to gain their attention)
Review key points of the conversation to make sure everything discussed has been understood Do not assume deaf and hard-of-hearing people can lip read (not all can, and those who do, do not lip read exclusively to communicate)
Maintain a reasonable distance when communicating (important for hearing aid users, lip readers and signers) Do not yell, over pronounce or exaggerate – this can alter your natural rhythm of speech and make you more difficult to understand
Take turns communicating when there is more than one person in a conversation Do not talk over each other, it is hard to follow (take turns and wait for a person to finish what they are saying)
Plan ahead to ensure formal / group meetings are accessible (interpreter support, meeting etiquette, reference materials, room set-up, etc.)
Use open-ended questions that requires more than a yes/no answer; this ensure your message has been received and understood
Look at the person you are communicating with, even when an interpreter is present
Learn Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and support Deaf and hard-of-hearing awareness training at work to increase inclusion and better communication

Simple strategies to create an inclusive workplace

Note: all links listed in the sections below open in a new window

  • Closed captions
  • CART or real-time captioning
  • Australian Sign Language (Auslan) interpreter
  • Text phones or video relay services
  • Written memos and company communications
  • Visual emergency notifications
  • Changes in work space arrangements

Sourced from:

Rochester Institute of Technology - National Technical Institute for the Deaf (opens in a new window)

Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center (HSDC) (opens in a new window)

Legal Aid New South Wales (opens in a new window)

Guide Dogs SA/NT (opens in a new window)