Whether your hearing loss is something you have experienced since birth or a condition that developed through accident or illness, you have likely found ways to adapt to situations where your deafness or difficulty hearing puts you at a disadvantage. However, your workplace should not be one of those situations where you are at a disadvantage because of your hearing loss.
Despite 48 million people in this country having some form of hearing loss, many face employment discrimination from the recruitment phase to their day-to-day inclusion in work-related activities. Accommodations for those who are deaf or hard of hearing are seldom unreasonable, so if you believe your employer is discriminating by refusing to make accommodations, you may want to learn more about your rights.
What should I expect?
You may have noticed signs from the beginning that your employer might not be very accommodating to your needs. For example, during the recruitment phase, an employer who offers no options for communication for those who are deaf may be ignorant or apathetic about the fact that qualified people with hearing loss may apply for the job. These employers may fail to provide options like TTY accessible phone lines or email addresses so you can request accommodations for the interview, such as a sign language interpreter.
An employer who hires you should have no problem providing the accommodations for inclusiveness, such as the following:
- Providing you with a work environment free from noise and other distractions, such as background music or areas where employees gather to chat
- Making sure you have the assistive technology you need for the job; for example, a speech-to-text phone, video telephone and visual notification capability
- Providing you with a sign language interpreter and workspace large enough to accommodate your interpreter
- Adjusting meetings to meet your needs, such as giving you a clear view, leaving adequate lighting on, using visual aids and agreeing on signals that indicate when you have a comment
- Incorporating visual cues in case of emergency, like flashing lights, in addition to alarms or announcements
In many cases, an employer may simply not know how to accommodate someone who is deaf or hard of hearing. You should feel comfortable discussing your needs with your employer. However, you would do well to keep careful records of your requests for accommodations, your employer’s response, and any refusal to meet your requests or discriminatory acts you experience. A skilled attorney can assist you with the next appropriate steps.