Working With Deaf People


How Do I Communicate With a Deaf Employee?The Supervisor's Guide to Effective Communication with a Deaf Employee

Written by: Carmen Johnson, C.S.C.for Deaf Community Advocacy Network (DEAF C.A.N.!)

Working with a Deaf Employee

Perhaps this is your first experience with a Deaf person. Following a few simple guidelines will make communication easy and will minimize future misunderstandings and feelings of frustration for both you and the Deaf employee.Due to job stress, and extensive responsibilities, a Supervisor may unknowingly be preoccupied and avoid eye contact with the Deaf employee; face in a deep frown. To the Deaf employee this conveys avoidance, disapproval, distancing, anger, or displeasure. It all adds up to "Why are you angry with me?"The first and most important mode of communciation for a Deaf person is eye contact and a smile. Most Deaf people can lipread a simple greeting like "Hello" or "How are you?", but may not be able to comprehend a complicated string of sentences.

SOLUTION: Be Careful of Body Language. And Remember, smiles are a universal form of communication.

Tips for Working with a Deaf Employee

Many Deaf employees would want their supervisors to learn American Sign Language. While you may feel that this is just "one more burden to add to an already heavy load," it will be greatly appreciated by the Deaf employee. SOLUTION: Ask your employee to teach you just one Sign per day. The employee will be thrilled to do so. Depending on your contact with the Deaf employee it could be a Sign per week or a Sign per month. Just an outward "sign" to the Deaf employee that you are open to the communication process.
With the current trends toward computer technology many offices have some type of "chat" or computer based dialogue capabilities. This makes easy access to communication between employees and/or employee to supervisor. SOLUTION: Take advantage of existing technology to communicate with Deaf employees.
The Michigan Relay Center (MRC) has been established to allow Deaf and Hearing persons communicate with each other over the telephone. The initiating party calls the Relay Center to set up a two way communication process. A "relay representative" facilitates communication between the Hearing consumer and the TTY (teletypewriter) user by reading to the hearing person what the Deaf TTY user is typing and vice-versa. SOLUTION: Use the Michigan Relay Center with your Deaf employees at 711 (voice/tty).
There is nothing more frustrating to Deaf employees than to see a conversation, laughing, an announcement and when they ask what it is all about, they are told, "It wasn't important." Let that valuable decision be placed in the hands of the Deaf employee. Deaf employees need access to what is happening in the world just like hearing employees do. And, while the supervisor may think nothing of hearing employees "chatting" as they work, or listening to the radio, Deaf employees are often reprimanded for "chatting" with fellow Deaf employees. SOLUTION: Take time to "fill in" the Deaf employee. A lot of office "talk"is important.

Other Tips and Solutions for Working Deaf Employees

Many supervisors have found writing notes to be an effective way to communicate with a Deaf employee. A good method is to place a whiteboard or chalkboard at the employee's work area. Keep it simple and concise. Establish the subject to be discussed and then explain. Remember there may be language difficulties for the Deaf person such as double negatives or English idioms. For example, "I never told you you couldn't do that" would be very hard to understand.
When holding team meetings, safety talks, trainings, or policy updates, be sure to hire a Sign Language Interpreter. Information is crucial for any employee. Be sure to reserve a qualified Interpreter well in advance. Also, be sure to identifiy with the employee the best way to communicate during the meeting -- seating, protocol, etc.

SOLUTION: Keep the lines of communication open with the Deaf employee.

Don't allow problems to build.

Deaf People are Great Employees!

Communication is the Key