As you may have already heard, the coronavirus pandemic is especially difficult for the hearing impaired. We all need to do our part to make things just a little easier on them. In the workplace, that means working to make meetings more accessible and welcoming to hard of hearing staff.
What Employees Can Do
Understand that your colleagues are doing the best they can under highly challenging circumstances. You likely had to cobble together a home office from whatever gadgets and hardware you had on hand. Now imagine doing that while suffering from hearing loss.
- You may want to consider mandating that online meetings be primarily conducted in sign language or simply bring on an interpreter for your HoH staff.
- If you’re dialling in from an area with poor connectivity, turn off your video when you aren’t speaking.
- If you live with excitable dogs, vocal cats, or children, mute your microphone when you’re not speaking to avoid background chatter.
- Most meeting platforms have a chat feature. Use it.
- Consider hooking your workstation up via ethernet rather than WiFi if you’re having connection or time delay issues — many translations and captioning programs do not work properly if there’s a great deal of audio/visual lag or interference.
What Employers Should Do
First and foremost, you need a rules framework to help keep things ordered and organized. The communication dynamic of a meeting designed with HoH individuals’ needs in mind is vastly different from an ordinary virtual meeting. To name just a few things:
- Use a captioning program.
- Consider providing HoH employees that are working from home with a second monitor.
- Mandate that all meeting participants must have their video and audio turned off when someone else is speaking.
- Ask your HoH employees what they need, and do your best to provide them with that.
- Consider bringing in a co-host that can take over if the host’s connection dies.
- Leverage turn management. Have the meeting host carefully regulate each speaker and manage both turns and speaking time.
- Make sure meetings are short, concise, and organized. We all know that one person who says 50 words when two would have been more than enough.
- Establish communication rules for your virtual meetings well in advance.
- Avoid hosting frivolous or unnecessary meetings.
- Keep an eye on the chatbox. Many HoH individuals find it to be a much more effective means of communicating.
There exists a wide assortment of accessibility options available for both the HoH and their employers. As an employer, communication is vital in ensuring employee needs are met. As an HoH individual, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
About the Author:
Dr. Renee Flanagan is the Director of Audiological Care at HearingPlanet. She works with the training and development of Hearing Care staff so they may help the hearing impaired population by following best in class hearing healthcare practices.