Deaf and Hard of Hearing Professionals, It’s Time To Rethink Your Tools
Especially as a working deaf professional, it is critical that I have access to all of the tools necessary that allow me not only to meet the essential functions of my job, but to perform at the highest level.
I’ve seen so many promising deaf professionals that didn’t have their skills fully recognized because of the barriers they faced in the workplace and who weren’t taking full advantage of the tools at their disposal. To reverse this trend, it will be helpful to start by reframing the way we see and use our tools. This should provide us the opportunity to level the playing field and showcase our skills.
1. Approach with solutions, not demands
Need interpreters or technology in your workplace? The HR department and your employers are probably already aware of this, but they may be trying to minimize their costs by limiting these resources to only when meeting the most basic essential functions of your job. “Accommodations” can be a scary word for them as they may see it as another word for “money pit.” A good way to change their thinking is to show them that you also have their interests in mind. Are there weekly meetings that aren’t mandatory for you but that you’d still like to participate in? Tell your employer you have ideas for the team that you believe will benefit them and that you would like to schedule an interpreter to share those ideas with the team. This will show them that you are part of the team, bringing valuable insights to the company that make the cost of accommodations worth it in the long run. Is there a training event or workshop you want to attend? Approach your employer with a list of benefits that you will come away with that could positively impact your job performance if you were to attend the workshop. Also, be sure to list benefits for the company—make it about them, too, not just you. The more you are able to show the company that developing your skillset will benefit the company, the more they will see that the accommodations are a worthy investment.
2. Change your perspective on interpreters
Reframe how they are used and consider the versatility they offer. Interpreters are a tool you use and have control over, like a car. Likewise, interpreting agencies are like car rental places – they provide you options on rentals. Businesses and even insurance companies pay for rental cars, and the drivers themselves often have control over their car preferences. Would a businessman with a long commute opt for a gas guzzler over a hybrid? Would a construction worker opt for a sedan over a pick-up truck to carry a load of tools to the worksite? How would your employer react if you rented a car that was too small to make all your deliveries in one day? They’d be furious because it would mean spending more money on another day of car rental or even switching cars out, putting them at risk of losing customers due to the delay. Would you use an interpreter that’s good hands-up but has poor receptive skills for your PowerPoint presentation? Would you use a medical-only-experienced interpreter for a technical think tank meeting with your coworkers? Interpreters that aren’t a good fit for you often lead to poor work performance. Take back control of your access and let agencies know exactly what you require of their interpreters. Explain to your colleagues and management the importance of which agency to use and why. Interpreters should not be seen as a deciding factor but rather as a supplement in optimizing your work performance.
3. Be cutting edge
Technology is a powerful tool that allows you to stay ahead of the game. Technology that is accessible and works to our advantage can also give our employers new ways to streamline operations. A great example of this is a tool called Slack—a collaboration hub for work that allows you to communicate, share information, and connect with your peers all at your fingertips. No interpreters, no voicing, no gesturing needed! Another powerful tool is Grammarly. For many of us that consider English our second language, Grammarly is extremely beneficial in helping us improve our writing skills. Using technology like Slack and Grammarly can make you a powerful asset to any employer while still making everything accessible to you with minimal effort.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act is there to protect our rights and access in the workplace, it is still up to us to take the next step to elevate and open ourselves up to more opportunities for ourselves as well as other Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The world is yours for the taking, and the tools have never been more readily accessible.
Take the first step today by contacting us with your interpreter preferences and needs!