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Office Politics: Accommodations Don't Have to Be Expensive

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Many of the accommodations have been simple, and free, such as putting telephone books or bricks under a desk to enable a person who uses a wheelchair to fit his or her legs into the kneehole.

Software that allows the user to type by speaking into a microphone, although designed for people who could not use the keyboard, has become quite popular throughout the mainstream workforce and has increased productivity. As a result of the product's more widespread use, the price of the software has come down significantly. The same is true for "hands free" telephone headsets. These devices are now worn by everyone from rock stars to drive thru workers at fast food restaurants, as well as by telemarketers and people who have limited use of their hands. You can look around the highways and see people using them with their cell phones. (Either that, or they wear them because it allows them to talk to themselves without drawing attention!)

Accommodating People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The accommodation process is one that must be conducted on a case by case basis. No two people will have the exact same accommodation needs. In order to implement accommodations for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, certain questions must be answered. Simply knowing a person has some type of hearing loss is not enough to assist one in providing accommodations. It is necessary to establish the individual's skills, abilities and limitations. Obtaining input from the individual with the disability is essential to achieving a successful accommodation process.

The following pages provide basic information regarding accommodations that can be implemented as well as information about legislation that affects people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The material is intended to be used for educational purposes only and should not be taken as absolute solutions to all accommodation scenarios. There maybe additional accommodation options that are not listed in this material. Again, all accommodations must be provided on a case by case basis. Available resources are provided at the end of this document if further information is needed.

Accommodation Suggestions for People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing Based upon Specific Limitations

Communicating One to One

One to one communication can be accomplished in a variety of ways depending upon the abilities of the individual and those around him/her. Suggestions include: written notes, e mail messages, use of a computer terminal, use of assistive listening devices for people who are hard of hearing, interpreters, coworkers learning basic sign language, a communication board and the use of two TTYs connected without telephone lines.

Communication using a computer would involve two individuals taking turns typing their conversation for each to view on the monitor. This can occur in an immediate mode, where conversation occurs in real time or in the more typical electronic mail format in which there are longer delays between sending and receiving messages.

Communicating Over the Telephone

Telephone communication is often of concern to employers and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Traditionally, there are two different technologies that can be used for telephone communication: text telephone (TT) equipment and amplification. It is necessary to determine if the individual with hearing loss will benefit from amplification. If not, then text telephone equipment will likely be the chosen option. TT equipment is used when a person does not have enough functional hearing to understand speech even with amplification.

Amplification allows people who are hard of hearing to benefit from enhanced volume when using the telephone. Amplification can be provided through the handset, headset, in line, portable additions and complete phone systems. Some assistive listening devices can also be used to provide telephone amplification. A person who uses a hearing aid may also have the option of using a T coil for telephone amplification. Amplification can also be used with some cellular telephones.

In addition to amplification, clarity may help someone who is hard of hearing in using the telephone. For some people amplification is not so much the problem as is the need for clarity. Clarity can be achieved by adjusting the frequency of the incoming voice when listening on the telephone. Specifically designed complete telephone systems and in line devices can be used to adjust voice frequency. For individuals who are deaf, a TTY or TDD will need to be used. With a TTY, the conversation is typed rather than spoken. Communication is direct with anyone who has a similar device or the telecommunications Relay Service can be used as a third party communicator. Computers can be used to communicate with some TTYs. A TTY equipped with ASCII code allows communication with a computer. Most TTYs are equipped with Baudot communication code, but some are now equipped with both ASCII and Baudot. If the TTY does not have ASCII, the computer must have a modem that can translate Baudot code.

Communicating During Meetings

For individuals who are hard of hearing and benefit from amplification, there are various assistive listening devices (ALDs) which can be used during meetings, seminars or other group communication situations such as training courses. Options to consider include FM systems and infrared or induction loop technologies. The presenter speaks into a microphone or transmitter and the listener either uses a "T" switch on their hearing aid or wears a receiver designed to work with the assistive listening device chosen.

Qualified sign language interpreters can be used during group situations. According to the ADA, an interpreter must be qualified but not necessarily certified. A qualified interpreter is one who is able to sign what is said to the individual who is deaf and can voice to the hearing person what is said. The communication must be conveyed in an accurate, effective and impartial manner. A qualified interpreter will be familiar with any specialized vocabulary that is used during communication.

Computers and stenographic equipment can also be used to provide effective communication in group settings. Computer Assisted Note Taking (CANT) involves the use of a personal computer and possibly a PC projector. A person in a clerical support type position would need to sit in on the group activity. This person then types summaries of the communication taking place while the person who is deaf or hard of hearing either watches the computer monitor as s/he types or looks at the text projected on a wall or screen. CANT is a relatively inexpensive accommodation option but the information provided is not word for word.

If verbatim conversation is needed, Real Time Captioning (RTC) is a better option. RTC involves the use of a stenographic keyboard attached to a computer and special software to translate phonetic symbols entered by a stenographer into English. The same viewing methods can be used with RTC as with CANT. RTC offers word for word translation but is generally more expensive and requires someone who is trained in using the stenographic equipment.

It would be a good idea to have someone taking notes and to provide meeting minutes after each meeting. Prior to meetings or training courses, provide agendas or text materials to allow additional preparation time.

Environmental factors must also be considered in group communication situations. Be aware of background noise, lighting, seating and positioning. Allow the person with the hearing impairment to sit close to the speaker. Use a round table rather than a square or rectangular table to open up the lines of sight for people who might lip read. Hold meetings in a room that is carpeted, free of office machines and away from paths of heavy traffic (people and vehicles).
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