Blog 15 August 22, 2014
One question I am often asked is just what does a business have to provide to be in compliance with the ADA laws regarding accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing employees in the workplace. There’s no easy answer to that question, as it depends a lot on what sort of business you are, what your employee is doing, and whether providing certain accommodations would result in undue hardship for your business.
In a nutshell, a business must provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability. This could be something like a magnifier device on a computer for an employee with a visual disability, or providing amplification on a telephone for a hard-of-hearing employee. Wheelchair ramps, accessible lavatories and other accommodations often come to mind when thinking of reasonable accommodations that most of us would expect a business to provide to someone with a disability.
But does that also mean that a business must provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf employee every day? Is a business responsible for buying and maintaining a hearing aid or other device for an employee? This is where the word “reasonable” becomes subject to interpretation, and that interpretation can differ from business to business and even from the employee’s and employer’s perspectives.
Again, reasonable means that an employee with a disability is given a level playing field to do his or her job in the same way and with the same resources as any employee without a disability would have. For example, if an employee who uses a wheelchair cannot access an office or lavatory, then an accommodation would have to be made. If the same employee did not have a wheelchair, the business does not have to buy one for the employee. However, the employer may have to supply a desk that can accommodate a wheelchair comfortably so the employee can do the job. This link from the Job Accommodation Network has a lot of good information that explains things further: http://askjan.org/media/hearing.html
Recently I was contacted by a major corporation about supplying communication access real-time translation (CART) for a deaf employee whose presence was critical to the success of the project. Although I am not sure what was used before, it must not have been effective enough for the employee to participate, in real-time, in important decisions and ideas being discussed at these meetings. With CART, there is no one else in the room except the meeting attendees. Everything is done remotely, and only the person who needs the service knows it’s there on a mobile device, laptop or tablet. Yet everything being said and discussed is captioned in 2-3 seconds, allowing the deaf employee to be an active participant.
Having been to my fair share of meetings, it got me wondering if it wouldn’t be a good idea for businesses to supply this service to ALL employees. How many times have you missed a comment or question, especially at a large meeting? Plus you get a transcript of the proceeding afterwards. I know I would have loved that, and it works great for those where English is a second language. Perhaps one day captioning will be de rigueur in all business meetings and functions. Wouldn’t that be an ideal working environment?