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What to Consider When Employing a Deaf/Blind Person

What kind of work can a deaf, blind, or deaf-blind person do?

Almost any job a hearing/sighted person can do. What any particular individual can do depends largely on their skills, the extent of their hearing or vision loss, and the quality of their accommodations. When seeking employment, each individual potential worker needs to be assessed individually.

The most important issues to consider with a deaf candidate are:

1) Communication
How does the deaf person communicate? Do they use sign language? Do they speech read, write notes back and forth, or type on a PDA device? How good is their speech comprehension in one-on-one conversations, and how good is their comprehension in a group setting? How are their speech skills? Do they use their voice or sign language to communicate? It's important to consider one-on-one and group situations separately because the two affect a deaf person's ability to follow significantly. Generally, the same person will need more accommodations in a group setting.

2) Phone requirements
Does the job require using a phone? Some deaf people can hear on the phone with their hearing aid or cochlear implant on a special setting, or with a special amplification device. Some deaf people can hold brief conversations with people whose voices are familiar to them only. If a prospective employee can't hear on the phone at all, they may be able to substitute all phone needs with email and online conferencing (such as contacting business partners). If answering the phone is only a small part of the job, they may be able to make an agreement with another co-worker to trade the phone duty for another duty.

3) Auditory signals
Any auditory signals simply need to be supplemented with a visual or vibrating signal. (More often than not, machines that emit beeps or other signals already have a blinking light or other signal accompanying it.)

The most important issues to consider with a blind candidate are:

1) Mobility
Can the blind person get around? Give them some time to familiarize themselves with the building and their surrounding areas. Any in-the-way obstacles that can be moved to the side should be. Service aimal users will need to have occasional brief breaks so that their service animal can relieve themselves.

2) Lighting
Most blind people can see better in certain types of lighting. If the lights can be adjusted to their preference, go ahead and do that.

3) Reading format
Most blind people can read regular print, either with computerized magnification or optical aids. Blind people who rely on audio or braille are best off using electronic formats, which can easily be converted to and from print and braille/audio through a screen reader or special software program.

Deaf-blind candidates need to have the same issues as both deaf and blind candidates taken into account. Most deaf-blind people have some usable vision or hearing and will be able to use many of the same techniques as deaf or blind people. However, in the case of a deaf-blind prospective employee who has no usable hearing or vision, tactile communication will most likely be their only form of communication. Any employer or co-workers will benefit from learning basic tactile methods like the Deaf-Blind Manual Alphabet or tactile finger spelling. Employers and co-workers will probably also rely heavily on virtual communication, such as email and instant messaging, which can be fed through a braille display for the deaf-blind person.

Braille technology is expensive so definitely make sure to contact vocational rehab for any financial help. If they can't pay for braille technology in full, ask them for some other resources that can help cover costs.

If you're not exactly sure what your prospective employee needs, simply ask them. Also ask to get in touch with their vocational rehabilitation counselor. Vocational rehabilitation may be able to pay for adaptive technology and will probably train the person on any new technology for the job. Vocational rehab will probably also train them on any adaptive techniques needed to perform the same tasks as efficiently as a hearing/sighted person.

How do the ADA, DDA, and other laws protecting disabled employees work?

Laws protecting the disabled vary widely from country to country. However, the main idea behind these laws is: you cannot refuse to hire any applicant just on the basis of their disability. If an applicant's disability interferes with the very nature of the job, or compromises a large portion of the job, then you can refuse to consider their application. If the applicant can find alternative ways to do all the tasks required for a job, then they must be considered for the job along with any other applicants.

An applicant who has equal or better credentials cannot be disqualified from the applicant pool just on the basis of their disability either. They may need accommodations or extra training for the job. Vocational rehabilitation should provide any training related to using adaptive technology or adaptive techniques to perform the same tasks as efficiently as other workers.

Just remember: think in terms of tasks, not sensory loss, and ask--don't assume--what a candidate can and can't do.

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