Communication in the Workplace

Accommodations for effective communication are very individual. Self-disclosure is important as well as an open, positive attitude in the workplace that allows for a collaboratively designed cultural space for optimal communication. From this perspective, effective communication is not about accommodating for Deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Communication accommodation is how you co-create a culturally diverse, accessible, enriching and engaging environment for and by all.

Physical Space
These suggestions are for a variety of workplace situations. Use them as a guide to help you design a suitable Accommodation and Engagement Plan with your employees and your organization. You can access more detailed information on Communication Devices here. A skilled CHS Employment Consultant can provide you with an onsite workplace evaluation. Contact CHS Employment Services for details. The following is a list of environmental accommodations. Not all will be required for individual accommodation plans, although their implementation may helpful for universal design throughout your organization and facilities.

  • Room should be well lit to see interpreters or to speech-reading
  • Avoid backlighting, both from windows and artificial light sources, on speakers and interpreters; it’s tiring for the employee who may then miss information
  • Adjustable lighting for instructors, interpreters, and visual displays is essential, with versatile ball-and-socket spotlights recommended
  • Proper placement, shielding or diffusion of light sources can control glare. Choose light-blocking curtains, blinds or shades, as well as non-glare room surfaces
  • Light and other switches should ideally be located in a spot that minimizes disruption. Install emergency power failure lights.

Visual Signals
  • Telephone light flashers alert the employee to incoming calls
  • Prominent signage at key locations provides directional information
  • Operational or procedural instructions should be available in written or graphic form whenever possible
  • Vision panels in doors allow identification of incoming visitors, as well as room activities before entering. Use ‘peep sights’ when vision panels aren’t applicable
  • Doors that display room numbers, names and office titles help identification
  • Visible elevator arrival signals should be in direct line of sight
  • Desks should be situated so the employee can see anyone who approaches, and to provide a sight line between co-workers for sign language
  • Convex mirrors can be purchased and placed in locations to provide the Deaf employee with greater visibility of the department and what is around the corner
  • Flashing warning lights on moving vehicles (e.g. tow trucks) and machinery to indicate malfunctions is mandatory for health and safety

Noise Reduction
There are many ways to reduce workplace noise that will help ease communication and reduce stress.
  • Situate offices or workstations away from loud and constant external noise such as major roads or construction
  • Heating and ventilation ducts can be insulated or silencers installed to control duct- borne fan noise
  • Airflow can be regulated to control noise
  • Install diffusers, grilles and registers with low sound production ratings for terminal airflow
  • Design office layouts to provide buffer zones between noisy areas such as high-traffic hallways, cafeterias, meeting rooms, gymnasiums and those areas where a quiet environment is preferred such as work areas and meeting rooms
  • Carpet with minimum 1/4 inch pile laid without a pad helps reduce noise. Denser carpets reduce noise only marginally and make wheelchair mobility more difficult
  • Sound-absorbing ceiling materials make work areas quieter
  • Absorptive panels on opposite walls also reduce sound reverberation. The critical zone for placing acoustic treatment is between 30 - 80i (76 – 203cm) off the floor. Walls and doors can be insulated against sound transmission
  • Double-glass windows with airspace between layers reduce sound transmission
  • Wall and floor insulation can suppress noise from mechanical equipment
  • Ultra-high frequency sound security systems and low-cycle electric transformers can cause problems with hearing aids and should be avoided
  • Anti-static carpet controls static electricity that can interfere with hearing aid operations. Anti-static treatments are also available for carpeting previously installed. Increased humidity minimizes static electricity

  • The Technical Devices section lists tools that will create an effective employee workstation, including enhancements to computers, telephones, pagers, light systems and other technical areas. Consider the office location and where the desk and computer are situated to allow the best lighting and sight lines.
Large Groups - Meetings, Conferences & Training
  • Interpreters should be confirmed well in advance of the meeting or training session. Interpreters, captioners, and note-takers appreciate receiving related materials, including agendas, ahead of the event in order to adequately prepare.
  • Real-time captioning is valuable for all participants, including hearing people, in meetings that are long and involve a lot of informaiont
  • The deaf, or hard of hearing employee can determine the best seating arrangement in order to see the speaker and ASL interpreters
  • Consider a U-shaped or circular room layout for best possible communication
  • Offer employees frequent breaks to alleviate visual fatigue from speechreading and/or watching the interpreter. Interpreters and captioners also need regular breaks
  • Use assistive listening device - table conference microphones transmit voices to a person’s headset; discourage tapping of fingers or pens on table as the sound reverberates in the earphones
  • Speak clearly and at a moderate rate
  • Do not pace while giving a presentation
  • Speak facing the audience; don’t talk to the blackboard, screen or powerpoint presentation
  • One person speaks at a time. Keep a speaker’s list whereby the meeting chairperson will note who wishes to speak and then recognize them in order. This prevents side chats and people interrupting each other
  • Repeating questions before responding helps clarify questions for the person who is hard of hearing
  • Point to the person who is speaking, and/or have speakers identify themselves by putting up their hands. This helps the person who is deaf or has a hearing loss to follow the flow of conversation
  • Watch for the deaf or hard of hearing person’s desire to contribute or make a comment.
  • Incorporate visual aids, demonstrations, flip charts, written agendas and handouts in conversation. Write key words, phrases and changes of topic on flipcharts or whiteboards
  • Use a large font size for text displayed on overheads or other visual ai Larger print is easier to see/read and allows participants to quickly resume concentration on the interpreter, captioner, or on speechreading.
  • Videos should be captioned or have scripts available. If the videos aren’t captioned, situate the captioner’s projection device (e.g. laptop, monitor) for the best possible sight line.
  • Some audio-visual equipment such as overhead and slide projectors (and LCD projectors when cooling down) are noisy, so be mindful of this as you time their use.
  • Review critical issues introduced in a meeting to guarantee understanding
  • Provide detailed written minutes or notes for later reference
  • The employee may want to meet with presenters after meetings and other presentations to get clarification, particularly if note-taking was the only accommodation provided

You can view theWorkplace Environment and Office and Meeting Environment infographics here

Communication Tips
The best communication tip is to be open and willing to discover together what works. Ask your employee for suggestions to improve workplace communication and be sure fellow employees are part of this discussion. This list is not exhaustive. Consult with the Canadian Hearing Society to confirm best practices for your situation or for more information.

No two people communicate in exactly the same way; each person uses an individual combination of communication strategies. Therefore, the best way to learn how to communicate with an applicant, employee, or co-worker is to ask him or her what method or methods of communication they prefer. This section summarizes the possible communication styles of people who are Deaf or hard of hearing loss and the typical aids that encourage interaction.

A person may let you know about his or her Deafness in a number of ways. He or she may:
  • Use an interpreter or have requested an interpreter be booked for the appointment
  • Tell you via spoken language about the hearing loss, advising the best way to communicate
  • Point to a hearing aid or cochlear implant
  • Use gestures
  • Have contacted you through a telephone relay service, video relay service, interpreter services or a third party

The Environment
  • Choose a well-lit area
  • Speak with the light on your face to make speechreading easier
  • Eliminate as much noise as possible, closing doors when appropriate
  • Ask the employee if the setup is suitable and if he or she can understand you

Getting Attention
  • Get the person’s attention before you speak
  • Ask how he or she prefers to be approached, i. from the side or front so as not to startle
  • Tap the desk or floor to gain attention
  • A shoulder tap is appropriate if the person is near you
  • Wave your hand if he or she is at a distance
  • Flash the room lights for meetings of larger audiences
  • Install a light on the telephone to signal incoming calls

Technical Tips
  • Write down key phrases and words if required
  • Use the employee’s assistive technical device
  • Use text technology such as hand-written notes, computers, email, Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART)/ real time captioning in meetings, amplification on phones, TTYand Video Relay Service (VRS)

Personal Communication
  • Talk directly to, not about, the deaf or hard of hearing person
  • Maintain eye contact, and minimize head and body movement
  • Speak naturally and clearly and at a normal or slightly slower pace – there is no need to shout or over-enunciate, which distorts the face and lips
  • Sit as closely together as is comfortable and professional
  • Facial expressions should match words, and are helpful when a tone of voice can't be heard
  • Your visual attention, facial expressions and physical contact are all very important
  • In creating a bond between you and your communication partner, side conversations can make deaf and hard of hearing people feel they are missing important information, which may indeed be the case
  • Don't do anything unexpected from behind the person
  • Keep the person’s hands free (for writing and/or signing)
  • Keep your face clear from obstacles (such as your hands)and refrain from chewing gum or smoking
  • Moustaches and beards can make speechreading difficult
  • Give clues when changing the conversation subject
  • Rephrase, rather than repeat, when you are not understood. If you have trouble understanding a person with a hearing loss, ask him or her to repeat what they have said
  • Patience and flexibility are important when establishing communication with a deaf or hard of hearing person

Fingerspelled letters representing written English words are used to communicate proper nouns, title and names that may not have an ASL sign or may not yet be known by the communication partner. This easy-to-learn alphabet can assist hearing employees to communicate with Deaf co-workers.

Reading and Writing Notes
Writing notes on paper, on a boogie board or typing back and forth using a desktop computer, smart phone or laptop is handy in many situations. Abbreviated written messages can result in incomplete communication, so confirmation of key points is helpful. Deaf and hard of hearing people commonly use this informal method of communication.

Hearing Aids
Hearing aids amplify sound; they do not correct or restore hearing. Technology has improved greatly over the past few years, offering better amplification, quality of sound, and some reduction of background noise. How well a person benefits from a hearing aid (or two) depends on many factors: type and degree of hearing loss, physical ability to wear an aid, personality, attitude, manual dexterity for handling small parts, etc.

Cochlear Implants
This auditory prosthesis, surgically implanted in the cochlea of the inner ear, bypasses damaged nerve-cell endings and directly stimulates the auditory nerve that conveys sound ‘messages’ to the brain. Cochlear implant technology is selected by some adults who cannot use hearing aids. While not all implants are successful, cochlear implant users undergo intensive rehabilitation to achieve the best possible result from this technology. Some signing Deaf people with a cochlear implant also continue to use ASL to communicate. Cochlear implants are controversial in the Deaf community due to practices related to language rights of young Deaf children who are implanted with emphasis on spoken language and denial of signed language. It is important to be respectful of sensitivities within the community around this issue.

The majority of people who are Deaf or hard of hearing use speechreading to some degree, often unconsciously. In fact, almost everyone – hearing, Deaf, or hard of hearing – speechreads at some time or another. Speechreading, uses visual cues and context to comprehend what’s being said. A good speechreader watches a speaker’s lips, teeth, tongue, jaw, eyes, facial expression and body language, and uses context to discern the message. Speechreading skill and effectiveness varies widely from person to person. Do not assume that an employee with hearing loss is a good speech-reader. It is an extremely difficult skill to learn and very rarely completely mastered. Speechreading appears to be more difficult for those who become Deaf or hard of hearing as an adult. Many factors affect how well a person ‘reads’ speech:
  • type of hearing loss and age of onset
  • degree of good vision and ability to focus
  • familiarity with the language
  • positive attitude
  • more than half the movements involved in speech sounds occur within the mouth and cannot be detected by the eye
  • between 40 – 60% of English words are homophones, words which look identical on a speaker’s face, i.e. cake and take
  • no single speech sound has a distinct lip/jaw movement or position of its own

Sign Language and Sign Language Classes

The language of the majority of North American Deaf people is American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a visual language that has its own grammatical structure, vocabulary and social rules of use. It is distinct from spoken language. Over 60 years of linguistic research has demonstrated that ASL is a full and complex language just as spoken languages are. There are many different sign languages in the world today. The two main sign languages in Canada are American Sign Language (ASL) and langue des signes québécoise (LSQ).

Sign languages are rich languages that express the same scope of thoughts, feelings, intentions and complexities as spoken languages. Meaning is conveyed through signs that are composed of handshapes, locations, palm orientation, movement and specific facial expressions, head shift, body posture, eye gaze and eye shifts.

The majority of culturally Deaf people function bilingually and are proficient, to varying degrees, in ASL and written English or LSQ and written French. Like many Canadians, English or French is not their first language. Their written English or French should be seen in that light. Sign languages do not have written forms. Literary “texts” in sign language are on video.  Written English and French skills continue to grow in adulthood with use just as it does for other second language users.

CHS offers workplace classes customized to the needs of businesses and organizations who want their employees to learn American Sign Language (ASL) to improve communication with their customers, clients and co-workers.

Sign Language Interpreters
Sign language interpreters are often thought of as being present for the Deaf person in our workplace. Our communication paradigm shift clarifies that the interpreter is there for those of us who do not know ASL just as he or she is there for the Deaf person who does not rely on spoken English. A professional sign language interpreter, knowledgeable in the language and culture of both Deaf and hearing people, is the bridge between ASL and English to a common understanding that is co-created by all partners in the conversation.

Most provinces have interpreter services available through agencies providing services to Deaf people. The mandate of CHS Interpreting Services is to increase accessibility for Deaf individuals by providing quality ASL-English interpreting in a variety of settings including: employment, medical, legal, social services, mental health/counselling, education related business, and government ministries and agencies.

When interacting with a Deaf employee whose language is ASL, use a qualified interpreter for:
  • Interviews
  • Meetings
  • Training sessions
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Performance appraisals

The Role of an Interpreter
Some of the interpreter’s responsibilities are to:
  • Interpret the intent and spirit of everything that is signed and spok
  • Keep all information confidential.
  • Provide interpretation only; an interpreter will not give advice or a personal opinion on anything that is discus
  • Accept only those assignments for which she or he is qualified.
  • Arrive 15 minutes before the appointment to become familiar with the people and the situation.
  • Consult with the person who is Deaf about the set-up of the room.

Team Interpreting
For meetings over two hours in length, more than one interpreter is required. In team interpreting, both interpreters are responsible for the provision of service at all times throughout the assignment. While one interpreter is actively engaged in the interpreting process for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, the other interpreter is attentive and ready to support the active interpreter at any stage in the process. After the prescribed period,
the roles switch and the interpretation continues as seamlessly as possible.

Assignments of two hours or less may be covered by one interpreter, provided the material is not overly technical, fast-paced, or involves numerous individuals participating in rapid interactions. In these circumstances, even for a period of less than two hours, two interpreters may be needed. Regardless of the number of interpreters present at an assignment, a minimum 10-minute break is required after each hour of interpreting.

Deaf Interpreters
Deaf people from other countries, Deaf people with special needs, and those who have different sign language proficiencies or other unique communication requirements may require a Deaf interpreter (DI).
  • The trained and qualified DI is a native user of ASL and/or LSQ and works in conjunction with a hearing sign language interpre The DI and a hearing interpreter work as a team. The hearing interpreter interprets from spoken English to ASL. The Deaf interpreter then translates what the hearing interpreter says using an appropriate level of ASL, sign, gesture or other communication strategies to convey the message to the Deaf consumer. The Deaf interpreter will interpret the Deaf consumer’s remarks into ASL. The hearing interpreter then interprets from ASL into spoken English.
  • Contact The Canadian Hearing Society about when to use a DI and to reserve a DI.

Working with Interpreters
These guidelines will help you communicate comfortably with a Deaf person using an interpreter.
  • Be relaxed; the Deaf person or the interpreter will let you know if something needs correcting or clarificatio
  • Face the person with whom you are talking; don’t direct your conversation to the interpreter, whose role is only to facilitate communicati
  • Provide information in advance of the meeting or training session to allow the interpreter to become familiar with topics of discussion, names, and other English words that require more definit
  • Before starting the meeting, ask if the Deaf employee would like the role of the interpreter explained to hearing participant
  • If the room is darkened for a slide or overhead presentation, make sure the interpreters can be seen. Ask the interpreters for suggestions.
  • Depending on the situation, interpreting between two languages simultaneously can be mentally and physically challenging necessitating breaks of 10-15 minutes per hour of interpreting or after 1 hours in team interpreti Before the meeting starts, ask the interpreters when they would like to break.
  • Speak at a comfortable pace. If your speech is fast, be aware that the interpreters may need to ask you for clarification or to repe
  • In group discussions, have only one person speak at a ti Give the interpreter time to identify who is speaking.
  • Seating should be a circular or U-shape so the Deaf person can see all participant
  • A well-lit room makes it easier to watch the interpreters and prevents eyestrai
  • Consider where the interpreter stands; a neutral, uncluttered background of solid colours rather than one with busy patterns, improves the clarity of ASL. Busy backgrounds are known as “visual noise” and obscure clarit Interpreters wear solid clothes, no jewelry or brightly-coloured nail polish for the same reason.

Hiring an Interpreter
Ask the Deaf person if she or he has an interpreter preference and try to secure that interpreter for the assignment. A Deaf person and interpreter familiar with each other’s signing style will improve communication between you and the employee.

The Canadian and Ontario Human Rights Codes require that all businesses - including unions, non-profits and other sectors - be accessible to all employees and consumers. If an employee requires an interpreter for staff meetings, the employer is responsible for making the arrangements and covering the cost of the accommodation. By doing so, the employer ensures that all staff receives the same information.

Use only professional sign language interpreters as they have received extensive training in a demanding discipline that requires finely honed skills to provide accurate and sensitive interpretation. Well-meaning but untrained or unqualified interpreters such as friends or family will not provide the most effective interpretation.

In Ontario, CHS provides CHS Interpreting Services. (They use a screening process to determine the skill level of the interpreter and that these skills meet the minimum levels as required. CHS Interpreting Services is not responsible for the certification process. It is a CHS hiring tool. The Association of Visual Language Interpreters(AVLIC), is the national professional association and certifying body of ASL-English interpreters.

Contact CHS Interpreting Services to learn more about their employment-related interpreting services.

CHS also provides Wavelink Video Remote Interpreting Services

How to Book a Sign Language Interpreter
  • Call as much in advance as possible. The more notice you can provide, the better chance of securing your preferred date. CHS Interpreting Services needs as much notice as possible to book a sign language interpreter.
  • Give the CHS Interpreting Services staff person the following information:
  • name and telephone number of the consumer(s)
  • date, time and location of the appointment
  • name and phone number of the contact person for the interpreter
  • purpose of the appointment
  • number of people who will be present
  • special circumstances such as video recording, media coverage, et
  • billing information

Co-workers who are Deaf or hard of hearing
While some Deaf or hard of hearing co-workers use sign language and identify with the Deaf community, others use spoken language as their main means of communication.

Just as there are many causes, types and degrees of hearing loss, people with hearing loss function in very different ways and have been raised in very different educational environments with different languages (either spoken or signed). Individuals with hearing loss therefore, behave and respond in different ways. The following examples may not apply to everyone. These are examples of individuals with hearing loss who do not use signed language and rely on spoken language communication.

The following are examples of how people’s activity could be misinterpreted:
  • People with hearing loss often miss the auditory clues taken for granted by hearing people. For example, a hearing person hears the intake of breath that indicates someone is about to speak. A person may miss this and start ‘talking over’ the other person, a common and often embarrassing hallmark of hearing loss.
  • Judging the level of sound is sometimes difficult and a person with hearing loss may speak unnecessarily loudly. A discreet hand motion will signal the problem to the speaker.
  • A person with hearing loss, cannot overhear or understand nearby conversations. While waiting to join or interrupt a private conversation, the person may stand closer to the speakers than is customary, looking for the visual cues that indicate an opening to speak.
  • In meetings or other situations involving a great deal of information, people with hearing loss may ‘tune out’ due to the strain of concentrating to keep up with the conversation.
  • A person with hearing loss may frown when listening, another indicator of the enormous amount of energy required to communicate.
  • A person with hearing loss who gives a seemingly inappropriate response may simply not have heard correctly.
  • Rather than make assumptions about a worker’s communication abilities or needs, ask the employee and then provide access whenever possible.
Co-workers who become Deaf or hard of hearing
Chances are that some of your existing employees are experiencing the onset of hearing loss which is common in North America today. While many people

do seek help once they realize that they are not hearing as well as they used to, many prefer simply to ‘live with it’. People are often reluctant to draw attention to their hearing difficulty, in part due to a natural sense of privacy and partly due to historical misperceptions about hearing loss. Many employees have work-related fears that include:
  • Anxiety about their ability to carry out the job
  • Loss of potential career advancement
  • Fear of being viewed as “different” or “less effective”
  • Lack of information regarding accommodation
  • Lack of awareness of employer’s obligation to provide accommodation
  • Anxiety about changing jobs and the need to re-educate colleagues

Trying to hide or deny a hearing loss takes its toll, and many employees who choose not to disclose have experienced:
  • Leaving job or early retirement due to psychological stress
  • Increased illness or absenteeism
  • Lowered self-esteem; self-limiting of career
  • Being thought of by supervisors and co-workers as “not sharp” or “inattentive”
  • Moodiness, withdrawal from social situations
  • Decreased communication and poor job performance

Recognizing Signs of Hearing Loss
You may suspect that an employee’s performance is affected by an undisclosed hearing loss. Although the law does not allow you to ask the employee if he or she has a hearing loss, you can present the relevant performance facts and show your willingness and support to find solutions. Your employee may be experiencing hearing difficulties if she or he:
  • Has difficulty conversing in meetings or crowded, noisy situations.
  • Feels that speakers are mumbling or not speaking clearly.
  • Has problems understanding from a distance.
  • Turns up television, radio and other audio sources to a level uncomfortable for other listeners
  • Has difficulty with telephone conversations.
  • Complains of buzzing or ringing in the ears.
  • Speaks unnecessarily loudly in conversation.
  • Asks for words to be repeated and strains to hear.
  • Has problems understanding conversation unless face-to-face.
  • Nods in conversations, yet answers inappropriately.
  • Favours one ear.
  • Avoids social contact.

Encouraging Disclosure
An employee who discloses a hearing loss needs your support to make some changes. He or she may have already sought outside guidance and now wants to discuss revision of a job description or accommodation to help continue with the current job.

Disclosing to you may be the first step that he or she has taken in dealing with a hearing loss.  Your employee can take advantage of company resources such as Human Resources, staff occupational nurse or an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) that can provide counselling and support.

In either case, you and the employee need to start talking about accommodation. He or she is likely experiencing many emotions, and offering your immediate
support will go a long way to retaining a valuable employee.

Deaf Culture and Cross-Cultural Differences
Deaf culture is a way of life based on Deaf people who share a common language, values, traditions, norms and identity. American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes Québécoise (LSQ) are the two primary visual languages used by Deaf people in Canada.

  • Language and culture are connected. Deaf people communicate in a visual way. In addition to ASL, rules of behavior include visual strategies for attention-getting such as tapping on the shoulder, waving hands, causing a vibration with a stomp or a pound on a desk or flicking a light.
  • Eye contact, body language and facial expression are all key to effective communication.
  • Sign language is direct and to the point with specific examples followed by a general statement or concept. (Spoken and written English tend to follow the opposite structure).

The following are examples of how a Deaf person’s activity could be misinterpreted by someone who is not familiar with Deaf culture:

  • A Deaf welder is very noisy when putting away his equipment. He is not angry or disgruntled, but simply unaware of the noise that he is making.
  • A Deaf employee states very clearly what they think about something that was said. This may be misinterpreted as being rude or disagreeable. The employee may simply be following Deaf cultural rules to be direct.
  • Facial expressions have specific grammatical meanings in sign language and may not necessarily reflect the Deaf person’s feelings as you have interpreted them. Rather than jumping to conclusions about a Deaf person’s intent, ask questions to help clarify issues and feelings.

American Sign Language