Accessibility in the Workplace for the Deaf-Blind: 5 Key Takeaways
Diamond partnered with the Helen Keller National Center to host a webinar highlighting strategies for creating workplaces that are accessible and welcoming to the deaf-blind community. The webinar consisted of a panel discussion featuring Joe Devon of Diamond, Chris Woodfill and Laila Chouinard of the Helen Keller National Center, Gloria Puentes of Sodexo, and Lucas Soto of Mind Your Language.
The session was full of insight and sparked many conversations that could have gone on for hours. Here are the main takeaways.
1. The deaf-blind experience is different for everyone
At the start of the webinar, Chris Woodfill provided great context stating, “There is no one person who can define the deaf-blind community. I am not a representative for the entire community being a deaf-blind person.”
He went on to describe the variety of circumstances that can lead to a person becoming deaf-blind, furthering his point that the experience is not universal, and individual voices are critical to the conversation about accessibility in the workplace. Once employers understand this and take individual experiences into account, they can begin creating hiring initiatives that are both meaningful and impactful.
2. Finding work is only one challenge the deaf-blind community faces.
While work is a key component to a fulfilling life for many, helping people find a job is only one piece of the Helen Keller National Center’s mission, which is “to give people who are deaf-blind the tools to live, work, and thrive in the community of their choice.”
The center strives to address all facets of independent living. They help people develop life skills like cooking or walking with a cane, run vocational programs, and even reach out to families with deaf-blind children to make sure they are receiving the support they need. These support services have become increasingly important this year, as COVID-19 restrictions have made social situations exceptionally challenging for people who rely on touch or lip reading to communicate.
3. Hiring deaf-blind people is a win-win.
Many companies, like Sodexo, have committed to diversity initiatives in recent years, realizing that by hiring people with different backgrounds and life experiences, they are building a stronger team. Lucas Soto channeled this sentiment when he said that employers who do not hire deaf-blind employees are “missing out on working with loyal, out of the box thinkers who are going to give their trust and allegiance.”
Once employers have an understanding of the deaf-blind community and the unique skills and perspectives they bring to the table, hiring them becomes a mutually beneficial relationship.
4. Inclusion is everyone’s job
When building workplace cultures that are genuinely inclusive and embrace different communities, Gloria Puentes notes that “it’s not just the Office of Diversity’s responsibility, nor is it just the leaders’ responsibility. It’s every individual’s responsibility to create that culture for us.”
For deaf-blind people to truly be welcomed as a part of the team, all employees need to do their part to create inclusive spaces by treating deaf-blind colleagues as valued teammates. It all comes down to creating an organization-wide culture of acceptance and understanding.
5. Self-disclosure is still an area of uncertainty for many deaf-blind people
A common concern for deaf-blind people applying for a job is deciding whether or not to self-identify as deaf-blind before an interview. It’s a common fear that if an employer realizes an applicant is deaf-blind, they will choose not to move forward in the interview process.
Chris Woodfill explained that as a deaf-blind man, he has noticed a “more positive perspective to having disabilities in the workforce and in the workplace.” With that said, he also notes that individual companies play a major role in creating a space that is encouraging of applicants to self-disclose and embrace their full identities at work.
When creating workplaces that are inclusive and welcoming of people in the deaf-blind community, it’s all about realizing that every person is unique with their own set of needs. By listening and being a partner in a deaf-blind person’s journey to fulfillment at work, employers can improve the lives of deaf-blind individuals and bring new perspectives to their business. That’s a win-win.