By Wayne Johnson, Coordinator of Client Services in Central Coast Outreach office
Lately I have been noticing a requirement in job postings that reads “Must speak, read and write English.” If you own a business, have you thought about what message your business is sending with that requirement? That poses a challenge if your HR department sees it as a reason not to hire Deaf or Hard of Hearing, American Sign Language (ASL) users.
Whether HR personnel intentionally or unintentionally use this requirement as a barrier, they are putting you and your business in violation of State and Federal laws by not providing reasonable accommodations to qualified Deaf and Hard of Hearing job applicants. You may not even know you are violating the law until you are contacted by a DHHSC advocate, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. By following recommendations outlined in this article, you will hopefully prevent the need for such contact. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I says you must have fifteen employees before you are required to provide an accommodation. But, California law says if you have five or more employees, you are required to provide an accommodation: www.dfeh.ca.gov/reasonable-accommodation/
The ADA Title I applies to businesses advertising and hiring for job openings. The intent of this law is to view everyone equally when they apply for jobs and not discriminate based on disability. Those seeking employment with your business need to be assessed on their ability to perform the job you are hiring for, and nothing else. Disability cannot and should not be a reason to decline their job application. In other words, each individual, regardless of a disability, needs to be given a fair and equal chance when applying for a job, and the person doing the hiring cannot and should not allow a disability to color or influence his or her perception of the applicant’s ability to do the job.
It is unfortunate when businesses claim they have equal opportunity hiring policies but still post the “Must speak, read and write English” requirement, which is in violation of equal opportunity hiring of individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. After a meeting with an EEOC representative in regards to this unfair and unethical requirement, the response was, “It is reason to file a complaint with the EEOC because this wording says the Deaf and Hard of Hearing need not apply even though they can do the job.”
If you are unsure how your business can accommodate a qualified Deaf or Hard of Hearing applicant, please contact your local DHHSC office. We would be more than happy to assist you in making your business more accessible and to find more effective and efficient ways of communicating with Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees on the job. We are here to assess how we can reduce frustrations and make your business both Deaf-friendly and accessible to all employees and customers, hopefully helping you avoid breaching equal opportunity employment laws.
In addition, the excuse of “We don’t hire Deaf or Hard of Hearing people due to safety reasons” is not a valid or legitimate reason. For instance, people who can hear often claim that they are able to avoid getting hurt or hit on the job by getting out of harm’s way based on sounds, but a supervisor recently shared that a Deaf employee saved a hearing employer from getting hit by a vehicle at work. Because of heightened visual acuity, a Deaf or Hard of Hearing worker can be more visually aware of threats to their safety and that of coworkers than those who can hear.
For employers concerned about how to communicate with Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees, one suggestion is to use a smartphone or text. By texting your employee, you can let that employee know where and at what time to meet you at a specific location within your business. Texting is comparable to using the PA system with hearing employees. By texting your Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees, you can quickly and easily let them know what you need on the job, such as: “Bring three gallon cans of ABC paint to Checkout Stand 3, thank you.”
In other words, there are creative and practical ways of providing job accommodations to qualified Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals while remaining in compliance with State and Federal laws. Not only do you and HR personnel need to be aware of and sensitive to the communication needs of those who cannot hear, it is important to be fair and equal in your hiring practices. It is crucial that everyone within your place of business be open-minded to different people with abilities. After all, it is diversity and multiple skills that bring innovation and creativity to the workplace, and your business can help lead the way in making the job market more attractive to everyone, opening up more opportunities.