Job Accommodations in the Workplace for Persons Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Current Practices and Recommendations

Article excerpt

One of the most significant determinants in our perceived status in our society is our job (Blau & Duncan, 1967; Crewe and Zola, 1983; Jahoda, 1982; McCarthy, 1988; Nam, Powers, & Glick, 1964). However, a recent Harris poll (Prodigy, 1994) found that two-thirds of American adults with disabilities have no job, and nearly 80% of those presently unemployed would like to work. Reasons often cited for their lack of employment are that employers do not (a) structure jobs so that persons with a disability can be accommodated (Myers, 1992), (b) have confidence in the ability of the person with a disability, or consider the person with the disability capable of working full-time (Lou Harris and Associates, 1994). Furthermore, three often adults with disabilities have encountered job discrimination, and approximately 20% indicate that they have encountered physical barriers in the workplace that have interfered with effective job performance.

In order to combat problems like those identified above, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was enacted. For the first time, discrimination against persons with disabilities in both the governmental and private business sector was prohibited by law. In addition, ADA shifted the responsibility of initiating the accommodation process to the employee. Though no study has empirically evaluated the importance of on-the-job accommodations for persons who are hard of hearing, accommodation practices were found to be a significant factor in employment success for persons who were deaf (Gibler, 1995; Moore, 1995; Mowry & Anderson, 1993).

Also, the majority of anecdotal literature (Boone, 1988; Foster, 1987; Moore, 1995) indicates that certain workplace situations that involve groups or are noisy are difficult for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Specific situations have been identified as difficult due to a breakdown in communication capabilities, e.g., receiving instructions, meetings, and training/inservices. Therefore, the provision of accommodations to facilitate communication may be essential to an employee's career maintenance or advancement.

Purpose of the Study

In order to (a) determine if the problems identified in the anecdotal literature were a factor in the workplace and (b) to develop an empirical basis for the development of training materials on workplace accommodations, a five-year project was developed. This report is based on the initial phase of that project. It presents the results of two surveys administered to (a) workers who are deaf or hard of hearing and (b) employers of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. The purpose of the two surveys was to assess the type and adequacy of workplace accommodations. At the time of both the consumer and employer surveys, the provision of appropriate accommodations, based on the ADA timetable, required businesses with 25 or more employees to provide "reasonable accommodations" to both employees and customers who have disabilities.

Method

Two surveys were developed to examine current practices in workplace accommodations for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Both survey questionnaires used forced-choice and open-ended questions. Open-ended questions were coded based on variables identified through literature review. All data was coded and checked for validity. The data was then analyzed using SPSS\PC+ software. Due to the nonparametric nature of the data, frequency and where appropriate, chi square statistical analyses were performed.

Consumer Survey

Participants in the first survey were members of Self Help for the Hard of Hearing People, Inc. (SHHH). SHHH was selected because it is a self-help organization and presumably, its members have greater access to information about accommodations and coping with hearing loss. The forced-choice items provided frequency data for size and type of company, difficult workplace situations, general type of accommodations used, and incidence for denial of accommodations requests. …