Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Accommodating Specific Job Functions for People with Hearing Impairments

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Accommodating Specific Job Functions for People with Hearing Impairments

Article excerpt

Finding and maintaining employment is a continuing problem for individuals who have disabilities. Individuals with hearing impairments (deaf or hard of hearing) report problems entering the workforce and operating within the workplace. Many jobs require that workers attend to auditory cues to ensure effective performance and worker safety. Nearly every job involves communicating with customers, co-workers, and/or others. Solutions have been developed, however, that can assist the worker to perform the functions of many jobs. Collecting information to solve a specific accommodation problem is a difficult process. Information about adaptations that assist workers with disabilities to perform job functions is dispersed. Job descriptions that help identify essential job functions are hard to find. Employers and people with disabilities are not aware of the variety of assistive devices and technologies that are available from manufacturers.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has galvanized action by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations. The employment options for workers with disabilities are expanded when accommodation solutions facilitate performance of essential job functions. In recent years, there has been increased interest in competitive employment of people with disabilities. Parent and Everson (1986) discussed thirteen journal articles that examined disability and the workplace. The types of disabilities and occupations varied widely across the 13 articles, but the overall conclusions were consistent. The authors found low absenteeism, low accident rates, and low turnover rates for employees who have a disability. In addition, they found productivity, job performance, and employment costs to be on a par with employees who do not have a disability. The jobs represented in the study ranged from service occupations (e.g., housekeeping, food service worker) to clerical (e.g., data processor, file clerk) to technical fields (e.g., graphic arts, medical lab worker).

A worker with a disability may require a high-tech or low-tech accommodation in order to perform tasks that comprise a specific job. The accommodation should be directly related to an essential job function and lead to an increase in the productivity of the worker. A widely held belief of employers is that accommodations are expensive. A poll of 2,000 federal contractors, however, revealed that 81% of the accommodations made cost $500 or less (Pati & Morrison, 1982). In addition, responses from employers concerning the cost of workplace accommodations that were implemented were solicited by the Job Accommodation Network (Hendricks & Hirsh, 1991; Job Accommodation Network, 1987). As in the Pati and Morrison (1982) study, these responses revealed that most accommodations cost less than $500. Similarly, during the last quarter of 1994, staff of the Job Accommodation Network solicited and received 146 follow-up responses from employers. In 19% of these cases, the accommodation had no dollar cost, 49% cost less than $500, and 14% cost more than $2,000. Braille labels, modifications to telephone equipment, handrails, ramps, and adjusted work schedules are examples of inexpensive modifications that can improve worker productivity. Accommodations for a worker who has a hearing impairment might involve TT/TDD equipment, a telephone amplifier or headset, or meeting room amplification. These options are all relatively inexpensive and can result in increased worker productivity.

Accommodation and Hearing Impairment

People with hearing impairment are a heterogeneous population, representing the range of diversity found within the population as a whole. The complement of services provided to a particular individual, then, must reflect that individual's specific needs and not be based on diagnosis of hearing impairment alone (Danek, Seay, & Collier, 1989). The primary functional limitation of hearing impairment is usually considered to be a deficit in communicating. …

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