RESNA Annual Conference - 2012

Workplace Accommodations for Individuals Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Scott Haynes, MBME and Maureen Linden, MBME

Georgia Institute of Technology
Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access


Workplace accommodations can often benefit individuals with disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, current employment statistics indicate work remains to be done in making the workplace more accessible. An online survey asked individuals with disabilities to identify the workplace accommodations they used, the perceived impact of those accommodations, and the unmet needs regarding workplace accommodations. This paper focuses on the results of the 71 respondents who identified as having a functional limitation relating to hearing. Results show the most common accommodations were telephone aids and assistance from co-workers. In general, accommodations were perceived as important and frequently used at work. However, perceived satisfaction was limited. An analysis of unmet needs indicates future work should be directed toward making meetings more accessible and educating co-workers about the abilities of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.


Unemployment impacts people with and without disabilities. However, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that as of August 2011, the unemployment rate for working age adults with a disability is significantly higher (16.1%) compared to those without a disability (8.8%). Furthermore, participation in the labor force (i.e. working or unemployed but looking for work) is significantly less among people with a disability (21.0%) compared to those without a disability (69.9%) (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). In other research, it has been suggested that individuals who have “difficulty” hearing or who have “severe hearing problems” suffer employment rates that are 17%-24% below those of the general U.S. population (McNeil, 2000). Workplace accommodations are frequently used to assist with employment of individuals with disabilities (Butterfield & Ramseur, 2004; Scherich, 1996). However, given the differences in employment statistics between those with disabilities and the general population, it is clear that something is lacking in overall workplace accessibility.


A survey was conducted to investigate workplace accommodations used by individuals with disabilities. The survey was designed to identify the types of workplace accommodation devices and strategies that are currently being used; to investigate the user’s perception of the impact of the accommodation; and to identify unmet needs relating to their workplace accommodations. Although the survey included individuals with any disability, this paper focuses only on those respondents who self-identified as being deaf or hard of hearing.


The survey included a combination of closed and open- ended questions. It was administered primarily online through SurveyGizmoTM. Recruitment was accomplished through multiple consumer lists, social networking sites, and word of mouth. The research was approved through Georgia Tech’s Institutional Review Board and the informed consent process was conducted online before the respondent was presented with the first survey question. The inclusion criteria required respondents (i.e. those referenced in this paper) to self-identify as having a functional limitation related to hearing and to be currently employed.

In order to provide the proper context for the accommodation, respondents were asked to describe their employment demographics in three specific areas; level of employment, relationship to the employer, and location of employment. The level of employment question asked if they were employed in one part-time job, one full-time job, or more than one full or part-time job. The employer relationship question asked if the respondent was self- employed, an employee of another company, or a volunteer. Finally, the responses for the location of their work included; work from home, work in the same place every day, split time between home and another location, or work in different locations from day to day.

The accommodation solutions were described in general terms such as, “Electronic communication devices (e.g. instant messaging, text messaging)” without naming specific products. The perceived impact of each individual accommodation selected was measured when the respondent was asked to evaluate (using a Likert-type response) the importance of the accommodation, the individual’s satisfaction with the accommodation, and the approximate frequency with which the accommodation was used.

Participation in the survey included 71 respondents who were currently employed and reported having a functional limitation relating to hearing. The age range was 26-87 years with an average age of 50.6 years (SD=11.5) including 37% male and 63% female respondents. Some respondents indicated multiple functional limitations. However, no effort was made to identify which limitations were considered to be “primary” or “secondary” limitations. The items reported in this paper relate to accommodations that the individuals received because of their difficulty with hearing.


Regarding level of employment, the majority of respondents (65%) reported being employed full-time. The remainder was split between a single part-time job (18%) and multiple jobs (17%). When asked about the relationship to their employer, most respondents (73%) indicated that they were employed by another company or organization. Only 6% reported a volunteer status and the remaining 21% were self-employed. Regarding location of employment, the majority (59%) reported working away from home at the same place each day. Home-based employment accounted for 10% of the responses. Another 10% reported that they worked in a different location each day and the remaining 21% split their time between home and another location. Thus, 31% of the respondents required their accommodations to be mobile or to be available at multiple locations.

Table 1: Accommodation selections and perceived impact ranking.
Accommodation Description Respondentsa Satisfactionb Importanceb Frequencyb,c
Telephone aid (e.g. TTY, amp. phone) 55% 1.92 2.56 2.74
Co-worker helps 34% 2.08 2.28 2.20
Electronic comm. (e.g. text messaging) 31% 1.86 2.55 2.64
Alternate formats (e.g. captioning) 28% 2.00 1.86 2.30
Built-in features (e.g. FM system) 27% 1.58 1.78 2.28
Common-use tools adapted or moved 25% 1.56 1.67 2.22
Modified training or supervision 24% 2.06 2.11 2.06
Manual comm. (e.g. pen and paper) 24% 1.76 2.06 2.33
Adjusted individual’s work schedule 23% 2.38 1.88 2.31
Adjustable work space 21% 2.07 1.60 2.60
Flexible work schedule 21% 2.47 1.87 2.40
Sign language interpreter 20% 2.29 2.36 2.21
Work surface modified 17% 2.50 1.83 2.42
Signal system (e.g. vibrating pager) 15% 2.27 2.00 2.42
Job tasks modified 14% 1.50 1.73 2.00
PALD (not used outside of work) 14% 1.90 2.36 2.25
Performance measures adjusted 8% 1.67 1.83 2.00
Personal-use tools modified 4% 1.67 1.40 1.60
Service animal 3% 3.00 3.00 3.00
Sound transmission syst. (e.g. loud speaker) 3% 1.00 2.00 2.00
a Percentage of respondents who selected this accommodation.
b Scores averaged across respondents who used the accommodation. Possible responses ranged from 0-3.
c Possible responses ranged from 1-3 as “0” response is implied by those who did not select the accommodation.

Table 1 lists the workplace accommodations according to the percentage of respondents who selected each accommodation and includes the average scores for perceived Satisfaction, Importance, and Frequency of use. Two of the most common accommodations used among the respondents were “Telephone aids” and “Electronic communication,” which ranked near the top in Importance and Frequency of use but were closer to the middle of the pack in regard to Satisfaction. “Co-worker helps” was also a very common selection, which ranked high in Importance and Satisfaction but scored low (relative to the other accommodation solutions) in Frequency of use. The lowest Satisfaction scores were associated with “Built-in features,” “Common-use tools,” and “Job tasks modified.”

The workplace accommodation that received the highest ranking for all three of the perceived impact scores was “Service animal.” However, only 3% of the respondents reported using this solution as a workplace accommodation for their difficulty with hearing. “Modified work surface,” “Flexible work schedule,” “Adjusted individual’s work schedule,” and “Sign language interpreter” also ranked high in Satisfaction scores.

Figure 1: Perceived impact of workplace accommodations. d

Figure 1 shows that in general, the respondents indicated a high level of Importance and Frequency of use for the accommodations they selected. However, the respondents’ Satisfaction with the accommodations was closer to a 50%-50% split between high and low responses.

Of the 71 respondents, 34% commented on the topic of unmet needs. The largest percentage of comments (27%) indicated an unmet need in relation to communicating in meetings. The comments described difficulties in a variety of meeting settings such as staff meetings and hotel conference rooms. Another 21% indicated an unmet need relating to a lack of co-worker support described as unwillingness on the part of the co-worker to adjust to the needs of the individual with the hearing loss, or a lack of understanding or knowledge about the effects of the hearing loss. Difficulty with background noise was reported in 15% of the comments relating to unmet needs. Other comments (18%) covered problems with one-on-one communication (either face-to-face or via telephone). The remaining comments referred to problems with the communication format, such as need for alternate signals to indicate a phone call or a customer’s presence, or use of more captions with web-based media.


The employment demographics indicated that the majority of respondents work full-time as employees of another company or organization. While the majority travelled to the same workplace each day, a large number (about 31%) travel to different work locations regularly. This suggests the need to develop accommodations that are mobile or ubiquitous.

With regard to the unmet needs, some were stated explicitly and others may be inferred based on the perceived impact rankings of the commonly selected workplace accommodations. The largest explicitly-stated unmet need relates to communication in meetings with multiple participants. This is a commonly reported need in the existing literature (Barlow, 2007; Jennings, 2010; Scherich, 1996) and therefore warrants further investigation. The topic takes on added complexity when coupled with the mobile nature of today’s workforce. Accommodations that improve access to meetings are not necessarily available in public or private meeting spaces on a regular basis.

The second most common explicitly-stated unmet need implied a lack of co-worker support. This is interesting in that “Co-worker helps” was also the second most common accommodation reported. Unfortunately, even though there are many co-workers who are willing to help, there are also many who display little patience for individuals who have difficulty hearing (Bowe, McMahon, Chang, & Louvi, 2005). Furthermore, its relatively low frequency of use indicates that these respondents may be uncomfortable with asking for help even though it may significantly improve job performance (Barlow, 2007; Rosengreen & Saladin, 2010).

Several of the implied unmet needs relate to the accessibility of the workplace environment and common tools. Low levels of satisfaction with built-in features and common-use tools, as well as the relatively low level of satisfaction with the most commonly used accommodation (telephone aids) indicate a need to reexamine barriers in a typical work environment. The application of Universal Design principles toward that end would be useful.


In general, respondents to this survey who are deaf or hard of hearing felt that the workplace accommodations they had received were important for their job and were used frequently in completion of their job tasks. However, satisfaction with the accommodations was limited, especially with regard to built-in features and common-use tools or equipment in the workplace. Additional work remains to be done in making common-use tools and the work environment more accessible to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Highest priorities should be placed on improving communication strategies in meetings and on informing co-workers about the abilities of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.


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Bowe, F. G., McMahon, B. T., Chang, T., & Louvi, I. (2005). Workplace discrimination, deafness and hearing impairment: The national EEOC ADA research project. [Article]. Work, 25(1), 19-25.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. D. o. L. (2011). New monthly data series on the employment status of people with a disability. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey Retrieved September 22, 2001, from

Butterfield, T. M., & Ramseur, J. H. (2004). Research and case study findings in the area of workplace accommodations including provisions for assistive technology: A literature review. Technology & Disability, 16(4), 201.

Jennings, M. B. (2010). Evaluating auditory perception and communication demands required to carry out work tasks and complimentary hearing resources and skills for older workers with hearing loss. Work, 35(1), 101- 113.

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Rosengreen, K. M., & Saladin, S. P. (2010). Deaf Workers Prioritized Workplace Expectations: A Qualitative Study. [Article]. Journal of the American Deafness & Rehabilitation Association (JADARA), 43(3), 128-151.

Scherich, D. L. (1996). Job accommodations in the workplace for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Rehabilitation, 62(2), 27-35.


This is a publication of the RERC on Workplace Accommodations, which is supported by grant H133E070026 of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education.