By Dilara Earle and Justine Eltakchi
You may have never met a blind or deaf person before, let alone had a blind or deaf employee, so perhaps you don’t know what to expect or how to go about things a little differently. The thing is, the spectrum is far larger than most realise – or assume – and we may not necessarily have a cane, or always use sign language. More than likely, we’ll have very strong lenses that look like normal glasses or we’re bilingual – in both oral English and sign language.
Mostly it is all about common sense! Here are some tips, tricks and what you should know when working with individuals who are deaf or blind.
- Everyone dislikes a mumbler. Deaf people dislike it particularly and for good reason! Be aware of your enunciation and speak clearly. Just like you would with a foreigner – with politeness and clarity.
- Face them and start getting creative about your hand gestures to back up your speech. Whatever our communication approach – it is likely we’re backing it up with lip reading. Don’t cover your mouth!
- We have a secret rule of 3: after three repetitions of a sentence, and we still haven’t got it, we will smile and nod. So, to avoid this social faux pas – get used to paraphrasing! Your English will suddenly improve dramatically.
- As with any employee – tailor your relationship! Just as every person is different, every person’s disability is different – under the umbrella term of blindness and deafness. With deafness, find out about their preferred communication methods i.e signing, talking, cued speech or straight aural/oral. Ask them which gadgets they prefer to use to assist them.
- Take their cue on how and when to make light of things. Most of the time, things can lead into funny situations and we can all laugh about it – but when it comes to certain barriers or subjects, there is a line. This is when the similarity to a foreign language speaker stops; our deafness is (very likely) irrevocable, whereas you can acquire English after enough practice. Again, take their lead on their sense of humour.
- A huge part of blindness and deafness is actually not that obvious (depending on its severity). It takes a lot of mental overtime work to keep up – so, whilst it’s not an excuse for not performing to a high standard of work, be understanding of the fact that there will be times that we need extra clarification.
- There is a difference between being short sighted, long sighted, legally blind and clinically blind. Legally blind means the individual has a certain degree of impairment whereas clinically blind means a person can see either nothing at all, or a very small amount. There are also different kinds of impairment, not just how far a person can see or how closely they can read something. There is night-blindness, nystagmus (a nerve condition where the eyes shake), and conditions that make a person’s vision fluctuate throughout the day.
- Sit Down and Have a Meeting: Discuss with your employee what you can do to make their job easier to complete. This might be through providing extra visual or hearing aids, a weekly catch-up, or shuffling tasks. Vision Australia and Deaf Australia can provide assistance with this if you need more information and support. With that in mind;
- Work with their strengths: A blind or deaf person will most likely excels in an area that an “abled” person might not, and it is important to work with these rather than focus on their limitations. Strengths might include a great memory, advanced interpersonal skills or creative abilities. During my time employed at Resurg, I was given the opportunity to focus on writing, marketing, website development and project management for new ideas – which is something I love to do! Most importantly, when I couldn’t do something, I was always made to feel comfortable in telling my superiors and colleagues.
- Ask the employee if they would like their colleagues to be informed of their disability. They might feel more comfortable telling individuals themselves, or they might prefer management to let staff know to avoid any miscommunication or misunderstandings.
Tip 11! Gentlemen – beards and moustaches are not trendy or wonderful for any deaf person. A trim is always a thoughtful gesture.
It is often the smallest considerations that make the biggest difference to our day. Knowing not to stand in front of a window, making an effort to face us, turning the music down and subtly repeating what other people say, if it has gone unheard, all go very much noticed and appreciated.
For blindness, just being considerate when using media to ensure the individual is following properly (and not just being polite and pretending to follow), makes all the difference.
Everyone handles their ‘disabilities” in a different way, so the key is understanding so the person isn’t made to feel isolated or inferior.
DIlara & Justine are the founders of The Pickle Sandwich, an initiative to raise awareness about young people living with deafness and blindness. Find out more fun tips, tricks and stories about blindness and deafness, check out The Pickle Sandwich – both on YouTube and Facebook. On Twitter we go by @thepicklesangie