Workplace Inclusion for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Employees

with Howard Rosenblum of the National Association of the Deaf

Prior to the pandemic, deaf and hard-of-hearing employees faced challenges, which were heightened by the workplace changes imposed by COVID-19.

Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, joins host Tetiana Anderson for a discussion on how workplace accommodations can improve for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Posted on:

January 03, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The landscape of employment looks a bit different these days, including remote work and flexible working arrangements. And while these changes have presented increased opportunities for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, barriers still exist for this community. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Joining me to talk about improving employment opportunities and outcomes for people who are deaf or hard of hearing is Howard Rosenblum. He is the chief executive officer of the National Association of the Deaf. He's here with his interpreter. Howard, thank you so much for being here.

Rosenblum: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: So we're out of pandemic restrictions, at this point, but it's really important to understand the impact that had on the world of work for people who are hard of hearing or deaf. Can you give us some context?

Rosenblum: Yeah, when the pandemic hit, obviously the whole world went into a tailspin. But there were increased barriers for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community because they were the last to receive information. Many governors didn't have sign language interpreters present with them during their briefings in the beginning. Eventually, they did. The Center for Disease Control put out information without interpreters. Eventually, they had it available in American Sign Language and so that we were getting that information. Now there are people who benefit from captioning, but there are many people in our community who do not and require American Sign Language interpreters. And that's a change that is going forward that we see more awareness has come onboard. Now in terms of the world of work, obviously people didn't know what it was going to be. And for those who were working on the front lines, they were suddenly confronted with people wearing masks. And lip reading's not a perfect way to understand language, by any means, but it is an essential tool for people to fill the communication gaps. And in some of those front line situations, those working in hospitals, or food stores, or banks, were suddenly confronted with an inability to have that tool at their ready. So they made do, writing back and forth, using a white board, using their phones and texting with people, or using apps that convert spoken language to text. And those were some of the innovative changes that came up during the pandemic.

Anderson: So we're still sort of in that world of remote work, right? I mean, how much of a gift or a curse is that for people who are hard of hearing or deaf?

Rosenblum: It's interesting, because in the beginning, all of the different video conferencing platforms that suddenly came onboard had their own challenges in terms of accessibility. So everyone rushed to do remote work and realized they didn't have access. There was no captioning, or they couldn't teleport an interpreter in, or how are they going to make this work. So there were some challenges in the beginning of remote work opportunities. Eventually, some, although not all of those video conferencing platforms did get better with accessibility, making a way to pin the interpreter, to highlight the interpreter, or enabling captioning. Ironically, now people are coming back into in-person positions and many interpreters are not willing to go in-person. They would rather work remotely from home. So we're facing a different challenge now with deaf people who realizing that perhaps remote might be better for accessibility reasons. It's kind of a weird reversal.

Anderson: So folks who are deaf or those who have some form of hearing loss are in the work environment. That's a great thing. But vocational rehab services are supposed to help them and other people with disabilities. You say that system is failing. First, briefly explain what VR is and why this isn't working for people in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

Rosenblum: So the Rehab Act from 1975... ...mandated that the federal government would provide training programs to make sure that all people with disabilities could get the kind of training or education that they need to enter the world of work and ultimately, be productive citizens. The problem is that over the past 50 years since the Rehab Act was written into law, the funding has been stagnant. And there are more students with disabilities who are wanting to go to work, and wanting to work in specialized disciplines, and want to go to college. And, unfortunately, because the funding hasn't increased, we see competition amongst people with disabilities to get the training or the education they need to be the most talented employee they can be. So that's a challenge. An additional challenge is that the federal government has changed the Rehab Act through the Workforce Investment Opportunities Act or WIOA. It's a good law but it took money out of the VR budget, which was already stretched too thin, to benefit high school students to get different kinds of experiences with the goal of future employment. So it's a wonderful law, but it pulled from the same pot of money, so it's really a call to action for Congress. It is long overdue to allocate more funding to VR and training educational resources for this community. And we don't see improved percentages of people with disabilities in the workforce. Since the ADA was passed in 1990, we have not seen an actual increase in employment rates, and that's very sad, and that's one of the things that we want to address.

Anderson: So you talked about the need for changes at the congressional level, but I'm wondering what your organization really is doing to improve all of this, you know, not only for now, but for the future.

Rosenblum: The National Association of the Deaf is the oldest civil rights organization. We were founded in 1880, and since day one, we have been promoting employment opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in different fields. So what we're doing is basically a three-pronged approach. Trying to make sure that people get the education or training they need through advocacy efforts, through working with different groups. Secondly, we also work with the government to improve policies, laws, regulations, and so forth, to - in terms of funding allocations for those kinds of programs like VR. And thirdly, we work closely with big corporations to help them understand that the deaf and hard-of-hearing community is a valuable workforce resource. And to promote people not just at the entry level, but all the way up to the C Suite level.

Anderson: So, Howard, people are going to have questions. They want answers. What's your website? Where should they look?

Rosenblum: Very easy, Come visit us and learn more about us.

Anderson: Howard Rosenblum with the National Association of the Deaf. Thank you so much for being here.

Rosenblum: Thank you for having me. I'm really excited. I hope that people will learn more about accessibility for people with disabilities in the work world.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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