Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, deaf Americans have been consistently unemployed or underemployed. While there are no firm statistics regarding deaf unemployment, New York governor David Paterson quoted a 90-percent unemployment rate among the deaf. To put this in perspective, politicians get upset when the national unemployment rate hits 8 percent.

The high unemployment rate among the deaf has little to do with ability and everything to do with communication. Communication is an integral part of most jobs. However, since hearing Americans are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), communication may require the hiring of an interpreter. This can be expensive. The cost of an interpreter starts at $100 per day, a cost that is too high for many small businesses.

New Technologies Helping Deaf Individuals Communicate

In the past, deaf individuals were often limited to trade jobs, non-profit work, or teaching at schools for the deaf. Now technology offers more opportunities. Here are some ways that technology can be used to accommodate deaf employees.

  • Email and instant messages: Emails and IM’s allow deaf and hearing employees to communicate quickly and easily at no additional cost. 
  • Telephone systems augmented with TTY (text telephone), also called TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf): These telephone systems make it possible for an employee to make and receive phone calls.
  • Text messaging on vibrating cell phones: Text messaging allows instant communication while away from the home or office.
  • Closed captioning: Closed captioning makes it possible for deaf employees to watch training videos.
  • Real time captioning: Real time captioning can replace an expensive hired interpreter by instantly displaying spoken words on a TV or computer monitor.
  • Video Remote Interpreting (VRI): VRI is an internet-based, sign language interpreting service that can be used for both in-person meetings and internet meetings.

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Robert Cooper 03/19/2013 09:52 AM
Let's share a technology not mentioned here on this blog - the UbiDuo. The UbiDuo is a communication device that enables deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing to communicate instantly with each other face to face and empower Communication Equality. The UbiDuo comes in pairs and have built in keyboards and split screen to enable both persons (or more if using 3 or 4-way) to read each other comments simultaneously in real time. The UbiDuo is often better alternative to paper/pen and even instant messaging because they involve waiting turns to communicate back and forth, something most people hate doing. By the way, TTY is no longer in common use since 2008 as many have switched to alternative telecommunication solutions including Video Relay Services (VRS) which uses same videophone platforms as Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), but connections to either services are different. While VRS is paid for by telephone surcharges, employers and places of accommodations are responsible for paying VRI services - and they cannot short-route to VRS in VRI's place even you use same the videophone. Remember that not all deaf or hard of hearing individuals use sign language, thus VRS, VRI and on-site sign language interpreters would be rendered useless. Many hard of hearing individuals use Caption Call, CapTel and to name a few in TTY's place for telecommunication needs. For face-to-face communication, the UbiDuo is the ideal solution for most individuals who are deaf and/or hard of hearing. Thank you.
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