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.
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.
Even with new technology, it can be hard for the deaf to find work. While you are looking for a job, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. To learn more, request a free copy of Boston disability attorney John Keefe’s book, Five Most Frequently Asked Questions about Social Security Disability, or call Keefe Disability Law at 800-904-6847.