December 02, 2022 - 414 views|
Just as people with a disability have to adapt to the workplace, it’s also up to the workplace to adapt to their needs.
Too often, people with a disability find themselves marginalized in the workplace. But it doesn’t need to be that way. As a person with hearing loss, I don’t see my lack of hearing as the problem—but a lack of understanding about it can be.
Creating a more accessible workplace is really a matter of the people in the workplace broadening their view beyond their own experience. I liken this to my role in corporate governance: It’s my job to be a company’s peripheral vision with respect to protecting personal data, which means that as my colleagues work within their lanes, I keep an eye on what’s outside those lanes.
When colleagues exercise that same “looking outside your lane” perspective on behalf of everyone, the result is a company culture that’s accessible to employees who have hearing difficulties like me but also more broadly for anyone who might otherwise remain in the margins.
My bilateral sensorineural hearing loss developed at an early age, probably caused by a childhood illness. Essentially, I’m very hard of hearing, a bit like an aged aunt, with little or no hearing in the conversational range that is affectionately known as the “speech banana.” This means:
I don’t think of my deafness as a loss; I just can’t hear. And that’s a key point: Not everyone with a disability considers themselves incomplete or in need of fixing—we consider ourselves to be just fine as we are. In fact, our need to continuously adapt makes us realize how flexible we can be.
So, when asking for workplace adaptations to give us easier access, we aren’t asking for a big lift. We’re asking you to make the step we sit on more comfortable.
I’m always surprised when I’m recruited for disability-themed events for my “expertise” because having some form of impairment forces you to make accommodations rather than acquiring them though choice. To make room for everyone, all it takes is some understanding and adapting.
Here are three actions you can take right now to break down barriers for hearing impaired colleagues and customers.
We need to ask difficult questions as a company: Are we creating an accessible workplace in which people with a disability can be productive and do their best work? Let’s adapt so you no longer have to look for us in the margins. That’s not where we want to be.
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