Imagine. The genius is the leader, and the team that seeks to ensure that at the workplace, all employees are included. Deaf and hard of hearing (D/HOH) workers tend to be skilled, focused, very loyal and committed to their brand/employer. When the playing field is level, Deaf and hard of hearing employees are enabled, empowered and fearless contributors. The paradigm that pierces through the language barrier and brings new ideas and inventions to light, is innovation. Steve Jobs said that innovation is the only way to win. At the Caribbean Sign Language Centre, we show every day, how to win. When you follow these simple steps, and add your own dash of practical ingenuity, your company, business, enterprise will be abuzz – innovating inclusion.
There are many things your company can do to ensure that Deaf employees feel welcome, and the first we would suggest is: why not give employees the opportunity to learn sign language? While it would be excellent to always have a sign language interpreter on call, surely staff can benefit from adding a most valuable communication skill to their suite of skills. Significantly, this will not only include Deaf employees, but research has shown that just this singular move alone, has the potential to improve your company’s bottom line, as Deaf people are consumers too! And where do consumers like to spend their money? At firms and businesses that they believe value and appreciate them. There are many innovative ways to learn sign language, but by far the best is to go with a company of record that you feel comfortable with, discuss your needs and the needs of your employees in detail, and together create a customized sign language programme that will suit your needs. Innovation at its best.
Secondly, catch the cultural communication wave of the future. It’s here now! Have you noticed the increasing number of businesses and enterprises that include sign language on their websites, and various forms of social media? The COVID-19 pandemic made the sign language interpreter a necessary part of press conferences and Ministry of Health updates throughout the world, because our basic human rights, include the right to information, and in a pandemic, it actually saves lives. Businesses that are on the inner track to growth and increased market share know that innovating inclusive messages is for influencers. Therefore – take a look at your websites, Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, Tic-Toc – all forms of social media, and think outside the box. Innovate inclusion by getting your messages in a form that will include all – include visual language, along with the print and sound, so that Deaf customers can and will, gravitate to your business, and your D/HOH employees will be on more equal footing with their hearing peers.
The principle of inclusion will also apply to internal communication. Memos, letters, employee handbooks and other forms of internal communication mean a lot more to D/HOH employees when either written in simplified language, or, the sign language interpreter is added in the form of a short sign language video. For meetings, by far, the best option will always be to hire sign language interpreters to ensure that D/HOH staff are as enlightened and involved as the hearing. In our contemporary times, remote interpreting services are readily available, using user-friendly digital platforms like ZOOM or Microsoft Teams.
In your quest to innovate inclusion, do not forget to take a good look at your physical plant or building. Is it Deaf friendly? What is the lighting like? Is there enough printed/ pictured signage up on the walls? Theodore Levitt said that “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” One of the beautiful features of applied innovation to inclusion is that once we seek to include persons who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the environment is made better for everyone. Give it some thought. Who does not benefit from more efficient lighting, improved and enhanced safety codes that include reliance on sight and not only on sound, or better- placed signage? Again, in our times, these improvements are easier than ever to implement, thanks to modern technology. For example, QR Codes have made swift access to vast amounts of information discreetly and individually, as required, possible. When the information is put into sign language by a skilled interpreter and recorded, it is an investment that can be utilized time and time again, making it a most cost-effective inclusive innovation.
Finally, safety is a primary concern to everyone. The changes that will be necessary to make the work environment safe for everyone are simple and easy to implement. Instead of only sirens or audio alarms, the addition of flashing lights would be most helpful. Evacuation drills and Disaster Preparedness Planning would require some innovative thinking to match the unique circumstances of each workplace, if everyone is to be included. The training programmes for safety officers and first responders will be expanded to include various methods of contacting persons who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing in emergencies and natural disasters.
There are so many ways in which we can work together to innovate inclusion. I invite you to be part of this enabling paradigm of inclusion to build a better business, community, nation and world.
Submitted by Nicole Paul, M. Ed. CI, CT,
Caribbean Sign Language Centre.