A Business Guide to Avoiding Audism at Work

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Audism refers to the discrimination of a person who is Deaf or hard of hearing. Like other forms of discrimination and unconscious biases, instances of audism at work can fly under the radar. However, even subtle audism can cause damage to employees, workforces and brands.  

This guide offers important information about audism and tips to help your teams avoid this discriminatory behavior in your workplace.

Is audism impacting employment for people who are Deaf?

Statistics suggest that audism may be impacting work opportunities and experiences for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. For instance, employment numbers for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing are significantly lower than for those who are not. However, people who are Deaf or hard of hearing are more likely to be actively seeking work than those who are hearing. These numbers suggest that people who are Deaf or hard of hearing aren’t choosing to stay out of the workforce. 

78.5% of hearing people are employed 

53.3% of people who are Deaf or hard of hearing are employed 

The first step: learn to identify audism

There are instances of clear, overt audism. One example would be a business stating in no uncertain terms that they refused to hire a candidate who was Deaf or hard of hearing. However, these cases are less likely than the more nuanced forms of discrimination that often happen at work and elsewhere.  

Audism could occur when a manager refuses to assign a task to an employee who was Deaf or hard of hearing because they believe it would be too difficult for them. It may also come in the form of an off the cuff comment. For instance, if a coworker says, “are you deaf?” to another co-worker who isn’t Deaf, but simply wasn’t listening.  

There are many forms that audism may take, so it’s important for your team members to recognize and know how to combat them.

Type of audism
How to prevent it

Exclusion from conversations or humor

Someone makes a joke after a meeting and the person who is Deaf asks what they said, only to be told it’s not important.

Don’t ever assume something isn’t important enough to communicate. Workplace humor is part of the experience, and leaving someone out denies them an equitable experience.

Low expectations

A manager assumes a person who is Deaf won’t want to take on more responsibilities because it would require extra work.

Find ways to break down barriers. Creative thinking can often overcome perceived obstacles.

Wrong assumptions

Having a sign language interpreter for an employee who is Deaf and doesn’t know ASL.

Not all people who are Deaf communicate or work the same way. Instead of making assumptions, ask them what works for them.

Insensitive metaphors

People stop talking in a meeting and someone jokes, “the silence is deafening.”

Make sure employees are educated and thoughtful in their communications.

Over-the-top praise

A co-worker tells a person who is Deaf that they’re “an inspiration for overcoming so many obstacles.”

This type of praise might come with good intentions, but it can be condescending and embarrassing. Again, education is the best way to prevent this type of audism.

Does the law protect against audism?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) works to prevent the discrimination of people with disabilities. Still, the ADA can’t control the actions of individuals. Instead, it offers remedies when a person or entity that the Act covers violates its terms.

The ADA applies to employers and sets requirements for accommodations for employees with disabilities. Accommodations might include something like ramps for people who use wheelchairs, or captions for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. However, the ADA’s terms don’t always prescribe a specific solution but rather state that employers must offer “reasonable accommodations.” 

In cases where an employer violates the ADA, the person who experienced the discrimination may have an opportunity to hold that business responsible through the legal system. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent many instances of audism and the potential legal consequences


Tips to infuse into your workplace culture to combat audism 

No business can completely control what their employees do and say. However, it is possible to create a positive workplace environment where leadership clearly values accessibility and inclusivity. Here are some ways employers can prevent audism and infuse inclusion into their culture. 

Support employee resource groups 

Employee resource groups (ERGs) give a collective voice to individuals who may have shared experiences. Setting up an ERG for people who are disabled at your company, if they’d like one, can make it more likely that leaders listen to their concerns and suggestions. The ability to approach leadership collectively, or as a representative of a group helps employees bring attention to issues that are important to them.  

Educate employees regularly 

Create monthly training sessions that highlight to your employees that you take their actions and words seriously and how they can be more thoughtful and professional. Training sessions on a recurring basis that highlight areas people may overlook or bring in different speakers can help employees learn how to avoid unintentionally doing or saying something harmful. Setting up these sessions also demonstrates your company’s commitment to these issues. This will increase the chance that employees take these conversations seriously. The formal training will also let employees who may be impacted see that you’re committed to supporting them, which could help with employee loyalty and retention. 

Make accommodations universal or easy to attain 

Employees who need accommodations like captions should never face barriers or red tape. In many cases, captioning all content, for example, and therefore precluding anyone from needing to make a request is the best option. It’s also not expensive to do so. Still, many accommodations come from creative individual solutions. Fostering an environment that encourages communication and empowers employees can make it easier for everyone to get the tools they need to excel in their roles.  

Work with a knowledgeable accessibility partner

Verbit has been investing greatly in enhancing its accessibility solutions for businesses, including captioning, transcription and audio description that support employees with disabilities. You don’t need to have all of the answers, but our team can help to educate you on some options to consider to make a real change.  
Reach out to Verbit to learn more on how to implement solutions that will create a more even playing field and support people who are Deaf and hard of hearing in your workplace