Sign Language Etiquette: Including Deaf Coworkers

Including Deaf coworkers, the same as you would a hearing coworker, is vital to the success of any employment.  Deaf coworkers can see and feel the effects of being left out.  This is usually due to hearing coworkers feeling uncertain about how to interact with them. Additionally, Deaf coworkers are usually open to teaching hearing coworkers about Deaf cultural norms, so including Deaf coworkers can provide you great insight. You might just meet your new best friend.  See our blog on Socializing with Deaf Coworkers.

Social events

including deaf coworkersIncluding Deaf coworkers in lunch plans, birthday celebrations, and retirement parties is about being a part of the overall team.  Deaf coworkers likely will not “hear” a party announcement being made, so be sure to send an email or stop by and let them know that everyone will be celebrating Bob’s retirement party at 3 p.m. in the break room.  Often, Deaf coworkers are not brought up to speed about events and feel excluded when they walk by the break room and see everyone eating cake.  Including Deaf coworkers in all activities allows you to interact with them more often, so you will get to know them better.  Overtime the communication gap will get smaller and smaller.

Deaf Communication Styles

Including Deaf coworkers in conversations can be hard if you do not know where to start.  Each Deaf person is different, so be open and ask them how you can best communicate with them.

It is common to assume Deaf coworkers can lip-read or can communicate by writing back and forth.  Since sign language is typically the first language of a Deaf coworker, and English is not, writing back and forth may not be preferable or easy to understand.  Lip-reading is only successful when the deaf person has the skill, and then it is only feasible in one-on-one conversations. Even then, there is no way to determine that what has been said has fully been understood.  It is almost impossible to follow lip-reading while several people talk.  Think of it like watching a ping-pong ball going back and forth, but you cannot hear it coming. Deaf coworkers may not know who to look at next in a conversation. For that reason, and typically required under the ADA, it is vital that meetings, training, large social events, or important one-on-one conversations be interpreted using a certified licensed interpreter.

ADA Laws/Sign Language Interpreting

In many cases, ADA law requires equal access to communication for any work sponsored events.  This does not mean that anyone can provide an interpretation, and that you must use a licensed certified interpreter.  Your Human Resources department should be able to assist you or contact MT&A for further guidance.  Learn about the ethics of working with a Sign Language Interpreter.

Additional Resources:

Etiquette for Co-Workers of Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Employees

How Do Deaf People Communicate In The Workplace?

Tapping The Untapped: Including Deaf Employees In The Workforce


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