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What Are Reasonable Accommodations for Deaf Employees?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer is required to make reasonable accommodations to assist a deaf or hearing-impaired employee in performing his or her job.

Failing to do so may lead to legal action, fines, and penalties. A recent, somewhat ironic example: the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a non-profit whose mission was supposedly to help disabled individuals. Instead, according to the EEOC, the company denied a deaf employee reasonable accommodations before firing him.

What are some of the reasonable accommodations the company could have provided to the deaf employee?

Reasonable Accommodations for Deaf Workers

Generally, an employer must provide a disabled employee with a requested reasonable accommodation unless doing so would be an "undue hardship" on the employer. Employers must also provide reasonable accommodations to disabled applicants to ensure equal opportunity in the application process.

For deaf or hearing-impaired individuals, the National Association of the Deaf suggests a number of potential reasonable accommodations, including:

  • Teletypewriters (TTYs), video phones, or other telecommunications devices;
  • Assistive listening systems;
  • Visual alerts in place of audible alarms;
  • Instant messaging or email communication in lieu of verbal communication;
  • Captioned audiovisual information; and
  • Permitting service animals in the workplace.

Disability Network Lawsuit

The EEOC's lawsuit against Detroit's non-profit Disability Network / Wayne County alleged that the organization denied the deaf employee -- who worked as an independent living specialist -- the use of TTY equipment, a video phone, and the ability to use text messaging, despite the employee's requests. The organization failed to provide alternate accommodations before firing the employee because of his disability.

Under the terms of the settlement, the organization will pay $38,500 in monetary relief, provide training on ADA compliance, and will be enjoined from failing to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees in the future, according to the EEOC.

For more legal tips on the hiring, firing, and management of employees, check out FindLaw's section on Employment Law and Human Resources.

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