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Technology Helps Hearing-Impaired Workers Succeed

Technology Helps Hearing-Impaired Workers Succeed

Dmitri Mamrukov is an applications delivery program associate for New York Life Insurance Co. The New Jersey resident is highly skilled and respected by his peers and supervisors. He has a bachelor's degree from Rutgers University and is pursuing his master's degree. Mamrukov, who has been deaf since age 1, is one of millions of American workers who benefits from the use of adaptive technology.

According to the University of Arkansas Research and Training Center for Persons who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, hearing loss affects between 21 million and 28 million Americans. But thanks to advanced technology and improved awareness, hearing-impaired workers like Mamrukov can work smoothly with their hearing coworkers -- most of the time.

"Many (hiring managers) are reluctant to consider deaf or hearing-impaired candidates," says Mamrukov. "In my workplace, the staff is friendly and most are aware of my disability. But if appropriate accommodations are not provided and it affects job performance, it is frustrating." Ron Kozberg, executive vice president of Lift Inc., says the hearing-impaired are an often-misunderstood group, though they are just as skilled as their coworkers who can hear.

"They seem to have the ability to focus in on a job and not let outside distractions influence them," says Kozberg. "They are dedicated and determined, almost more so, because they have had to overcome more than the average worker."

New Technologies Can Help You

Mamrukov says there are a number of things that hearing-impaired workers can ask their colleagues and employers to do to help them fit into the company culture. Since interpreters can't always be present, Mamrukov relies on taking notes, instant messaging, email and text telephones (TTYs) -- special devices that allow people who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired to type and receive messages over the receiver. Mamrukov also says email has been a blessing for the hearing-impaired community, both in-house and with clients, vendors and outside contacts.

Mamrukov says real-time captioning, which is a technology that converts spoken language into text onto a computer monitor or laptop screen, is also an effective tool. It is very accurate but expensive, and the availability is limited as it also requires the presence of a trained stenographer or transcriptionist. Speech-recognition software also helps and is generally affordable, but the accuracy is mediocre, says Mamrukov.

Other advancements in technology that hearing-impaired workers can benefit from include:

  • Ultratec CapTel Phones: Ideal for people with some degree of hearing loss, the CapTel phone works like any other telephone with one important addition: It displays every word the caller says throughout the conversation.
  • Sorenson Video Relay Service and Sprint Video Relay Service: How does a video relay service work? When the hearing-impaired client needs to communicate with a hearing person, he calls into the service, requests an interpreter and signs his messages to the interpreter using video technology. The interpreter then speaks to the hearing person on the phone and translates the hearing person's response into sign language.

One worker, who asked that his name not be used, says that the Sorensen Video Relay Service is a vast improvement over the PC Webcam he used to use. The Sorenson VRS uses American Sign Language Interpreters based in call centers to translate information via videoconferencing. Hearing-impaired workers have said they feel more expressive and confident using the Sorenson VRS.

"Things are always improving, so that is a positive that keeps me encouraged," says Mamrukov.

What You Might Expect of Your Coworkers

While Mamrukov has not participated in conference calls, he says that if called on to do so, he would use the services of an interpreter. If an interpreter was not available, he would ask for someone to take notes and give them to him, or possibly record the conversation and then have an interpreter translate that information.

Mamrukov also says it's important for coworkers and cube mates to treat their hearing-impaired colleagues the same as they treat everyone else, with a few exceptions.

"I remind those speaking to me to direct their faces toward me, so that I can try and lip-read," says Mamrukov. "But in general anything involving verbal communication raises our concerns -- we struggle to get as much information as possible."

So do coworker awareness and new technology allow hearing-impaired workers to advance in their careers as other workers do? Yes and no.

"It also depends on what additional or enhanced challenges -- directly related to the disability -- new duties pose," says Mamrukov. “Nevertheless, most difficulties can be mitigated with reasonable accommodations."

To learn more about additional resources for the hearing-impaired, check out the following sites:

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