June is DeafBlind Awareness Month. Americans aged 16-64, that are not in the labor force: DeafBlind 61.4% Blind 48.9% Deaf 25.9% 
The first thing a human resource (HR) professional should do is be prepared for awesomeness! Companies lucky enough to encounter a DeafBlind, Blind or Deaf applicant have an opportunity to work with an extremely resourceful, confident individual. We are walking problem solvers that focus on creating effective solutions.
We are DeafBlind (without a hyphen!)
In 2023, DeafBlind, Blind, Deaf applicants expect competent handling of perfunctory requests by potential employers. Deafblindness means a person has combined dual sensory challenges. We do not have hearing and vision challenges. We are DeafBlind (without a hyphen!). Our communication solutions may combine typical components that provide accessibility for Blind (Braille) or Deaf (captions, American Sign Language-ASL), or not! Deafblind friendly interpreting incorporates ASL, yet obtaining an interpreter merely familiar with ASL is ineffective for someone who relies on Tactile ASL (TASL) or the Protactile language. Deaf friendly interpreters routinely sign too quickly for us. HR professionals need to remember that providing meaningful access for DeafBlind individuals is achieved by taking elements from tools developed specifically for the Blind or Deaf. For example, I need the ability to increase fonts to a comfortable reading level. This limits the types of real-time speech-to-text services I could utilize on the job.
After explaining what works once, it is unreasonable to expect an applicant to repeat requests multiple times to different people or wait months for a business to figure out how to retain a vendor to provide real-time captioning/interpreting for an interview. If an offer is made and accepted, it is unreasonable to delay commencing a good faith interactive process until after onboarding is completed. Preliminary discussions should be held immediately, giving staff time to review solutions as the person works through onboarding. The EEOC guidance is clear:
The fact that a staffing firm and its client have a very short period of time within which to provide an accommodation will not alone constitute undue hardship…. Staffing firms and their clients should anticipate these types of requests for reasonable accommodations and plan for how to provide them expeditiously when a request is made.
Once aware that someone faces communication challenges, the HR professional should request involvement of colleagues with more relevant experience in assistive technology to lead the good faith interactive discussion. By not immediately connecting a DeafBlind, Blind or Deaf applicant with tech staff, companies are facilitating the problems that lead to litigation, i.e., delays related to HR staff not comprehending the person’s explanation of basic tech solutions. If the company lacks internal resources, HR should immediately contact Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for a confidential consultation.
Companies need to make it easy for applicants to request accommodation. Each job announcement and applicant confirmation notice should include contact information to notify a firm person needs assistance.
HR and recruiters should combine text and voice contact options. I might not be able to answer my phone, yet my speech to text voicemail alerts me to an email. That initial effort goes a long way towards building a positive experience. Each recruiter needs to have a direct phone line included with their email signatures. I have been in awkward situations (plural!) where a quick phone call could have resolved the misunderstanding.
Once someone gets past the initial contact hurdle and talks with recruiter about the value their experience will bring to a role, scheduling the interview with the hiring manager becomes the issue. It depends on the type of interview, e.g., on-site, virtual platform or a phone call. Will the phone call be a conference call? Do they intend to have you call into a virtual meeting room or a direct dial? How many people are going to be involved? All that matters because there are different communication tools to use that depend on a specific situation.
I remember telling the recruiter that if the people I was meeting on site with wanted to do a video or conference call during the meeting, they needed to let me know in advance because that required advanced preparation. I arrived for what started out as a fantastic interview. Then the manager reached for the conference calling device sitting in the middle of the table. I stopped them before they started dialing and explained the issue. The interview ended shortly after that.
I was once a full-time employee working in a loft environment. The manager knew that I was DeafBlind, yet they fired me in part because they felt I was ignoring meetings. I had no clue what meetings the person was referring to! I learned that the person had a habit of standing up and waving people over to the conference room. No one on my team ever tapped me on the shoulder to let me know there was a meeting.
Leadership remains the most effective accommodation! Companies need to move away from expert created “Disability Inclusion” video trainings or strategies that focus on a Disabled identity that obfuscates our shared humanity. Only by meaningfully engaging, personally networking with our DeafBlind, Blind and Deaf communities will company executives recognize the hidden value that is hiding in plain sight. This October’s NDEAM theme is Advancing Access and Equity.
Let’s talk DeafBlind Inclusion!
Safman Consulting uses my DeafBlind life experience to provide strategic advice to help companies effectively incorporate disability and accessibility issues into policies and procedures. Prioritizing these concerns is the best way to create value for any business in any sector. Available for onsite or remote engagements.
- Blind Institute of Technology https://blindinstituteoftechnology.org/
- Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD) https://www.csd.org/careers/
- Bender Consulting Services Inc. https://benderconsult.com/
- Job Accommodation Network JAN https://askjan.org/
- National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/initiatives/ndeam
- DeafBlind Ecosystem https://protactileconnects.weebly.com/deafblind-ecosystem.html (Find DeafBlind owned businesses and/or DeafBlind operated positions or businesses).
 Bloom, C.L, Palmer, J.L., & Winninghoff, J. (2023). Deaf Postsecondary Data from the American Community Survey [Data visualization tool]. National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes, University of Texas at Austin. www.nationaldeafcenter.org/dashboard
 Enforcement Guidance on the Application of the ADA to Contingent Workers Placed by Temporary Agencies and Other Staffing Firms ttps://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/enforcement-guidance-application-ada-contingent-workers-placed-temporary-agencies-and#reasonable