Working with Deaf staff members

Making a workplace inclusive for Deaf people may mean doing some things differently. Check with the Deaf people involved to understand how you can make sure they are included in work activities on an equal basis with others (both job-related and social).

The recruitment process

An inclusive workplace

Employing a NZSL interpreter

Before being employed - the recruitment process

The recruitment and selection process should be inclusive of Deaf people. This means making it clear that NZSL interpreters can be provided if needed, such as for interviews.

After being employed - an inclusive workplace

Ask the Deaf staff member about their communication requirements, such as how they may want to use NZSL interpreters and whether they prefer a certain booking arrangement or booking agency.

Provide NZSL interpreters throughout a Deaf staff member's induction, including some 'social' time to allow the new staff member to get to know colleagues.

Discuss with the Deaf staff member who will be responsible for booking NZSL interpreters. Ensure that the person taking on this responsibility knows what to do to ensure effective communication happens - you should not automatically leave it with the Deaf staff member, as the issue is about ensuring staff can communicate and work effectively together.

You should book an interpreter for all situations where there is a lot of information being exchanged or many people involved, such as staff meetings, training sessions, or performance appraisals.

Much of the day-to-day office interaction will be missed by a Deaf staff member. Arranging for a regular catch-up session (not necessarily a formal meeting) where a NZSL interpreter is present is essential for the Deaf staff member to be included as part of the team.

You may want to consider other ways to ensure the Deaf staff member does not miss out on important information or informal interactions with other staff, such as using email to share information from conversations or impromptu meetings.

Arranging meetings at regular times, and in advance, will increase the chance of having a NZSL interpreter available.

If possible, book the same NZSL interpreter(s) for the same series of meetings. This will help with continuity, and knowledge of language and content specialised to the department.

Be aware that NZSL interpreters may not immediately understand the jargon of your workplace. Provide the NZSL interpreters with a list of commonly used abbreviations, any relevant background documents, and technical terms prior to the meeting.

Employing a NZSL interpreter

It may be more practical and economical to employ a NZSL interpreter on a part-time or full-time basis, rather than using a booking agency or hiring freelance NZSL interpreter. This is particularly the case if there is more than one Deaf staff member in your department, or the Deaf staff member’s job involves a lot of meetings and/or public contact.

Having a NZSL interpreter on your staff means that ad hoc or rescheduled meetings can take place more easily, and that the Deaf staff member can be more fully included in day-to-day office interactions.

NZSL interpreter working in the office on a part-time or full-time basis still require regular breaks during their active interpreting time.

Ensure that lunch, morning and afternoon breaks are kept free of interpreting tasks. If there is a shared coffee/tea session in which the Deaf staff member takes part, ensure that the NZSL interpreter is able to take their break before or afterwards.

A desk and office space will be required for the NZSL interpreter. Having a desk opposite the Deaf staff member will make interaction easier.

Preparation materials for meetings are still required. Schedule time into the NZSL interpreter's day when they can read through preparation materials.

If there are significant parts of the day where no NZSL interpreting is required, discuss any additional duties (for example, translation, developing resources or administrative tasks) with the NZSL interpreter. Such duties should be formally included in their job description and contract.

Some events (for example meetings longer than two hours) will need an additional NZSL interpreter booked to work with the staff NZSL interpreter. Make sure it is clear who will be responsible for making and co-ordinating such bookings.

It can be difficult for NZSL interpreter employed in the workplace to reconcile their duties under the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ) Code of Ethics with their position as colleagues of Deaf and hearing staff. For example, they should never interject their personal opinion during an interpreting assignment. However, if they are expected to interpret throughout the day this does not mean that they should not speak to their colleagues at all. Discuss such issues with the interpreter and the Deaf staff member before the interpreter starts employment and regularly review how things are going.

NZSL interpreters employed in the workplace should take part in performance appraisals and professional development just as other members of staff.

Next section: Some differences in Deaf people using interpreters

Previous section: Working with NZSL interpreters in specific situations

A guide to working with NZSL interpreters

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