Ten tips for making remote interviews accessible for deaf people

James Watson-O'Neill
James is Chief Executive at the deaf health charity Sign Health .

James shares ten tips for making your trustee recruitment process more inclusive, especially if you have to recruit remotely.

1. Ask about access needs early on

Ask your candidates about access needs early on in the recruitment process, and in such a way that you’re actively trying to balance the sad truth that most candidates will want to hide or diminish their access needs in order to appear more 'appointable'? The best ways I’ve seen this happen is when the 'access needs questionnaire is relatively free form it might have some examples, but it doesn’t ask a candidate to tick boxes (most people’s access needs just don’t fit into boxes).

The more confident a candidate feels about describing their access needs without fear of judgement, the better they will perform at interview. And the questionnaire should of course just be about accessing the recruitment process, not the job itself. And that means you may need to describe the recruitment process (interviews, tests, online 'chats' etc) to help people identify relevant access needs. 

2. Is everyone aware and on board?

Is everyone involved in the recruitment process aware of the individual candidates’ access needs and/but are they prepared to approach that through the lens of the social model of disability? For example, when someone has access needs that mean they just can’t fit into the recruitment process you’ve designed (the day is too long/too tiring, the written tests just aren’t accessible without tech that the candidate doesn’t have etc) are you willing to redesign the process and not complain about it? To do it willingly and gladly, not begrudgingly?

3. Remote challenges 

Remote meetings for deaf people (and some other disabled people) are full of access challenges. While Microsoft Teams offers auto-captions but no proper 'gallery view' to see everyone at once, Zoom only has auto-captions available on paid-for accounts but the gallery view is great and BSL interpreters (who are often invited to remote meetings as 'guest' users) can be pinned by BSL users (thereby making them bigger) whereas this often doesn’t work in Teams. You can get a proper Speech To Text Reporter to join a Zoom meeting and produce captions that appear directly in Zoom for everyone to turn on and off as they wish but you’ll need to book that in advance to ensure you can get one.

4. Go easy on the 'effects' 

Individual people’s set-ups for joining remote meetings, particularly when joining from home, are often poorly lit making lip-reading very difficult and background effects like blurring or holiday shots are fun, but often blur people’s hands or parts of faces and don’t seem to work very well in terms of access, at least for me. 

5. Using BSL

British Sign Language in remote meetings may often be supported by two BSL interpreters co-working, with, say, Interpreter A having their camera off for the first 15 minutes and Interpreter B visible and actively interpreting. Interpreter A is still working though and will speak up if B doesn’t catch something or they’ll swap in if B has tech issues. The two interpreters will often swap every 15 minutes, so A would turn their camera on to signal that 15 minutes have passed, they’d wait for a suitable pause in the conversation (or even better for the meeting chair to force a pause) B would switch off their camera and A would wait until BSL users have pinned them as the new interpreter, and for participants to signal that they have successfully done so, before the meeting continues.

6. You might need to stop and start

If there is more than one Deaf BSL user in the meeting then the meeting may need to pause every time a different BSL user is signing, so that the new BSL user can be pinned, again waiting for a signal from all BSL users that they’re ready to proceed otherwise information is lost and needs to be repeated. All of this can happen more smoothly than it might sound but if people aren’t ready to work in this way it can be disconcerting, and hearing people may be unclear why the meeting is stopping and starting. 

7. Be patient 

The vast majority of deaf people are people 'diagnosed with hearing loss', often experienced later in life. As many as 1 in 6 of us in the UK have 'hearing loss', so it's highly likely that recruitment on any scale will include deaf people and even more likely that we won’t identify as deaf or as having hearing loss! Be patient with the person who asks several times for information to be repeated and think about rephrasing what you’re saying – it doesn’t matter how many times you say 'fan' to me, I’ll keep hearing the word 'van'. Remember that language is tricky because it’s about identity – I identify as a deaf person but many people with a similar 'hearing loss' as me wouldn’t. I’d argue that I have 'deaf gain' not 'hearing loss'! 

8. Don't make assumptions

As with most things in terms of access, try not to make assumptions. Just because the last six people you interviewed who were deaf wanted a BSL interpreter does not mean that the next deaf person will. Ask questions (respectfully) and remember that candidates for jobs or volunteer roles will perceive themselves to have relatively little status (you will have more status than them) so work as hard as you can to demonstrate through your approach that you want to meet their access needs in order to support them to perform their best. And check at least once during the meeting or interview that communication is still going OK  when tech goes awry (as it so often does) that can play havoc with access the person whose lips were easy to read may have frozen and everyone else can hear the audio but I’m lost without the moving lips to go with it. 

9. Questions in advance 

Think about sending the interview questions in advance not to give people time to rehearse their answers but to make absolutely sure that the candidate has understood the question you are asking. It is so tempting as a deaf person to just nod and guess at what has been asked or said we do it hundreds of times a day, especially when under pressure. 

10. Lived experience

Remember the value of lived experience there is real benefit in the different perspective that we as disabled people bring to our work and volunteering which non-disabled people cannot. I unashamedly think that we should get 'points' for that!

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