One of the wonderful aspirations of most animal sanctuary spaces is the desire to create and nurture cultures of inclusivity and kindness for everyone. When we’re creating these cultures, we are exploring how to nurture more kind and inclusive thoughts and behaviors for others and ourselves, as well as more kind and inclusive physical spaces. In this resource, we’re going to take a close look at how sanctuaries can nurture and create spaces that are welcoming, inclusive of, and accessible to deaf and hard of hearing community members who visit and work there.
The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Communit(ies)
According to Gallaudet University, there are approximately 35 million people in the United States who are deaf or hard of hearing. Many of these individuals refer to themselves as being members of the Deaf community, which is a group of people who align themselves with particular cultural values, norms, knowledge, and practices that come along with using American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary language. For many of these community members who were born deaf or hard of hearing, deafness is not perceived as a loss or disability, but rather as another cultural attribute of the Deaf community. Other deaf or hard of hearing individuals in the United States who find themselves losing their hearing because of illness, trauma, or age often do not align themselves with Deaf culture or use ASL as their primary way of communicating. For these folks, deafness is sometimes perceived as a loss or disability. However, how deaf and hard of hearing folks prefer to identify themselves and be labeled is personal and dependent upon the individual.
Why Deaf and Hard of Hearing Accessibility is Important
Accessibility is the Law
Although it’s critically important to remember that many members of the Deaf community do not perceive deafness as a disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act (The Americans With Disabilities Act, a law that governs accessibility requirements for organizations in the United States.) is a law that defines deafness as such in order to prevent discrimination against people who are deaf or hard of hearing. If you are operating an animal sanctuary within the United States that has been granted 501(c)3 status, has 15 or more employees, and/or is open to the public, this means you are required to comply with ADA accessibility standards and make your space and services as accessible as possible to deaf and hard of hearing people.
Accessibility is the Right Thing to Do
Beyond the legal requirement, ensuring compliance with ADA standards also means that your organization is creating a more welcoming space for more people. If we understand disability as a mismatch between someone and their environment, we not only recognize that it’s the disabling environment that prevents the person from doing or accessing something, but that disability is also something that everyone experiences at some point throughout their life, whether it be permanent, temporary, or situational. In this way, accessibility can be thought of as an ongoing process of working towards finding solutions to disabling environments so that we can include more people in our spaces in more meaningful ways. Accessibility benefits everyone.
Communicating with Deaf and Hard of Hearing People
When it comes to communicating with deaf or hard of hearing people, it’s important to understand that each person has their own unique communication needs and preferences, and that these needs and preferences are also dependent upon the setting and situation in which you all are communicating. For example, background noise, lights, pace of conversation, number of speakers, accents, facial hair, masks, etc. all have an impact on the communication preferences and needs of deaf and hard of hearing people. While members of the Deaf community in the United States use ASL as their primary language, not every deaf or hard of hearing person utilizes or understands it. And though many members of the Deaf community can understand spoken and written languages like English, not every deaf or hard of hearing person utilizes or understands them. This is why it is imperative not to make assumptions about the communication needs and preferences of deaf or hard of hearing individuals without inquiring with them first.
When it comes to nurturing and creating a sanctuary space that is welcoming to deaf and hard of hearing people, there are a lot of accommodations and technologies to explore. Though sign language is one way that some deaf and hard of hearing people choose to communicate, writing, gestures, speech, technology, and tactile and visual aids are also ways they might prefer to communicate. Communication preferences and needs look different for everyone! If your sanctuary is new to this subject matter, a good place to start is by providing all of your pertinent information and communications in text format. In the sections that follow, this resource provides a broad non-exhaustive overview of various kinds of technologies, services, and accommodations that sanctuaries can incorporate and build into their budgets, spaces, and educational programs that would make them more welcoming for deaf and hard of hearing community members.
Offsite Accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People
In compliance with ADA standards for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, it’s important that all videos you include on your website have closed captions, transcripts, and/or subtitles. It’s also important that you include multiple contact methods on your website (e.g., phone, email, live chat, text, etc.), as well as a statement such as “Please be in touch if you need any accommodations and we will do our best to accommodate”. Incorporating these simple elements into your website allows deaf and hard of hearing people to communicate with you more easily and become familiar with your organization’s The stated goals and activities of an organization. An animal sanctuary’s mission is commonly focused on objectives such as animal rescue and public advocacy., space, and accommodations more readily.
Telephone Relay Services
Telephone relay services provide a three-way method of communication between a deaf or hard of hearing person, a communication assistant (e.g., sign language interpreter), and a hearing person. This allows deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people to dial into the relay service, provide the telephone number they’d like to call, and connect with that number via a relay operator. The operator is responsible for converting all verbal communication into text and all text into verbal communication.
Video Relay Services and Video Remote Interpreting
Utilizing video conferencing technology (e.g., Zoom, FaceTime, GoogleMeet, etc.), video relay services provide a three-way method of communication between a deaf or hard of hearing person, a communication assistant (e.g., sign language interpreter), and a hearing person. This allows deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people to communicate with one another via video. The communication assistant interprets their messages back and forth.
Online Educational Programming Accommodations
It’s important to build accessibility into any education program you create and there are a lot of accommodations to consider when you facilitate one online. For deaf and hard of hearing people specifically, providing relay services and live captions is essential. It might also be beneficial to record meetings and presentations, limit the number of participants on screen, establish participation protocols with the whole group, build in pauses, and utilize captions, alt text and visual indicators throughout your programming. This is not an exhaustive list of possible accommodations and it’s very important that you maintain a continuing dialogue with your deaf and hard of hearing participants before, during, and after your program so that you can honor their communication needs and preferences. For more information on facilitating online educational programming for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, please check out this resource from the National Deaf Center.
Onsite Accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People
There are a lot of onsite technologies, services, and accommodations that sanctuaries can incorporate and build into their budgets, spaces, and educational programs that would make them more welcoming for deaf and hard of hearing community members. Establishing deaf and hard of hearing accessibility requirements early in your educational programming and sanctuary design can also help ensure that each staff member knows their responsibility and can be held accountable for upholding a welcoming environment. This will ensure that you’re not only following ADA legal requirements, but making sure your deaf and hard of hearing visitors, staff members, and volunteers have the best possible experience at your sanctuary!
Environmental accommodations may include physical adjustments to your sanctuary space(s) that improve visibility, reduce distracting noises, and improve safety for everyone.
- Signage: Make sure any necessary information such as safety signs, directions, opening hours, points of interest within your sanctuary (e.g., reception, visitor center, restrooms), room numbers or names, etc. can easily be read and identified with proper signage. It’s also incredibly helpful to combine text information with pictograms. With clear signage, deaf and hard of hearing folks can find their way around your sanctuary more safely, independently, and at their own pace.
- Change or add lighting to enhance visibility. Philips Hue is a lighting brand that provides products approved by deaf and hard of hearing community members.
- Add vision panels to doors and walls to improve lines of sight.
- Use round or oval tables for discussions.
- If you have any hidden corridors on your property, install convex mirrors to allow folks to see what’s coming.
- Block out extraneous noise to eliminate disturbances and The infliction of mental, emotional, and/or physical pain, suffering, or loss. Harm can occur intentionally or unintentionally and directly or indirectly. Someone can intentionally cause direct harm (e.g., punitively cutting a sheep's skin while shearing them) or unintentionally cause direct harm (e.g., your hand slips while shearing a sheep, causing an accidental wound on their skin). Likewise, someone can intentionally cause indirect harm (e.g., selling socks made from a sanctuary resident's wool and encouraging folks who purchase them to buy more products made from the wool of farmed sheep) or unintentionally cause indirect harm (e.g., selling socks made from a sanctuary resident's wool, which inadvertently perpetuates the idea that it is ok to commodify sheep for their wool).. Extremely loud noises (e.g., construction) can hurt the ears of folks with hearing aids. It’s important to be mindful of this during your sanctuary’s visiting hours, tours, educational events, etc.
- Visual emergency notifications: Install flashing lights that work in conjunction with emergency auditory alarms.
- Make sure that all staff members are informed when a deaf or hard of hearing visitor, volunteer, or staff member is onsite so that everyone can work together to create as safe and welcoming an environment as possible. Although deaf and hard of hearing folks are incredibly sensitive to their surroundings, if a potentially dangerous situation arises (e.g., unpredictable cranky resident) that requires their immediate attention, it’s important that you have an established safety protocol in place that all visitors, volunteers, and staff members are properly trained in. This could include waving a red flag in the air, turning on a strobe light, waving your hands in the air, or a combination thereof.
Sign Language Interpreters
For many deaf and hard of hearing folks, sign language is their primary language and preferred method of communication. Although many fluent users of American Sign Language can understand written English, it’s often a second language or foreign language to them. For this reason, it’s important that your sanctuary be able to build sign language interpretation into your budget and programming whenever possible. Finding a sign language interpreter in your area isn’t as challenging as you might think. Take a look at the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and consider how you could hire deaf or hard of hearing people to conduct sign language tours and other educational programs at your sanctuary on a regular basis. Having properly trained deaf and hard of hearing folks who utilize sign language on staff is a great way to ensure that your space is welcoming and comfortable for deaf and hard of hearing visitors. Once you’ve built sign language accessibility into your programming, make sure you include a statement on your website and property acknowledging this (e.g., “Sign language interpretation is available upon request”).
Sanctuary Tour Scripts
If your sanctuary is unable to conduct tours in sign language, it’s important to provide all the necessary information from the speaking tours in text format so that deaf and hard of hearing folks, as well as speakers of other languages, visual learners, and more can follow along as you move around. This should include all of the information that the sanctuary guide presents during each tour, as well as a Frequently Asked Questions section in case a visitor asks a question that requires the guide to go “off- script”. You could provide this text on reusable laminated paper or via iPads, depending on your budget. For example, you might create a laminated flip book, packet, or poster with photos of each resident or species and captions detailing their names, lives, and experiences for folks to read through at their own pace.
Assistive Listening Systems for Hard of Hearing Folks
Assistive Listening Systems are amplifiers that increase the volume of sound for folks who are hard of hearing or have difficulty hearing in certain settings where there is a lot of background noise. There are three different types of ALS technologies, but each of them utilizes a microphone, a transmission technology, and a device to bring the amplified sound to a person’s ear. If you utilize any of these devices, please be sure to advertise this information on your website and during your events!
- FM Systems: FM systems use radio broadcast technology to transmit sound from a transmitter (e.g., microphone) to a receiver (e.g., headset, earphone, or hearing aid).
- Infrared Systems: Infrared systems use light-based technology to transmit sound from a special transmitter to a special receiver headset. The transmitter converts sound into infrared light, which is then sent to the receiver and converted back into sound.
- Inductive Loop Systems: Inductive loop systems use electromagnetic technology to deliver sound from a transmitter (e.g., microphone) to a receiver (e.g., headset or amplifier) via a wire that is looped around a specific area.
For more information on Assistive Listening Systems, please check out this resource from the National Association of the Deaf.
Smartphones, Tablets, and Computers
Smartphones, tablets, and computers can facilitate communication at your sanctuary in a variety of ways. In addition to providing email, text, and chat capabilities, these devices also offer a lot of software applications specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing community members.
- Ava: Ava is an instant transcription app that can transcribe conversations between deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people.
- Evelity: If you operate a large sanctuary on a large property, Evelity is a navigation app that can help deaf and hard of hearing visitors find their way around more independently. In addition to providing text instructions and icons to guide visitors, the app can also provide supplemental information about pre-specified areas at your sanctuary. You might even be able to utilize this tool to offer some version of a self-guided tour!
- QR Scanning software: A QR code is a type of barcode that can be scanned using a camera on a mobile device that is equipped with QR scanning software. You can utilize QR codes to label and caption physical locations on your property to enhance your visitors’ experience.
- C-print: C-print is a computer-assisted system that transcribes speech to text. It allows a hearing captionist to type words as they are spoken and then provides a real-time text display.
- Speech synthesizer: A speech synthesizer is a device that generates spoken language on the basis of written input on a keyboard.
- Automatic Speech Recognition Software: This software generates written text on a computer screen on the basis of spoken input via a microphone.
- Computer-assisted Note-taking: Computer-assisted note-taking is a technique that allows folks to type notes into word processing software on a computer and project them onto a screen or wall for folks to read.
Captioning is the process of transcribing spoken dialogue and sound effects from a video into text. The text, or “caption”, is usually displayed at the bottom of a video screen. In addition to being incredibly important for deaf and hard of hearing folks, captions are also critically important for speakers and readers of other languages, visual learners, as well as people who are deafblind. Captions allow people who are deafblind to have Braille input from their computers.
There are two types of captions: offline captions and real-time captions. Offline captions provide the most accurate transcription since they are recorded post-production. These captions can either be open or closed. Open captions are always displayed at the bottom of the screen and cannot be turned off, whereas closed captions can be turned on or off. Real-time captions or CART (Computer Assisted Real-time Translation) occur when a captionist transcribes the spoken dialogue and sounds of a live event in real-time so that the speakers’ words are displayed on the screen as they talk. Offline and real-time captions do not necessarily need to be generated manually. There are a variety of services that offer robo and/or human captioning to help make the process easier, such as YouTube, Adobe Premiere editing software, and Rev.com.
Transcripts of Audio Recordings
Transcripts are not generally as accommodating as offline captions since viewers are required to read along and watch a video at the same time. However, they can be useful tools to have on-hand in case someone asks for them.
Workplace Inclusion for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Employees
As an employer, it is your responsibility to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing employees. This means providing them with equal employment opportunities to participate in the application and interview processes, communicate effectively in the work space, have access to the resources they need to succeed in their position, attain the same level of performance as other employees in the same position, participate in trainings, meetings, professional development opportunities, and social events, and enjoy all the other benefits of employment at your sanctuary. Please remember that accessibility looks different for everyone and communication preferences and needs vary depending on the setting and the individual so it’s important to maintain an ongoing dialogue with employees who are deaf and hard of hearing. Primary consideration should always be given to the individual’s preference. However, by law you are not required to provide deaf and hard of hearing employees with “personal use items” (e.g., hearing aids) or accommodations that would result in the removal of an essential job duty, violation of job-related conduct rules, or an undue hardship to your organization (e.g., cost). If you determine that the cost of a specific accommodation would cause your organization an undue hardship, please try reaching out to your state vocational agencies and disability organizations to see whether they can help offset some of the expenses. There are also federal tax credits and deductions available in many states.
In addition to the technologies, services, and accommodations we listed in the previous sections of this resource for onsite and offsite visitors, all of which can and should be extended to sanctuary employees, the information below is a list of more technologies, services, and accommodations you can build into your sanctuary workspace(s) that are specifically for deaf and hard of hearing staff members.
Prior to the Interview
- Ask the applicant how they would prefer to communicate during the interview. If requested, coordinate to have a sign language interpreter available.
- Send the applicant a written copy of the interview itinerary, questions, and any pertinent information on your organization.
During the Interview
- Even if a sign language interpreter is relaying your messages back and forth, be mindful that the applicant may still want to speak for themself at times. Regardless, maintain eye contact with and address your questions to the job candidate, not the interpreter.
- Maintain an open dialogue with the candidate throughout the process and remain flexible in the event that they ask you to communicate something in a different way.
Workplace Communication Considerations
It’s important to maintain an ongoing dialogue with deaf and hard of hearing staff members regarding appropriate workspace arrangements and honor their preferences and needs to the best of your ability. One helpful way to make the physical workspace more inclusive is by educating all staff members on how to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment to deaf and hard of hearing colleagues prior to working together. Things like name tags with job descriptions can be a very helpful and simple accommodation for new hires. In addition, communications between staff members should always be available in text or visual format. Flashing lights that work in tandem with incoming phone calls, doorbells, and buzzers are important workplace communication considerations to make as well. If your organization cannot provide information textually or visually in some way, it’s important to ensure there is always a designated hearing staff member who is responsible for transcribing audio communications into text for your deaf and hard of hearing employees.
Assistive Listening Devices (ALD) for Hard of Hearing Employees
Assistive listening devices improve hearing ability for folks in a variety of settings. They include amplified telephones, hearing aid compatible phones and smartphones, television compatible devices, and alerting devices.
Considerations for Orientations, Trainings, Meetings, Professional Development Opportunities, and Social Events
- Send staff members a written copy of the group’s itinerary and any other pertinent information in advance of getting together
- If requested, coordinate to have a sign language interpreter available.
- Consider arranging for a live captioning service
- Change or add lighting to enhance visibility of the space, speakers, and interpreters
- Use round or oval tables
- Establish participation protocols with the entire group:
- Establish a nonverbal signal that staff members should use when they want to contribute.
- Visually indicate who will be speaking.
- Allow only one person to communicate at a time. They should look at the audience when they communicate, not have their back turned.
- Ask deaf and hard of hearing staff members how they prefer others to get their attention (e.g., tap on the shoulder, wave, etc.)
- Ensure a hearing staff member is transcribing any audio information into text (e.g., minutes, notes)
- Utilize visual aids
- Ensure all videos are captioned
Emergency Accommodations and Considerations
- Walk through emergency evacuation routes during employee orientations and trainings
- Establish a buddy system by pairing a hearing person with a deaf or hard of hearing person during emergency situations
- Communicate with staff members via text or email during an emergency
- Although deaf and hard of hearing folks are particularly sensitive to their environments, concerns about not hearing potentially dangerous farm equipment or nonhuman animals are important to take into consideration. Therefore, it is imperative that you establish sanctuary protocols that will mitigate risk to the best of your ability. It is also important to provide a liability waiver for all staff members and volunteers that acknowledges the risks associated with sanctuary work and the maximal efforts of both parties to mitigate that risk.
Program evaluation research is one of the most meaningful ways to determine how you can improve your sanctuary’s space and educational programming. As such, it should seek to include feedback from deaf and hard of hearing community members. Developing a strong understanding of deaf and hard of hearing folks who visit and work in your space is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that you are providing a welcoming and inclusive environment. This research could include a survey given at the end of an educational program or to an employee that says something such as, “We’re doing our best with what we know and we’d love to know one that thing that we can do better. What’s one thing that we can do to make your next visit even better and more welcoming?”. The most important aspect of this research is what you do with the results. So, make sure you are following through with your intentions to make your sanctuary as welcoming as possible based on what folks are saying and reasonably asking for. Performative statements are not helpful.
Additional Resources for your Sanctuary to Explore
Below is a list of additional resources we recommend for more in-depth guidance on creating and nurturing spaces that are welcoming and inclusive of deaf and hard of hearing people.
- DeafTec provides resources for educators facilitating STEM-related education programs with deaf and hard of hearing learners.
- The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has a page with information and recommendations on where to find American Sign Language classes locally or online.
- ADA National Network provides information, guidance, and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can also find your local ADA Center here.
- The National Association of State Agencies of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NASADHH) maintains a directory of state-by-state agencies serving deaf and hard of hearing individuals. If you do not see an agency listed for your state, NASADHH recommends reaching out to your state’s vocational rehabilitation agency for additional support and referrals.
- Local community centers for deaf and hard of hearing people
- Speech and Hearing Centers
- American Sign Language Teachers Association
- State schools for deaf and hard of hearing individuals (e.g., Gallaudet University)
- Deaf education programs within local schools
- State commissions for deaf and hard of hearing individuals
- State chapters of the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID)
- National Association of the Deaf State Association Affiliates
A Guide to Accommodating Deaf Employees | Automatic Sync
Accommodations | DeafTEC
What You Need to Do to Ensure Accessibility for Deaf People at Public Venues | Inclusive City Maker
Communicating with Deaf Individuals | National Deaf Center
Why Captions Provide Equal Access | National Deaf Center
Simple Accommodations for Deaf Employees You May Have Never Considered | The Society for Human Resource Management