Meeting of the Federal Exchange on Employment & Disability (FEED)
June 13, 2019
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Michael Murray, Director, Employer Policy Team, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP):
Hello and welcome! I am now going to introduce Jennifer Sheehy, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the U.S. Department of Labor, who is going to provide some opening remarks. Jennifer, please go ahead.
Jennifer Sheehy, Deputy Assistant Secretary, ODEP:
Can you hear me now? I’m really sorry I’m not there in person, I was looking forward to coming and joining you today. Thank you, Dexter, and all of our EEOC colleagues for hosting us and all of you for participating today. The reason I really wanted to be there in person is because I love the energy of this group, and it’s always exciting to be there. I learn a lot. I learn from you and hopefully you guys can also learn from each other.
I have to tell you, this initiative and the effort of this collective group amazes me. This initiative is something that we talk about all the time when we talk to other government delegations. For example, we just spoke to a German delegation. This is the only topic that the U.S. is engaged with them on, so information really, really carries a lot of weight, and it’s being carried literally around the world, and it just couldn’t happen at all without your efforts in your own agencies and your commitment and enthusiasm around hiring and really including people with disability.
You are making our country shine and I know you are making your agencies shine, and I just thank you so much, and I look forward to hearing about the meeting today and joining you for as long as I can by phone. I’m going to call into the listen only, and then I’ll look forward to debriefing with Michael later too, so thank you so much.
Thank you, Jennifer.
Dexter Brooks, Associate Director, Office of Federal Operations, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
Welcome, I am Dexter Brooks, the Associate Director of the Office of Federal Operations at EEOC, and we are excited to have you here in this cramped room. [Laughter]. This meeting of the Federal Exchange on Employment and Disability is part of the strong partnership we have with ODEP and OPM and others who have worked on this initiative for years.
One of the things I want to talk about briefly before we get into the heart of the meeting and talk about accommodations that relate to employees who are deaf and hard‑of‑hearing, is something that we want to achieve through this effort. I know as you’ve come to the past meetings over the last few years, that you know that we want these meetings to be more than just a listening session, we want them to be for cooperative practitioners that come together and help inform the partner agencies, more so than us informing you. The true creative work comes from what you do every day; not what we do at EEOC, we put together information in reports, but the real work is the real work that you do every day.
As you know from the last meeting, we did the Framework document. It was all based on work from your agencies. So, we are going to ask for your participation in several work groups over the next fiscal year. We are going to have six work groups based off the Framework document, looking at six different areas, and we are going to ask you to try to figure out what are the promising and emerging practices that agencies can engage in – you don’t have to write any of this down if you’re taking notes, we are going to send out a solicitation that lays out what we are looking for.
There will be groups on outreach, hiring processes, reasonable accommodation and personal assistance policies, accessible communication and workplace technology, and partnerships with external stakeholders. These will be self‑directed work groups that come up with strategies and report back to the larger FEED group, and we will share these findings with the community to help further the work that we did in the Framework document.
You will get information from our colleagues that really do a lot of work of communicating with the group. We will send a solicitation asking you about volunteering. Everybody wants to volunteer and have something great on their resume, but if you’re involved with a work group that I’m involved in, you are going to work. [Laugher]. So, if you can’t commit to volunteering the full fiscal year and still managing the work at your agency, because I have no power to shift your workload at your agency, be mindful that there will be a few meetings every month, so take a look at the solicitation and make an informed decision if you can commit to this effort. It will be starting mid third quarter of this year and go through next year. Now I will turn it over to the heart of the meeting and we will meet our guests.
Anupa Iyer, Policy Advisor, Office of Federal Operations, EEOC:
Thank you, Dexter, Michael and Jennifer, we are really excited to have this meeting on communication access for federal employees who are deaf and hard‑of‑hearing. This topic emerged from suggestions from FEED members who wanted to get more information about hiring, recruiting and retaining employees who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing and FEED members who are part of that community who have experienced barriers at their workplace. It is cool being in this room with the interpreters and the CART providers and seeing how we all communicate. With that, we have a really fantastic panel, and the panelists, we are going to start out with Anthony Napoli, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager with the Office of Administration and Resources Management at the EPA. After that, we will hear from Brandon Pace, who is the Enterprise Application Administrator in the Office of Accessible Systems and Technology at DHS. Finally, we will hear from MarcusKeith Island, the Program Manager for Sign Language Interpreting Services at the Department of Transportation. They will give a presentation about their work and we will have a short, moderated discussion and then open this up for questions.
Anthony Napoli, Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager, Diversity, Recruitment, & Employee Services Division, Office of Administration and Resources Management, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
All right, what just happened was that when I began my talk, I said, “Thank you for introducing me,” and asked someone to come up and introduce themselves, and then I asked the interpreter to go ahead and start interpreting what is going on, and that is the point of what we are talking about today — communication access.
In general, people think that reasonable accommodations and interpreting services for people with disabilities, that they know what reasonable accommodations are, but reasonable accommodations goes two ways. As we have just shown, you need the interpreters as well. I know that – in the beginning I wasn’t planning on saying anything just to see what happened, and I think it went a little bit farther than necessary, and I did give a few people a heads up, but it could have been a lot worse.
Let me introduce myself. I am Anthony Napoli, and I have work at the EPA for 18 long years. How I got there was mentioned. We are talking about hiring and retention and advancement. They had an announcement for an internship program. Two different announcements went out and they were clearly looking for people with disabilities to apply for that. One of those announcements applied to Schedule A and the other was a separate announcement, so I went through the Schedule A option for people with disabilities. To do that, you must meet minimum qualifications, and the other announcement was for the competitive process, which has a little bit more narrow requirements. There are barriers for people with disabilities that we have to recognize, so this opportunity really opened the door for people with disabilities, allowed them to get their foot in the door and to get in front of the managers — get their resumes seen by the managers making those decisions. I went through the process and I was hired, and I am thankful for the tools we have in place today.
Everyone is unique. I will share some of my personal experiences and some of the things we have in our programs, and the systems we have in place at our agency for all deaf and hard‑of‑hearing employees at the agency.
We have a web‑based system wherein we are able to make our own requests for interpreting services, and for CART services as well. I feel like an equal participant, and that is my personal belief and not everyone may feel that way. You won’t be able to see here, but maybe we can post it later on for everyone to see, but I have some screenshots here [of the process]. This what I am holding up now, and you can pass it around for everyone to see. There is a lot that you can do with it. I can make a request, and I can ask for specific interpreters, and many do have preferred interpreters they like to work with. It’s almost like prescription glasses, you have different sizes of glasses and different sizes of lenses or prescription strengths, and you need to find one that’s good for your eyesight. Same with interpreters. And that allows the deaf community to request specific things.
By looking at the requests, I can see in advance who has been assigned to that request. I admit, I will look in advance and when I see those interpreters’ names, I will schedule my meetings around those preferred interpreters who are assigned to me. That is one advantage of using this web‑based portal. We also use agency‑wide contracts. So, we have 23 different program areas and offices in the ten various regions throughout America with our employees. They are able to use that one contract and create subcontracts, so we have that central fund available for interpreting services. There is help for some of those managers who may be looking at those numbers and thinking that interpreting services aren’t applicable in certain situations.
Before we start today, we have some things we would like to talk about, and I would like to give the other panelists opportunity to talk about. I think I will hold on some of my points and the challenges and frustrations for now, and I will let my counterparts talk. There is a lot that I could talk about.
Brandon Pace, Enterprise Application Administrator, Office of Accessible Systems and Technology, U.S. Department of Homeland Security:
I am Brandon Pace and I am with the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Accessible Systems and Technology. My office is rather unique within the Federal Government — we are under two different offices — we are under the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of DHS and also under the Office of Chief Information Officer.
So, my office has a couple of unique positions, we provide 508, 504, 501 accessibility issues. DHS is a rather large agency; 250,000 employees and our auditors can’t handle everything done with the Department of Homeland Security. Each component has their own 508 office, but for the EEO, they report to the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office (CRCL), and my office helps out with some of the stuff that goes into CRCL.
Because we are providing technical assistance to the different agencies and components that we have, we are sometimes stuck between a rock and hard place. I get calls every day I am at work. I provide consultation and guidance, advice and information to people who are reaching out for technical assistance. Among the many different hats I wear, I am the federal lead for reasonable accommodations, I am a technical assistance officer and I am a systems administrator.
We just deployed a new system called the Accessibility Compliant Management System, also known as ACMS 2.0. That system…well, I feel like I am in a “Matrix” movie. There are so many different things that have gone on with this system and having to be 508 compliant, and the activities that go on with, and the office and agency have been putting in reasonable accommodations requests, and as we get closer to the time that compliance is required, all of the sudden that information falls into place, which is amazing and fantastic.
So, how I got into my position. I was part of an internship through the AAPD, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and I was in the same office for three months. I left and went back to college for my final year and then I got asked to come back and was offered a position, and that was eight years ago. I feel like time has just really gone by in the blink of an eye. I will turn it over to MarcusKeith.
MarcusKeith Island, Program Manager, Sign Language Interpreting Services, Disability Rights Center, U.S. Department of Transportation
My first name is MarcusKeith and my last name is Island. No man is an island, just so you know. [Laughter]. I’m originally from Dallas, Texas. I went to school in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I got here and worked for a company called Sign Language Associates and that is how I got to DOT in 2004. Things progressed and I became one of the federal staff interpreters. One of the things is, how did you get there, and a lot of federal staff interpreters, we started out as contractors and made our way up to interpreters. I had a great PowerPoint ready for everybody to see and got too excited about it, but guess what? You are still going to get to see it, just not right now. It’s going to come out and it will give you who I am at the moment.
I still am a staff interpreter, but I handle the program managing of interpreting services and wrote a contract for nationwide services that we have for the Department of Transportation, because previously we had a separate contact for the headquarters, as well as all of the different regions, that was very constraining on time and budget resources. It’s hard to get people out of the regions when you don’t know the other interpreting agencies. We decided to put everything together, and so far, it has been working. We hope it continues to work. So, that is my first question, and it appears we are just going to be going down the list and kind of answering the questions and adding additional things. I will turn it back over to Anupa.
A number of you had sent in a number of questions and we wanted to use them to start off the moderated discussion. So, I think you know Anthony touched on what does communication access mean to you, and there are a lot of questions about what exactly is ASL, who uses it, why would someone who is deaf use CART, etc.? And are there other languages that people who are deaf use other than ASL? So, I wonder if Brandon, MarcusKeith and Anthony can touch on the meaning of communication access and the different languages used.
I wanted to mention that earlier and I think I forgot to, but I personally use ASL and PSE, which is Pigdin Signed English. There are two different types of grammatical structures in terms of sign language that are used, whereas PSE is, I’m maybe not explaining this exactly right, but it has its own different grammatical structure which is English‑based and ASL has its own parameter. It’s important for me to go back and forth between the two depending on the content. There is a lot of information in the content. There is also Signed Exact English (SEE) — for every English word there is a word assigned to that and in English Signed Order.
This is Brandon. I typically use ASL. I work in a very technical environment and something will come up that is very specific, and I have to move to a much more specific version of language, but because of the technicality of it, I will sometimes use a sentence in English. It’s very hard to code switch. Most of my interpreters are CODAs (children of deaf adults) because they are able to code switch fairly easily. It is more of a challenge, I will recognize that.
I wanted to answer a question that was put forth. Everybody does have their own needs. There is no one-size-fits-all, that doesn’t exist in our community. Everybody has a different need, and everybody has a different way of going about things.
For example, there is a deaf employee that has their own designated interpreter, and this interpreter goes around with them every day and knows the content and the jargon and the historical context. This particular interpreter will know all of this stuff. So, I am able to stand up and speak for myself and defend myself and go in there and do all of this, instead of having some interpreter whom I just met five minutes ago come in and not have any of the background, which makes it very difficult. It’s not just about signing words. And so if I want to sign really quickly, sometimes the interpreter is talking because he requires a different level of language, depending on the context. For somebody who doesn’t use sign language, what we call a hearing person, they may think there is some kind of disconnect, or that the interpreter is not as qualified or whatnot. It’s kind of an art form, in and of itself.
I want to talk about the designated interpreter, and it doesn’t mean we have them 24/7. We do not go home at night joined at the hip. It is just when needed, and it is a fairly important thing to have that regular consistency. The reason I want to talk about that is because as a deaf person, it takes a lot of time to build a reputation. In the agency where I work, I started at DHS and was trying to find my own way and I was going through interpreter after interpreter, and what I found was that my reputation was suffering as a result of it because I didn’t have consistency and have interpreters who were following me through this and understanding what the past meeting was like.
I can communicate through IM just fine, but in person it was a struggle, and so I had some back and forth with the agency and finally got some stability being built up with the interpreter. And finally I was starting to get recognized for my abilities to do the job and they saw what my accomplishments were, and that I had the intelligence to talk about my job the way it needed to be talked about.
So, sometimes if they [deaf employees] move and go to another agency, you know, it means that their promotion abilities may be limited. Trying to deal with a new agency and build up their reputation again is problematic. This is my experience. You in the hearing community may have the ability to build up your reputation on your own, but it has taken several years for that to happen for me.
So, I have a different perspective when talking about communication access because I’m not deaf. A lot of interpreters, CODAs and everyone else that comes into the profession, we are taught to match the consumer, and make sure that they get what they need in that situation to be able to effectively do their job and to participate with whatever is happening. One of the interesting things I’ve learned over the course of the years, and some of my colleagues here who used to work with me will know this, is that we have ASL and PSE contact signing, oral interpreting and tactile interpreting and different types of interpreters. Later, we will talk about contacts.
For those who might not know what you just said about oral interpreting, can you explain?
Oral interpreting is another mode of communication where the consumer may not know sign language, may not know ASL. You have oral interpreting and signed speech, which we can continue down the rabbit hole further to discuss. In a nutshell, it’s kind of repeating what somebody is saying, and using associational cues and other things that are around so the person that reads lips can get that. Sign-supported speech is the combination of reading lips with a little bit of sign and then you have this whole other thing. We forget that not everyone knows all the terminology, so thank you for that reminder.
Going back, we have communication needs and interpreters that can fit all of that, so when we are talking about communication access, one of the things to remember is that you need to include all of that in your contract. If you don’t say you need an oral interpreter and the company gets that request, they may say they can’t provide that or the contract is limited to this kind of interpreting. You need to include all the specifics into the contract. If you come from a larger agency with varying needs for communication access, you need to think about this type of thing. So, I just wanted to throw that in there.
I wanted to expand about something that was previously mentioned. Talking about communication access and how it had an impact on my work performance. The interpreters need to be fluent in our jargon and know our work dynamics. So, there was a situation where the interpreter was signing complete ASL, and this was a very specific work instruction that was assigned to me during this interaction. We were looking for a file and the file was interpreted very vaguely to me, and so they signed to me and it was interpreted in a very vague way, and it took me two weeks of scouring the entire office and going through the files just to find a specific document that was needed to complete my work, and I barely got it finished before the deadline.
It gave the impression to the manager that it took me that entire time, and really if I had the information in a more concise and very specific way, I could have gone straight to that specific file and gone through that specific file they were looking for, found that exact word, and opened the exact drawer, and my work would have been completed in one day. It was a huge lesson to make sure that the interpreters know and are capturing the entire terminology and specific language we need access to. It can have a huge impact when your performance review comes up and when your manager comes to you and says, “You are not managing your time well and completing work on time.” I’m not talking about the quality of the interpreter, of course they are all qualified, but they all have different styles.
That is a great point about communication that is shared with colleagues in the office. I had something happen last year and I finally started using a tablet and it’s like live captioning at work. Google Live Transcribe. Every once in a while, I will look down to see what words are being said in the room. It’s’ like a walking dictionary. It’s been really beneficial to my job. We’ll talk about that a little bit later.
I want to add to that. We are talking about communication access and the different types of communication, but Anthony mentioned something about specific interpreters that know the terminology and terms. Another thing I would suggest thinking about for the contract is that you want to put in there something about consistent interpreters. Something like, “We would like a rotating group of 20. They don’t have to come every day.” One thing we noticed is the interpreters don’t know the terminology. Those of us who are interpreters, we may go into a different job every day and we feel apprehensive and you are trying to voice for somebody you never voiced for before and they tell you two minutes before they are defending their dissertation. The more information the interpreters have, the better.
So, how do we do that? You have that contracts in place where you keep consistency with the interpreters. You also want to keep a consumer profile that says these are the people that work with me and this is what you need to know. What days are you here? Oh, you are here on Tuesdays? I will have all my meetings on Tuesdays.
I think you jumped into what I was going to touch on, so I will jump around a little bit in the questions. In our audience in the room, as well as online and on the phone, are folks who are reasonable accommodations program managers, and so I have reviewed almost all of the agency reasonable accommodations procedures and there are sections on requesting reasonable accommodations.
I’m wondering, first, in that process for requesting reasonable accommodations, what do you think the reasonable accommodations manager should be aware of as they are engaging in that interactive process with an employee who is deaf or hard‑of‑hearing?
All right, so the question is are we talking about the manager?
The disability program manager. A lot of times agencies have disability program managers and some of the folks may be new to this field. What should they know as they are getting requests from employees who are deaf and hard‑of‑hearing about how to engage in that process?
Can you please repeat the question?
No problem. The question is, a lot of folks here or on the phone may be new to the field of being reasonable accommodations coordinators or disability program managers, and their role is to help with the employee and manage their agency and identify appropriate accommodations. What should they know when they are engaging in that back and forth, the interactive process, with the individual or employee who is deaf or hard‑of‑hearing. What should they know about helping to identify what they need and ensuring those accommodations are provided on an ongoing basis?
So, I would say, I’m not a reasonable accommodations coordinator, so I’m not sure I can provide the best answer, but I can give you my personal input.
I know we don’t have the screenshots, but are there things in the screenshots or in your agency’s online system that can capture this type of thing, of why someone requested a certain interpreter, for example? Are there things in that portal that can help assure that the employee is accommodated?
The first thing that comes to mind in terms of reasonable accommodations program managers who are not familiar with deaf culture is to become educated about it. There are resources online. There are employees that come together and provide lunch time sessions for others to learn about deaf people. So, to figure out their needs, they have to be involved in the process and I would say that is the best approach. There is no easy way to learn that, and it takes a long time to gain that experience. In part, it’s picking up on the frustrations and the experiences of the deaf and hard‑of‑hearing employees around you.
I believe that reasonable accommodations are important. I just recently became involved in the process. It’s been a lot of work and I have had to learn a lot of new things. I would suggest online training. There is a certification, I don’t remember exactly what it is called. While I was doing this, I realized that for every topic in reasonable accommodations, there are subtopics, and the list goes on and on and on.
My husband is color blind, and he is still learning what is new in that particular group of people in his community. Reasonable accommodations coordinators, there is just so much to learn about the people in your community and the different disabilities and the disability world. The thing I would suggest is investing time and energy in learning much more about the community itself.
So for me, one of the things that I think is really important when we are talking about somebody who is deaf or hard‑of‑hearing is if they are using sign language, or are a person with hearing loss (who doesn’t use ASL). You want to have somebody that has researched what that is about. A lot of times people have a deaf consumer that has come to them and they don’t know anything about the community.
If you don’t know anything about the community, you don’t know about context signs, ASL, PSE. If you know you are going to have an employee who is deaf or hard‑of‑hearing, you might want to do some research or call a friend who knows about it, or you can say, “Educate me quickly or give me a little bit about what you need.” Learn what types of accommodations are out there. Ask, “Do you use this thing called CART?” If you have no background at all, you have Gallaudet University as a resource. You can ask questions of them and they can help you. That is one example. If you don’t have experience, you can learn. You don’t want to learn as you walk in the door, but you can learn beforehand.
In my experience, when I see somebody who has a disability, I may not know what it is and honestly, I really want to know more. I want to take the time to become educated. Help me to ask questions and learn. I want to know more about this. It’s just something that came to mind. The only way we can learn is to ask questions.
You guys brought up some of the various resources available. I don’t know if that would be something you could share. If you had some of the names of those websites or organizations and you could send us that information to us so that we can share it with members of FEED, so they have the resources to look up. I am learning something new today, so it would be great if we could get some of that information shared with this group. We have talked about reasonable accommodations, and I want to discuss another question — what are some recommendations or best practices for how hearing employees can engage with their colleagues who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing?
Have socials. For example, we are having birthday cake, we are having a party for Maureen and her baby, we are doing whatever. That doesn’t keep an employee from engaging. There is nothing that says that employee has to be outside not engaging and thinking, “I want some of Maureen’s birthday cake.” [Laughter].
A lot of people try to make it difficult and it’s not. Say, “Hey, we are going to have an interpreter so you come to this party and engage.” Say you are in a cubicle farm and you hear all the conversations up and around the place. Sometimes that is good. Our deaf and hard‑of‑hearing friend are glad they don’t hear anything. [Laugher].
If there is an organization where the deaf consumers meet, see if you can join the group or come to a meeting. See if anyone is teaching ASL. Those are simple steps to make the employees feel like their part of that. It’s not saying, “I’m better than you because I can hear” or purposely trying to exclude deaf or hard of hearing employees, but sometimes it happens because people don’t think about these things. It’s not “We shouldn’t tell you about this thing” or “We don’t want to bother her about this.” That is the wrong stance. You want to be as inclusive as possible.
Thank you for those comments. So, I’m going to be honest here, there are some people that look at me, some people who are hearing, and they can’t help but look at the interpreter who is voicing, some people just can’t help that. That’s fine. That’s just part of the way that things have been in my experience. The best practice is for whoever is communicating with me to look at me directly, to see what my face looks like and what facial expressions I’m using and use the auditory from the interpreter.
I want to point out something. There are PowerPoint trainings with information about how to communicate with deaf employees that were made for hearing people. I would love it if we could share that presentation. It’s a really nice presentation.
At DHS, we have a group of over 100 members nationwide, and there are some regions in the U.S. who are not as friendly to people who have disabilities, particularly in the South, and we are looking to do education and outreach there. My dream is for disability etiquette to be required for all DHS employees. That is my dream, we are not there yet.
Just to clarify, when you say group, is that one of your employee resources groups? Could you explain more?
Yes, sorry, it’s an ERG, an Employee Working Group, yes.
I can just briefly share my opinion. I think the best way to interact with deaf people is to learn sign language. Just go up to them and sign if you can. People love learning languages and people typically love learning sign language. I’m very busy with my workload, but always take the time to make sure that I fingerspell or give advice here or there. The best part is to be flexible and not rely on the interpreter, but be independent and strike up a conversation with them even if there is no interpreter there. It helps a lot to increase your interaction with deaf people.
I just had something come to mind. DHS has a lot of law enforcement people and of course there are medical requirements that you need to meet prior to becoming a law enforcement official. There are different types of employees at DHS, and some are responsible for working with people from other countries. Some were hired prior to the agencies setting up the medical requirements. There were some challenges when trying to get the agency to consider hiring people who have disabilities. But if deaf people could do it before the medical requirements were set forth, they most certainly can do it – period. That’s just my two cents.
Just kind of jumping off from that and engaging with employees, you talked about some of the difficulties you have faced in meetings. A lot of agencies may not have the budget to have full‑time interpreters on staff or have assigned interpreters, so how should agencies plan for staff meetings, or all employee meetings, to accommodate their employees who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing? What can happen if meetings get scheduled last minute? Can you talk about the planning factors that goes into this for the supervisor, manager or agency to ensure communications access?
So, it’s kind of an overall picture and you need to think about it from the beginning. You were talking about the disability program manager and that is kind of how that starts. When they start working with the HR person to set up the interview. So, for the interview, you need an interpreter and you need to make sure there is enough time before for the interview for the interpreter to prep with the person.
So, with all of that on‑boarding (that is what we call it), after they have their orientation, they set up a time with the interpreter, and that is the time to say, “We are here with the employee and the disability program manager, and we have meetings at 10:00.” People say people don’t know when things are happening, and I disagree. Most managers know when there are regularly rescheduled staff meetings. I have two scheduled meeting and I need five interpreters, for example. You can determine your needs better if you know what’s on the schedule. This work will need two interpreters, etc. Scheduling ahead of time and sending information and asking the managers, the employee, to say, “I have a meeting coming up soon,” that will help with the calculation. Last minute meetings can be covered by keeping an interpreter at your agency say, for four hours on Wednesdays, for example. Maybe you can’t afford to have them there the whole week, but we can keep them here four hours on one day. And then you schedule your meetings at this time. That is one of the strategies that you can think about using.
For a last minute meeting, you can see if you can get an on‑call interpreter, and if that is not an option, you can try VRI. I‘m sure there are a lot of people who have had a lot of experience with conference calls, trying to listen to a microphone set across the table, so it can be challenging. But don’t get me wrong, I do use this sometimes. Sorry, VRI is Video Remote Interpreting.
How it works is, I get my assignment with my interpreter, and we see each other, and the interpreter is on, they call into the conference line and put in an ear bud. It often works well, but it’s not my favorite. The sound is too deep for the microphone and if you have two people talk at the same time, the interpreters can’t figure out what’s going on, so that is not my favorite. With live captioning it really works well, but unfortunately sometimes I feel that my voice is diminished. I don’t feel like I have a voice to speak up in the room or to have my input heard because I have to sit back and just watch the captioning, so I will text something to my supervisor or to another colleague and have them read it out loud. It really isn’t the same thing, though. They are speaking in their voice versus my voice. There are a lot of different ways that things can be dealt with, but it is a good idea sometimes.
We have to talk about institutional discrimination. If a deaf employee can’t get an interpreter for a meeting, then the employee can get kind of pushed off to the sidelines and other employees become more engaged and it’s a way to disengage our deaf employees. Oftentimes employees that don’t have interpreters are disengaged. I prefer to have interpreters. I will bring my tablet in for a last-minute thing, but if we’re trying to have an honest discussion, this is not the way to go because my voice isn’t really being heard.
The more specific question that we got from one of our attendees was about partial hearing loss, which can be difficult to accommodate. Are there suggestions on types of accommodations that would be helpful particularly for meetings, telephone conferences and webinars?
Right now, we have CART services running, and this is one example of something that you can do. We have amplifiers, assistive technology devices that can amplify what is going on. You can bring in a CapTel type of thing and they can read the information from the phone. There are all sorts of things now. We are talking about people with hearing loss, hard‑of‑hearing, the hearing aids are tuned to a Bluetooth device, so that could be plugged into a phone like the iPhone or could be plugged into a laptop and they can hear through that. There are different technologies out there. You have Zoom, Adobe Connect, Skype. With that they can be in the room and we also have this CART presentation right now, but with Zoom, CART and Adobe Connect, you can have that on those different platforms, so it’s still functioning and you can jump in the conversation. Those are examples of a few things that you can use that are out there right now for people who may not know sign language, but have hearing loss and can use those devices.
For somebody with a hearing loss or a latent hearing loss, some prefer CART, but I understand that sometimes CART has a lag time or delay. I would love to show you Google Live Transcribe after this meeting if you are interested. It is instantaneous. It makes a big difference as far as being on the phone or using relay, which can often be problematic.
As far as people who have hearing loss, there was a particular situation at DHS that has been a little bit frustrating. I’m sure it’s not unique. We have one hard of hearing employee who does a lot of work in high security environments. I’m trying to think of how to say this – they call it a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility). Unfortunately, he has CART equipment and a cartographer that comes with him and sometimes wherever he is going, they will not allow his CART equipment into the building. And they don’t have to, because he’s not one of their employees. So, it has been causing tremendous difficulties, and there is no standard federal policy that addresses this particular issue. So, at DHS, we have tried to figure out how to best approach this issue. We can’t twist the arms of other agencies, that is not part of our job description. It’s a very difficult and frustrating issue, and it would be pretty fantastic if federal agencies worked in collaboration with each other, had an MOU or agreement that would allow a reasonable accommodation approved at one agency into other agencies, based on the approve at one agency.
Maybe you are thinking wait, why is that problematic and why should it be a problem? Each facility has their own security requirements. They have their security officer creating the policies and procedures, maybe there are even different policies for SCIFs within the same agency. This particular thing is problematic. I have talked with the DHS security offices to see if there could be some kind of preference or policy set forth, and if DHS as an agency could perhaps offer best practices and be a model for outside agencies. But it has been an incredibly problematic process.
I think that also as part of that, there are issues with allowing certain types of Skype technology and things like that, so what should agencies and program disability managers think about or do when certain technologies that deaf and hard‑of‑hearing employees use may not be allowed because of the controls within the agency’s IT system?
Speaking of technology, as we saw earlier, we did have technology issues that came up. We face those every day. Those situations come up frequently if you are hosting workshops, using technology such as Skype, which seems as though it’s the most effective platform, based on my personal experience. And we like to use Adobe Connect because it seems to work best with captioning. It provides real-time captioning alongside it. That is one of the biggest issues, to make sure that the captioning is also working at the same time, you can see who is signing and everyone can have access to the audio. That is an issue that we are trying to solve. We now do a dry run (before the event) and we have technical problems come up all the time. I’m talking about the technical difficulties we have getting the audio and cameras and captioning all working. It is an interesting and fun experience trying to put on a show for the audience.
We are demoing some technical difficulties for you now. [Laughter].
There you go, exactly. The dry run has been key to solving those technical issues, and at the same time, we want to make sure that we have the same CART and captioners for the dry run as for the event, because if you get captioning all set and then you change the captioner, you could end up having problems. It’s an issue that we are trying to work on.
There are a lot of people that know I’m a tech person. One of the problems I have there is that you can’t necessarily always see the interpreter. So, the interpreter solution is right there in front of you. Let me give you an example. So, with captioning, Adobe Connect has a lot of problems with captioning, especially with pods, and so my agency had a best practice and basically ditched the captioning and we are using the pod from SharePoint or using the share pod. That share pod you can see on the computer screen and I can share my screen and there is another screen that comes up and in the top corner is another shared screen and it runs the captioning separately, and it is a pretty simple fix instead of trying to work through the firewall issues. All this very dramatic stuff happening when trying to get something cleared, this is basically what we are using. It is a fairly easy work-around.
I’ll share my experience with a deaf employee in a specific building who wanted all the TVs captioned. There are TVs all over this building and he had a discussion with the EEO, and it ended up going to the department responsible for that particular thing and there was a discussion about it. I think it took four to six months to have this ongoing discussion. I mean, how complicated is it to turn on the captioning on the TVs?
I got invited to this meeting and they were talking about turning on the captioning for these TVs and their department was saying they had to buy a captioning decoder and that it had to be added to every single TV in the system, and it was going to be very expensive. I was like, “Wait, that’s interesting.” Thank God I’m an IT person! [Laughter]. I started asking questions because I know about captioning, right? I was like, “You cannot be serious.” I asked if they would mind showing me their system. So, we walked into the “spaghetti” room with all of the wires and TVs and broadcasting systems, and I took one peek at it. They were using DirectTV. I took the remote, clicked one button, and turned on the captioning. Then they said they didn’t want the captioning to burn onto the screen, and that they wanted to give hearing people the information about turning the captioning on or off. I understood the point about not having the captioning on, but I mean, really, you can watch it on the news if it’s a busy room and you are on the phone, you can turn the volume down and you can watch the captioning while you are on a conference call, while there is noise happening in the office, etc. and they were like “Oh!” They were talking about making a $35,000 purchase (for the captioning decoders) and in reality it was free and it took me less than five seconds to push a button. All of these complications and that was how easy this thing turned out to be.
I think one of the important things to really remember between the program manager and the team is that you need somebody from IT there to say, “You handle reasonable accommodations and we handle the IT part and we are partners.” Anytime there is a change in anything, say you have JAWS or other screen readers, there are protocols with buffers and the opening of the ports. We can define it in headquarters, but in the regions, they are using different systems, but they are still IT, so we are trying to institute a way of doing it that is a one‑stop shop. The regions match that, so really again it’s having a relationship with IT and having somebody recognize that you need to be on that team with our folks.
That was really informative. I think everybody here and online may be reaching out to you, Brandon, and saying, “Can you come check my system?” [Laughter].
I know there are a lot of questions in the room, but before we open up for questions, I think Akinyemi wanted to make an announcement.
Akinyemi Banjo, Senior Policy Advisor, ODEP:
My name is Akinyemi, and just an announcement about the workforce recruitment program, WRP. The program is looking for federal employees to act as recruiters. If you want to know more, you can always email me if you having any questions about the program or about becoming a recruiter, and I will get in touch with the coordinators. We will be sending out more information about this via email, but I wanted to let everyone know. Thank you.
So, who has questions?
How many interpreters do you have at your agency who are federal employees?
I will repeat the question. The question was, how many interpreters do you have at your agency who are federal employees – not contractors – full‑time federal employees, and how did you hire those interpreters? Was it through Schedule A or some other mechanism to hire?
I am not sure about other agencies, but at DHS the answer is yes and no. Some components have them. Wait, let me back up. FEMA has hired several staff interpreters, however, they are just for reservists in the local communities. But for the employees, they are all contract, there are no staff interpreters at DHS. Out of all the agencies and components, there are no interpreters who employees except for at the Secret Service, because they have a unique mission and it requires clearance and so on, so they are different and they have to be able to go into court and they have to be able to be under oath, so that is a different situation, so they are the only component of ours that does have that.
It is important to understand that the federal position for staff interpreters could be cheaper yes, but also leads to a conflict of interest, or could potentially lead to one. If the agency hires a specific person and then some time later on, their duties end up getting changed and shifted, then their interpreting availability could decrease. So, it’s something for an agency or a program manager to consider as far as hiring a staff interpreter- it that could work well, or it could be a conflict of interest depending on what roles they are in, so that kind of gets as little funky sometimes. Our agency tries to avoid that issue. In my personal view, I don’t recommend it. I recommend just staying with contractors. You know, problems do and have shown up, and if there is a problem, contractors can be replaced easily. That is my personal feeling.
I also agree with that recommendation that we should not have FTEs as interpreters. I’m not speaking as an employee, but as myself. I want to make sure that disclaimer is out there, and the reason I’m saying I would not recommend FTEs for interpreter positions is because I sometimes have a preferred way of communicating and a preferred interpreter. We have different employees who all communicate in very different ways and they have on-call interpreters to match those preferences, and that can cause a problem where one interpreter is maybe a favorite for two different employees, and then you are stuck in a position where, I’m not saying this is going to happen everywhere, but if you have a great interpreter, that is greatly qualified and they can do everything, but there is a chance that there is an interpreter who is an FTE, that doesn’t fill well with your deaf and hard‑of‑hearing employees in the workforce. I am sure those in the audience have their opinions. I’m curious what they have to say.
How do you identify and qualify contract interpreters and how should the agencies approach that so there is continuity in terms of who is providing those services?
While you are answering that, I have a similar question. This is Michael. Thinking about the fact that many of us in here who oversee disability programs do not sign, but are going to be responsible for overseeing interpreter contracts or even supervising FTE interpreters, how do you ensure that the contract is good? Also, how do you hold interpreters accountable when you don’t know the language? I think this is really important. Even thinking about situations where it would be appropriate to deal with something right at the moment versus managing it later. For example, if you are in the middle of the meeting and an interpreter isn’t doing a good job, where do you say you are stopping this and want to switch out interpreters? How do you manage an interpreter contract if you don’t sign?
I can address that with the PowerPoints. At DOT, there are two staff interpreters and one is on detail. The thing about hiring them under Schedule A – they don’t always want to be on Schedule A. They want to be converted to a federal interpreter. You are talking about longevity and it depends on how they could be hired, because they could be hired as Schedule A with a disability. You have to think about that when hiring staff interpreters because most of us, after we get to a certain age, our body starts wearing down and we can’t do exactly what we used to do, so we don’t necessarily want to be just the interpreter. We want to also move up the career ladder. You have to think about all of that when you go back to the questions asked, to think about the pros and cons. Subject matter experts, they know the business.
One of the things to consider is that when I converted over to being a fed, I had the chance to review contracts, and I saw what the interpreter agencies were charging because people who didn’t know anything about interpreting were allowing them to charge it. You are telling me it’s $200 for a last-minute assignment and you are only giving the interpreter $20? I would say that’s not right. Even before you get the contract, you know these things as a subject matter expert. If there is a program manager that doesn’t know anything about these contracts, they should get with somebody who knows the industry.
Michael, you have been around people, you know stuff, so get with somebody who knows just enough to know is that an industry standard or are they milking us? Because that is the issue that I’m noticing where it is not clear. I said this before, you need to know how many people you are servicing and how much hours you truly need. If you don’t have that information down, your contractor may not be fair with you. You need to find somebody who knows about contracts to write it up. Usually with contracts you have the oral presentation, but you could have a visual presentation. You could say, “We are going to bring in the interpreters and see the quality of the services they provide.”
You want to listen to the contract interpreters, too because they may have issues with what is going on. Like when an interpreter was being harassed while they were doing a job. If you can keep the interpreters happy, they will do a heck of a job and they will stay and love coming back to your agency. It’s a matter of keeping them happy, speed and subject matter expertise. Hopefully that answers that question.
If I could just add something here. DHS has faced a lot of challenges, the agency is only 12 years old. A lot has happened in a short amount of time, so there were a lot of things that had to be identified quickly.
So, with the contracts, you know, the deaf employee is technically the point of contact (POC), not the COR. The COR needs to be an independent person who has worked with the interpreters themselves. It’s important they have knowledge of the contract piece of it and qualifications for interpreters. At my agency, I am the person on my contract, I am the POC, so that allows me to have direct communication with the person at the agency. I can say, “This interpreter didn’t work for me. Please don’t send them again.”
We also set up a blanket purchase agreement, a BPA, that is through the contracting department. It is kind of like an umbrella type thing, so that allows us to have more than one vendor, so we could potentially have three vendors that are included in there. One of the really cool things about this is that it maintains high standards. The BPA say the interpreter has to be qualified to do this, that and the other, and if they meet those requirements, that is fine. However, if there is an agency that hires a deaf employee and uses a task order that maybe takes one or two weeks to process, services can get interrupted, but maybe the task work can be tacked on to it. With the BPA in place and having that contract language set forth, the standards are set.
In some situations, it’s a good idea to have a panel of deaf employees, especially when hiring. Having more than one person’s input and having deaf employees in the mix, being able to evaluate this person, is important. I also want to suggest to federal agencies that they have like an umbrella contract. Agencies keep saying that when a new deaf employee gets hired, it takes time to go through the process (of setting up interpreter services), but that it should not affect their duties. If you have an umbrella contract, you can let the deaf person start working right away and have a contract that will fill in the gaps for onboarding. You should have a specific contract for those instances or if there is travel expected in their duties. Maybe there is a specific contract that covers travel because the general one doesn’t, so if there is a last-minute call out to duty, you have something set in place right away. I know there are challenges as far as trying to facilitate which contract covers what, but having these things in place is key. I’m sorry, the law is the law and the money needs to be in place her, end of discussion, because it’s a legal thing.
I also want to talk about Michael’s question about accountability. One way is to talk to the deaf people directly and get the information right from the source. Maybe host a board discussion and ask people what they think about the interpreter service and the CART services.
My name is Brianne and I’m from the Department of Education. I wanted to share with you some information about contracts. There are important things about contracts. I’m not sure who is giving the information to the offices that have deaf employees and also their coworkers and supervisors, but I do want to say that sometimes reasonable accommodation managers in general are lacking information. Some contracts require a two-hour minimum, and for some services it can be between two or three hours. Sometimes a supervisor reached out and, in that case, when the interpreter was sent to that meeting, had to pay a two hour minimum. There was misinformation. I asked some folks, “Did you realize you were paying for two hours of an interpreter?” That surprised many of them. So, just this basic level of information sharing is needed.
Hearing this conversation and hearing you speak as well, that is part of the purpose here with FEED and our work groups. We had a very similar situation when the EEOC issued the regulations under 501 for personal assistance services and some agencies actually already had programs in place and their disability program managers offered to assist other agencies with how to write the contracts, how to identify what should be in there, as a sort of checklist for services. So I think we have a lot of great expertise in this room, and maybe as we start the survey for the work groups, this might be manageable if folks are willing to share their information with others in the group so we can get that conversation going amongst the disability program managers and others in the field about how they should be thinking about their program.
I wanted to respond to the comment, and you are right. There are a lot of two-hour minimums that are out there. How we run our program is that we take a look analytically at the financial resources and compare the ad hoc requests with the on-call requests and what our needs are. And what we found with one of our agencies, I don’t want to say which one, is that in one year, comparing the ad hoc requests with the on call, was that the ad hoc requests were more expensive than providing an eight hour interpreter every day of the week — that was actually cheaper to do. I was kind of surprised. Going through those requests is really an important part of figuring out your agency’s need. I mean I cannot emphasize enough the importance of making sure that you have a consistent, regular pool of interpreters that have the information with background knowledge and whatnot.
Yesterday, I went to a meeting, let me just tell you, the security over there, it will take you 30 minutes alone just to get through security. So, you need to factor that into the time you have with the interpreter.
I also wanted to add on to the comments talking about having a conversation. I just wanted to add a comment about the interpreter services and also talk about CART services. One thing that is important to remember is that when we have interpreters, to make sure they are prepared with the right technical information before the meeting begins. Also, with CART services, if the provider doesn’t know who is speaking and the content on an in-depth level to provide key things that are going on in this meeting, that can impact the quality. So, the better informed our interpreters and CART providers, the better the services that will be provided and this will benefit all of us.
I think the conversation needs to continue on with our contract interpreters and our CART providers. We need to have their input on an ongoing basis. Everyone that has the contract and hires a staff interpreter should be included in that process. Nothing about us without us, as the saying goes, thank you for reminding me of that. That is just my comment that I would like to make today. Thank you.
Some agencies do ad hoc requests and do have a minimum charge, and the interpreter is not qualified and then they will send another one that is not qualified, and this is a repeated pattern of behavior that keeps happening. This happens to me in my personal experience. I requested two hours and I keep getting sent interpreters that weren’t qualified. This seemed to change when I was requesting eight hours in a block. I realized that many interpreters who are qualified will not do anything less than six hours, so that is one of the benefits of hiring them for longer blocks of time, so I end up getting the interpreters who are qualified to be here. I’m trying to be honest with you guys here. I’m sorry, this is D.C., and the interpreters who respond to the two-hour request will typically be people who have just graduated and may not have experience out in the working world and definitely not with IT, and that is an unfortunate truth.
A promising practice to try to resolve the issue is that we give out badges and IDs for those that come regularly, and we rely on consistency with our interpreters. Instead of having to take time to sign them in and get through security and all that process entails, we give badges to those interpreters who are most oven coming in.
Something I mentioned previously is making sure that you write into the contract that you have a pool of interpreters because then you have the ability to get them a badge. As Brandon also mentioned, and others were mentioning about the three-hour minimum, I eluded to that earlier about some interpreting agencies that up charge because the people in charge of the contract don’t know the business. So yeah, they are going to do a three hour minimum, and I know as an interpreter it is a lot, but it is cheaper to just get somebody for eight hours and I also know as interpreter that has interpreter friends, they don’t want to go to a three hour meeting. When people plan meetings, you have a staff meeting, think about what else you have going on, so that way you can utilize that interpreter for multiple things, as opposed to the two or three hours or 30 minutes. And some folks don’t realize they can keep the interpreter for longer than the length of the meeting if they have a two or three hour minimum.
We have one more question in the room, and then I have a final rapid flash question for the three of you.
My name is David Baquis. I work with the executive office of the president, and I wanted to thank you for your panel today. It was a great start, and it was about people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and I could have spent a whole hour talking about people who are hard of hearing and it would have had nothing to do with sign language interpreters. They depend on technology such as assistive listening systems, so it’s just something to keep in mind in the future. You could do a session on people who are hard of hearing because about 95 percent of people with hearing loss are hard of hearing, not deaf.
I have another comment. Our agency is in the process of updating our reasonable accommodations policy and if anybody could share their policy with us, that would be great if you could meet me at the end of the session, we could exchange business cards.
The last thing I wanted to say, and I will turn it over to you for a response, is we are having a specific issue with the use of the telephone by somebody who is not deaf and they don’t know sign language, but they are severely hard of hearing and can’t hear on the phone either. The person can talk, but needs text to follow what is being said on the phone, so we gave the person CapTel, and the person complained that it was insufficient. I’m wondering if you have any comments on use of CART for telephone use.
Before we turn over to panelists, I am also happy to speak to you afterwards. Part of my role is drafting reasonable accommodations procedures and making sure they comply with the regulations. I will throw that out there because that is my area of expertise. If folks want to take the question, that would be good, or if that is something you want to think about and provide additional responses on later, we do provide notes after the meeting to all of our attendees, so I’m putting that out there as a suggestion
For me, I do call a conference call every once in a while. I’m an IT person, and there are services out there, not through Federal Relay or CapTel, through a third party, that are available. For example, maybe you have heard of webcaptioner.com? You call into this specific call bridge through Google Hangouts, and it converts it to a web captioning that’s run on Chrome. It is through the Google Hangouts so you can listen to the conversation bridge and it’s automatic, live, real time captioning and it’s free. I really enjoy doing this kind of stuff and trying to find out about new accommodations. CapTel, Fed Relay, they just take forever, and there is a delay, and that means if there is a delay in the information, then my responses are delayed and oftentimes are not right in their timing.
There was a question from the audience.
So, the question was is there a delay when I use Webcaptioner. My answer to that is it is not 100 percent, but I would say it’s a solid 70 or 80 percent. Google live translator is 90 percent accurate, I’d say, I put headphones over top of my tablet and I put it on the conference bridge that way, and this will stream captioning. I am happy to demo if you like. It was really, really cool.
With that, I would like to thank our panelists. I mean, I think we have all learned so much, we could definitely keep this conversation going. But I think Brett has a few remarks and updates. Thank you.
Thank you, everybody. Thanks for coming. We have a full room today and we have a full complement of people on the phone as well. I think we had over 100 RSVPs of folks joining today’s meeting remotely. The FEED member list has grown to nearly 1,000 people and that is remarkable. It only continues to grow.
The information we learned here today and information from our previous meetings is spreading all around the country and the globe, and I think that really speaks to how vital this group is. We all know what we are supposed to do by regulations. The what to do we are all aware of, but the how to do it is what this group is all about – sharing this information and not having to recreate the wheel. If someone asks for a reasonable accommodation policy, and five hands go up because they are happy to share that information, that warms our heart.
Many thanks to all of you and to the team. Diana and everyone on the Concepts team are vital to making these meetings happen. This group loves what it does. I can’t tell you how much I learned today, it was incredible. We will do these meetings quarterly and keep going.
One thing to put on your calendars is on June 26, that is in a couple weeks, EARN will host a webinar at 1:00 p.m. on accessible technology for procurement, so the heads of procurement for accessible technology for Texas and Minnesota will be talking about how they purchase accessible technology and make sure that their state employees are taken care of and they have the technology to be the most productive employees they can be. I think that is it.
You will be getting the notes in a follow up email in a couple of weeks. We will go through the transcript and clean it up and make sure it is the best that it can be. If there is any additional information we can put in there, please contact me and we can put that out. Thank you for coming.
Also, thank you to the interpreters.
[End of Meeting]