One of the greatest aspects of being a consultant is the opportunity to face new challenges in new environments every week. I was recently faced with a challenge I had never experienced before – performing a workstation evaluation, interviewing an operator that is hard of hearing. Using what very limited sign language I know, I quickly discovered that communicating ergonomics with hard of hearing persons is really no different from challenges presented through language or literacy barriers. At Humantech, consulting globally frequently presents unique communication challenges, yet I had never had the opportunity to interact with a hard of hearing operator on the shop floor.
As with any method of communication, hand gestures and drawings are an effective way to communicate the basic principles of ergonomics, particularly when you are on the assembly line and need to get information as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is typically understood that raising work off the floor surface or moving the workstation closer to you is attempting to make the job easier. Getting specific feedback from the operator required the use of pen and paper, but that wasn’t a very efficient method to use on the shop floor during heavy production. So on a small personal quest to learn more about ergonomics and hard of hearing, I came across a few interesting sources:
Ergonomics (2004) by Paul T. McCabe
This book includes a section on ‘Hearing loss: inclusion through design’ and discusses the many occupational challenges hard of hearing people encounter and shares some basic examples on design solutions. Strategies include: extremely clear and concise visual communication (ex: enhanced visual feedback systems using lights and displays); training co-workers in sign language and providing an easy means for the worker to communicate with hearing persons.
Worlds – www.discoveringdeafworlds.com
A revolutionary, non-profit organization that is documenting sign languages in some of the most remote regions on the planet and developing resources to improve access to education for impoverished, resource-limited populations. Did you know that sign language is not universal? Signing can vary significantly even between two Himalayan tribes!
It’s interesting to note the efficiency of sign language. Think of all the times where background noise (loud workplace, restaurant, etc.) has made communication difficult. Signing can also help maintain privacy in conversations. Perhaps we have something to learn?
I am curious if anyone else has had experiences with ergonomics and unique populations such as those that are hard of hearing, blind and/or illiterate. Any advice for fellow professionals?