Working Remotely as a Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing UX/UI Designer

A few months ago, I was approached (via Zoom) by an aspiring designer who was planning to take a UX/UI design course to improve her skill sets as a designer. I had taken this same course just a little over a year ago. 

Like me, she was deaf. 

Also like me, she had no idea how she would be able to communicate as a deaf remote designer. When she asked me what I had done to make it easier on myself during the course, I realized that I didn't really have much of an answer. The most I could say was “I just believed I could do it” or something silly like that. It was a pitiful answer. Yet, it was the best one I could give. 

You see, the design course I took required you to attend weekly group critiques which consisted of giving and receiving feedback from a group of peers. You also needed to meet with your mentor each week to discuss progress on your projects. While super beneficial, the two weekly meetings nearly drained me. 

Why? 

Because lipreading is not that easy on camera, especially when some people choose to turn their cameras off. You also have this deep fear of providing feedback that someone else had already provided… though you may not have heard them say it. Then of course, there is that instance of someone having a very beautiful yet very difficult to understand accent. I mean, I can barely understand English and my Mom’s Jamaican dialect. Now add in an accent I’ve never heard before. I just feel like rage quitting at that point (meaning to quit before the game is over for all my non-gamers out there).  

So, when I got accepted into a full-time position as a UX/UI designer at a start-up company, I knew that things would need to be very different if I wanted to be successful. Here are the tips that I would recommend for my deaf designers (if you’re Hearing this could definitely still work for you): 

1. Tell the people you will be working with that you are deaf… immediately

Now this may sound pretty obvious, but a lot of us do not immediately choose to let our coworkers know. The reason being is we want to be seen as “competent” and prove ourselves before we show our “weaker” side. 

But I can tell you that after four different internships, and one full-time position with a fortune 500 company, telling your coworkers later is much more difficult.

My first day at Social Edge Consulting, during my very first group meeting, I opened up with an introduction of myself, shared my passion and my strengths, and closed by saying “and just to let you know, I am hard-of-hearing.” 

*mic drop*

While I may have hyperventilated a bit internally, within seconds I felt a huge wave of relief. The worst of it was over. Now, I could still prove myself AND have the accommodations that I would need to make my job easier.

Oh, and I realized that being deaf was actually my STRONGER side ;)

2. Turn your camera ON

Before I get into the whole “turn your camera on if you want your coworkers to do the same” please know that I am NOT perfect in this regard. There have been multiple times when I had my camera off during either an individual meeting, or a group meeting (especially when I found out I was pregnant!)

However, it does still stand that if you want your coworkers to show their faces so you can read their lips, it’s only common courtesy for you to have your camera on as well. I can tell you from experience (and I’m sure you already experienced it yourself) that it’s pretty awkward to be the only one showing your face on camera in a meeting. There is also a chance that if your coworkers see your camera off, they will also keep theirs off, or turn it off if it was ever on to begin with. 

Just something to keep in mind. 

3. Let your coworkers know you read lips 

On the flip side, make sure your coworkers know that you read lips. A lot of times, they would be more than happy with turning on their cameras if they understand why you’re asking. 

4. Use Otter for live captioning

Otter. Saved. My. Life. Period. 

If you’ve never heard of Otter, it’s basically used to record conversations and provide text in real time. EVERY SINGLE TIME I’m in a meeting, I have Otter sitting right next to the Zoom call. 

It is a couple milliseconds behind. So, you may be a couple milliseconds late to join in laughing when someone makes a joke. But seriously, a couple milliseconds is so much better than never knowing what was said. 

Can I also say that Otter is a lifesaver in group meetings? For the first time in my career, I can respond in group meetings, and not feel like I may be totally off topic. I actually understand what is being discussed the entire time *gives a moment of silence for my deaf people to process*

Yes, the entire time.   

5. It’s okay to ask someone to repeat themselves

As we all know, nothing is ever perfect in this life. That includes Otter. Sometimes your connections may get a bit iffy for absolutely no reason at all, and then that dreadful red alert pops up on the Otter screen saying, “Low connection; trying to connect now” (I’m paraphrasing).  

That means that sometimes you still may miss some conversations in a meeting. Please hear me when I say, it is okay to ask someone to repeat themselves. As a matter of fact, in some cases you’re actually respected even more. 

I know that in our personal lives, asking someone to repeat themselves has almost become an afterthought. We know that we have three strikes, and then we get the begrudgingly “never mind” answer. However, in a work environment, asking someone to repeat themselves almost always has them giving you more information the second time around.

It usually goes something like this: 

Coworker: This is what the client wants, and so I will be asking you to complete these steps (listing out the steps verbally) so that we can have it completed by the end of the week. 

Me: Do you mind listing out the last four steps? I didn’t catch that part. 

Coworker: Sure. Actually, let me share my screen so you can see what I’m talking about. That may be better. I’ll also show you exactly what the steps would look like when you apply it, and…

Me (externally): Sure, no problem at all. 

Me (internally): YESSSSS!!!! Thank you!!!! 

It’s nothing like our personal lives. We actually have work to do, and we need to make sure we get it done efficiently and on time. Hopefully, our coworkers can understand that. Thankfully, mine do! ☺

So… it is okay to ask someone to repeat themselves.

6. Lastly, HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF 

I saved the most important point for last. Whether you are Deaf or Hearing, have confidence in your abilities and your skillset. You got the job. Which means, the company saw something in you that they knew would benefit them. Now it’s your turn to see it in yourself. 

You can do this. Now, go do it.