Communication is an important pillar of accounting: From the initial job interview to working one-on-one with clients, communication skills are paramount. “Good communication relies not just on being able to use specific tools or speak a certain way,” says accountant Valerie Mondesir. “Instead, a good communicator is defined by the ability to adapt to the person they are speaking to. They can adapt the message in different ways so different audiences can understand it.”
For those who are hard of hearing or deaf, however, it’s a bit trickier to navigate through the communication-dominant profession and constantly have to self-advocate. Like many fields, the burden of self-advocacy is put on the disabled, says Mondesir.
Mondesir, a South Florida resident and owner of InsightFull Financials, started experiencing hearing loss in both ears at age five and received a cochlear implant at 26. Analytic and curious, Mondesir has been working in accounting for 13 years and wants more employers to understand that those who are hard of hearing shouldn’t be treated as if they are less capable than their hearing peers. “We don’t want to be taken out of the running before we even get past the gate,” she says.
Accommodations for hard-of-hearing accountants and finance professionals, shedding perceptions of disabled communities and prioritizing workplace communication — in all forms — can create a safer and more inclusive workplace for accountants of all abilities.
Awareness has been slow to fully come into the workplace, says Mondesir. Over her career, Mondesir hasn’t encountered many other hard-of-hearing or deaf accountants. Although she lost her hearing very early, anecdotally, many individuals lose their hearing late in adulthood, often at the end of their careers, and this can influence their level of self-advocacy and involvement in disability rights. “Then, you have people who were born deaf or became deaf very early who are stronger advocates [for themselves] but are fewer in number and struggle with inclusion,” explains Mondesir. For young and middle-aged professionals, Mondesir believes that disability awareness in the professional space for these groups needs boosting.
Steps to create better inclusivity
Facilitating conversations and shifting attitudes by employers and colleagues are great starting points to better workplace inclusion. To start, simply ask what a disabled person needs and enact those changes. “The burden should not be on the disabled person, it should be shared because it takes two people to get a point across regardless of ability levels,” says Mondesir. “And the rewards are greater than the effort — a different perspective and clearer communication amongst everyone.”
A second idea to embracing inclusion is emphasizing education on available and emerging technologies. Increasing the frequency of video conference calls and written forms of communication, such as chat applications or email, for example, boosts workplace accessibility and workplace involvement to those who are hard of hearing, says Mondesir. Specialized phone apps and captioned videos have eliminated the need for hard-of-hearing employees to get on the phone.
“Many employers either don’t want to or don’t know how to accommodate disabled people, unless there is an incentive to do so such as a government quota or other inclusion, affirmative-action initiatives,” explains Mondesir. Simple actions from a manager tell the hard-of-hearing employee they’re supported. “Managers and team leaders should regularly back up their hard-of-hearing team members and remind everyone to speak clearly with their faces visible to the hard-of-hearing accountant,” notes Mondesir. “Hard-of-hearing people use lip reading and nonverbal cues to fill in gaps. We will take care of the rest with the simple actions that show we are supported.”
The interview process, for example, is a major hurdle — if you can’t hear or speak over the phone well, it could take you out of the running. Mondesir speaks from experience: Interviewing with employers was a major roadblock early in her career until receiving her cochlear implant. Her first employer was comfortable communicating via email before meeting in person — and that was incredibly helpful for her. The COVID-19 pandemic has made video calls more accessible and common, and Mondesir hopes usage of them continues well into the future.
Let go of old perceptions
Despite technology helping to break down some barriers, Mondesir believes old perceptions of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community are still present. A common assumption Mondesir has faced is that someone who cannot hear is unintelligent — and that couldn’t be further from the truth, she says. While a hard-of-hearing person may be slow to respond, it’s often because they are processing what was said and thinking about their response.
For Mondesir, her hearing impairment has made her highly observant and adaptable. She’s highly attuned to body language and nonverbal cues, which helps her build relationships with her accounting clients.
“I may not be the person who gets the attention and makes a big splash. But, once a relationship is established, I am the person who keeps the relationship going because I truly am listening, even if I can’t hear as well,” Mondesir says.
The power of mentorship
Beyond that, a mentor or sponsor can also be incredibly helpful, adds Mondesir, because “more is possible than you think with the right people backing you up.” It’s advice that can benefit employees of all abilities, but it’s especially important for those with disabilities, says Mondesir.
“I just want other hard-of-hearing accountants to know that they aren’t alone, their perspectives do matter, and there is a place for them in this field. Don’t give up finding it and don’t lose your voice — people need to hear you and realize what they are missing,” Mondesir urges.