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2/20/2013

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CEO: Hiring Deaf Workers Helped Grow Our Company

Offers Tips for Blending Hearing, Non-Hearing Workforce


There are myriad benefits to companies that hire disabled people, from gaining excellent problem-solvers with above-average attendance and productivity records, to earning federal tax credits.

“Unfortunately, too many companies worry that the benefits will be offset by the costs to accommodate those employees – not true, by the way,” says Sean Belanger, CEO of  CSDVRS, the parent company of Stratus Video (www.stratusvideo.com), which provides On-Demand Interpreting to hospitals, and ZVRS video phone service for the deaf.

While unemployment is just more than 7 percent nationally, it was 13.5 percent as of September for disabled workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“At Stratus Video, 68 percent of our employees who don’t work as interpreters are deaf or hard of hearing,” Belanger says. “All of our 250-plus contractors across the country are deaf, and three of our eight company vice presidents are deaf. We’ve grown to more than $50 million in revenue and we were recently named to the Inc. 5000 list of top Tampa-metro area businesses. Thanks in large part to our diverse workforce!”

Integrating Stratus Video’s hearing and non-hearing employees involved facilitating communication, which wasn’t difficult, Belanger concedes, given that’s the company’s specialty:

    • In-house trainers teach the hearing employees American Sign Language.

    • Each employee has access to a video phone and video software so all can communicate both visually and vocally.

    • The company’s Human Resources department found coverage for hearing aids and cochlear implants, not covered by insurance, to ease communication for hard-of-hearing employees.

Benefits to the company have been numerous, Belanger says. His deaf employees are committed, engaged and come up with solutions to problems based on insights unique to their experience. A U.S. Department of Education study supports that assessment. It found that disabled employees in general are average or above average in performance, quality and quantity of work, flexibility and attendance.

“If that’s not enough, companies that hire disabled people can also qualify for federal tax benefits,” Belanger adds.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a disabled person is defined for work purposes as someone who is deaf or has serious difficulty hearing; blind or has serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses; has serious difficulty concentrating, making decisions or doing errands alone because of a physical or mental condition; serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs; or difficulty dressing.

Among the tax incentives are the Work Opportunity Credit; the Disabled Access Credit; and the Architectural Barrier Removal Credit. In addition, the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit offers incentives for hiring vets with service-connected disabilities. You can find out how much your company may qualify by using the Hire Gauge, a free tool at ThinkBeyondtheLabel.com.

Belanger suggests thinking creatively when recruiting disabled employees. His company recruits from Rochester Institute of Technology’s Technical Institute for the Deaf and Gallaudet University for the Deaf. They also hire four deaf interns every summer.

Belanger was recently named CEO of the Year by the National Association of the Deaf.

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