Deaf Awareness Week is recognised from the 14th to 20th of May 2018. People from different sectors will be raising awareness all week. In terms of employers such as BSUH NHS Trust, it provides an opportunity for us to:
- review the structures and access they provide for deaf employees
- audit recruitment programmes for those with disabilities
- make sure you offer more than one way for potential applicants to contact the company – not just by telephone
- review interview arrangements for those who are deaf
- provide basic deaf awareness training for all staff.
Helping deaf people stay employed
People are happier when they are able to gain employment and employers do benefit from recruiting diverse people in terms of reducing group think, planning services from different perspectives and having staff that are reflective of their service users.
Unfortunately, deaf people are four times less likely to be employed than the rest of the population in the UK and those in employment face routine discrimination. Even worse, the majority of deaf people face discrimination at interview stage. There is also a general lack of knowledge and willingness to learn among organisations and employees about how to ensure fair access for those who are deaf.
Supporting deaf people early in their career is crucial to ensuring they build confidence and are integrated into workplace practices and processes. Many deaf people have to leave their jobs because of inadequate structures and adjustments in the workplace.
Thinking about the workplace for your deaf colleagues
(1) Deaf people get information in far smaller chunks which can be a problem when trying to progress in the workplace. Hearing people are able to absorb more information very quickly within the first few years into a job compared with deaf people. This is because deaf people do not always have access to all the different ways people communicate at work – many get left behind.
(2) Make sure your department is assessed before a new deaf colleague joins your team. This demonstrates your commitment to long-term support and ensures they can hit the ground running. Make sure there is access to alternative forms of communication, for example vibrating listening devices, flashing signs for fire alarms.
(3) Many recruiters have a fixed view of a deaf person in terms of what they can and can’t do. Some find it impossible to believe that a deaf person can manage teams and supervise others, deliver presentations or represent an organisation. Make sure you encourage as many members of your team to receive deaf awareness training.
(4) Are you sure hot-desking is for everyone? Hot desking creates problems because the colleagues around you change frequently, making it more difficult to educate them about deaf awareness. It also means that the deaf person has to keep explaining themselves everytime they move to a new area, especially in large organisations.
(5) Have you considered the office layout? Noisy open plan offices with a lot of feedback noise will invariably cause problems for someone who is deaf. Have you considered making all your offices access friendly regardless of disability?
Tips for communicating with a deaf person
- Make sure you have face-to-face contact. Ask the person if they need to lip read. Do not cover your mouth with your hands; the person will not be able to lip read.
- Always get the listener’s attention before you start speaking – wave or tap them on the arm.
- Speak clearly, use natural facial expressions and gestures. Do not speak excessively slowly and do not exagerrate your lip movements – it makes it harder to lipread.
- When talking to a large group, do not just focus on hearing people.
- If you are using communication support, remember to talk directly to the person you are communicating with and not the interpreter.
- There is no need to shout – it can be uncomfortable for those using a hearing aid.
- Make sure the environment is suitable with good lighting to aid lipreading and away from background noise, distractions and excessive feedback (e.g. from wooden floors).
- Always offer to check that the person is following the conversation.
- It can be isolating if you are the only deaf person in your team. Try and remember this when you are communicating with your deaf colleague. Inclusion is something we can all learn. Once you practice including someone in everything in the workplace it becomes habit, and inclusive behaviour is normalised. This makes for a healthier working environment for the deaf person.
- Keep trying even if a deaf person does not understand what you’re saying the first few times. When someone says ‘oh, don’t worry. It doesn’t matter’ it feels like they mean ‘you don’t matter’. You can always try rephrasing what you are trying to communicate.
I have listed some further reading which you may find useful. Be proactive about making your workplace more inclusive!
If you are someone who has made significant inroads into improving the lives of deaf people in the workplace, I would love to hear from you. It is always helpful to learn about improvements from others so we can better meet the needs of our employees. You can contact me on Olivia.King@bsuh.nhs.uk or use the website contact form.