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7th May, 2024

Victoria Sartain
Victoria Sartain
Job Title
Senior Content Writer

Working life has changed for many in recent years, requiring professionals to drastically alter their routines. For disabled people, these changes may have included fewer on-site days and greater use of tools to assist with remote/hybrid work. And while many deaf people and people with hearing loss do not necessarily consider themselves disabled (refer to the Equality Act 2010 for clarification), employers need to be sure they are not failing their staff with inadequate support. This means making sure policies are adhered to and meeting ‘reasonable adjustment’ requests with good grace.  

Here, Teri Devine, Director for Inclusion at RNID, offers advice on how to become a deaf-friendly organisation. 

Teri Devine - Director for Inclusion at RNID > Deaf Awareness Week blog

Q: What are the main challenges faced by deaf people and those with hearing loss in the workplace?  

A: Given the right support, people who are deaf or have hearing loss can thrive at work.  

Sadly, however, they are less likely to be employed than the general population and most people have felt stressed in work. RNID’s latest research shows that a quarter (25%) of deaf people said they have experienced negative attitudes and behaviours from work colleagues in the last 12 months, a figure which is almost double (49%) for British Sign Language (BSL) users. This can cause people to feel excluded and isolated, and even lead to early retirement.  

With hearing loss affecting one-in-eight adults of working age, it’s essential that employers know how to support people so they’re not missing out on vital talent. 

Q: How has the move to hybrid/remote working affected deaf people? 

A: Some people find that live captions make video conferencing calls easier than meetings in person, and the ability to have an interpreter remotely join video calls has allowed some BSL users to be more connected with their colleagues.  

Hybrid environments can be the most challenging, with people in a room sharing a laptop or a deaf person dialling into a physical room but unable to see or hear who is talking. Whether you work in person, remotely or in a hybrid environment, it’s important to have open conversations with staff with hearing loss and know how best to support them. 

Q: Are there common misconceptions about deaf employees that often impact their careers? What’s the solution? 

A: Unfortunately, our research found that over half of people with hearing loss do not disclose it to their employer because they feel embarrassed, they think they may be treated differently, and they worry it will have a negative impact on their job prospects.  Organisations need to normalise discussion about hearing loss, in recognition of how common a condition it is.  

Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for people who are disabled because of hearing loss, but many will be simple and free or inexpensive to implement. It could include improving the working environment, offering flexible working or providing assistive products. The government’s Access to Work scheme can help organisations cover the cost of more expensive workplace adjustments such as communication support. To be able to give the best tailored support, we recommend offering the employee a workplace assessment.  

Q: Has much progress been made in recent years by employers to be more inclusive? Are workplace tech tools making a big difference? 

A: Technology is moving at a pace, whether it is mainstream or assistive tech. Each employee with hearing loss is individual and should have a workplace assessment to decide which technologies would best suit their needs.   

Q: When recruiting deaf people, what considerations should employers make? 

A: Make sure your job adverts let applicants know you champion equality and diversity and support people to fulfil their potential. Offer alternative ways for people to contact you, such as an email address as well as a phone number, and use plain English to support people who use BSL as their first language.  

Clearly state on the application form that you offer communication support at interviews, including a sign language interpreter or speech-to-text-reporter. Make sure the applicant knows what to expect during an interview, so they can let you know whether adjustments are needed. At the offer stage, be proactive in offering support so that adjustments can be made before the applicant starts the job. Visit RNID’s website for more advice on making recruitment accessible.  

Q: Is BSL being adopted by more organisations?  

A: RNID offers remote training in Deaf Awareness and BSL to help you communicate with deaf colleagues and customers. It’s fantastic to see hundreds of businesses from all sectors taking part in training, and to see the positive effect this has. Nine-out-of-10 businesses said they would be very likely to recommend RNID training and 83% described their knowledge of the subject as good or excellent after training. 

Q: What’s involved in becoming a deaf-friendly employer? 

A: There are lots of simple things that employers can do. Make recruitment, offer, and induction stages accessible by offering workplace assessments and give staff the opportunities to share experiences. Provide Deaf Awareness Training to enable staff to communicate with deaf colleagues, and ensure line managers are confident managing staff who disclose hearing loss and know how to implement reasonable adjustments.  

It's also important to create a culture where staff can talk about hearing loss – one easy way to do this is to roll our RNID’s online hearing test. 

Q: What can employers do to mark Deaf Awareness Week? 

A: Sign up to receive RNID’s Deaf Awareness pack, which includes free resources and activities to learn more about the challenges facing people who are deaf or have hearing loss and how to support them. 

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