Deaf employees in the workplace

If your organisation is working towards principles such as inclusion and diversity, deaf employees can enhance your organisation’s offer to the public. The only limitation to any deaf person is the limit you place on a potential employee due to your own ideas about deafness (also known as unconscious bias).  Each person manages their hearing loss or deafness differently – what works for one person, will be different for another.

Employers become more inclusive for a number of reasons. Maybe you need to widen your customer base to remain sustainable, or maybe your company works in a sector where there are skills shortages. As an employer, you may have never considered employing someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.

Supporting work colleagues who are deaf or have some level of hearing loss is easier than you think. Even sudden hearing loss can be accommodated by accessible technological advances that make tasks such as communicating by phone, easier than ever before.

What do I need to know about deafness or hearing loss?

There are four levels of hearing loss and each level will determine the level of adjustment needed (if any) for communication. Watch the clip below for a better understanding of the types of hearing loss:

Is there a cost to recruiting a deaf person?

The UK government has an employment support programme that aims to help disabled people stay in work, called Access to Work. Access to Work is a grant that covers the costs of equipment, adaptations or communication support that an employee may need to be in work. So, for a deaf person, they may need a sign language interpreter, speech to text software or a textphone so they can communicate with other people outside your organisation.

Small organisations are unlikely to contribute to any costs. However, you may need to contribute if your company has more than 250 employees.

Quite often adjustments are small, cost nothing and yet provide significant benefit in terms of continued productivity and employee well-being.

What adjustments do I need to make for a deaf employee?

You need to be aware that any adjustments are dependent on your employee’s level of hearing loss. Some adjustments are simple cost effective adjustments that can be made at short notice. Other adjustments may involve purchasing equipment. Below are some examples of the types of support that may be needed for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing:

  • Written information (copies of presentations prior to a meeting)
  • Textphone
  • Captioning software
  • Hearing loop (for meetings)
  • Sign Language interpreter, Lip speaker

There are many other adjustments that could be made depending on the type of environment a deaf employee is working in. If you need further information about the type of adjustments, then please contact us for more details.

Jobs are accessible (with adjustments):

Hearing loss or deafness does not necessarily hamper a person’s ability to do a specific job – even activities such as responding to telephone calls can be carried out with the use of textphones or communication professionals.

Now that your company is ready to become more inclusive, you need to let prospective employees know you exist. Below are a few tips to help you with the employment process.

Advertising the vacancy to attract deaf employees:

The current government campaign ‘Disability Confident’ encourages employers to think positively about disability and employment. You can take part in the scheme by registering on the Disability Confident website.

There are also specialist job boards such as Evenbreak. Alternatively, you could advertise jobs with smaller local organisations who will have direct links to candidates you are trying to attract.

If a suitable candidate applies for a vacancy, there are a number of actions you can take before and during employment to ensure a smooth transition into your organisation.

i. Ask what support (if any) is needed to attend the interview

This question shows that you take inclusive employment seriously and that you are aware of your responsibilities under the Equality Act. However, before asking the question you need to know the types of support available and where you can find them. For example, you may be required to provide a Sign Language interpreter. (We have provided some helpful hints should you need to work with one).

Sometimes the prospective employee has arranged their own support although be aware that it is your legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments (including arranging support). It is important not to make assumptions about the type of support that might be needed. Always check with the person being interviewed. Asking for advice from the interviewee shows you value their input.

ii. Interviews:

Adjustments may need to be made depending on the type of interview you run. For example, turn-taking in group activities enables all group members to contribute to discussions.

Make sure the environment is suitable for lip reading. For example, adjust the lighting so that you are not sitting with any light is behind you. Bad lighting can cast a shadow on your face, making lip-reading difficult.

Be aware that lip-reading generally is not an exact science. For example, people with strong accents have different mouth patterns which can be difficult to lip-read. The interviewee will also be nervous so the ability to lip-read may be hampered even more than usual.

Adjustments, such as giving the interviewee the list of questions in writing before the interview can help put a deaf candidate at ease.

Welcoming new deaf employees:

Induction Training

Check that resources are accessible. For example, do training videos have captions? If not, an alternative form of support such as an interpreter may be useful.

Starting work, adapting skills and fitting in with the company culture can be a daunting task. A deaf employee also has to get used to communicating new people. So make sure communication channels are adjusted (e.g. allow text messaging) so your new employee can contact you if there are problems.

Support existing staff

Adding Deaf Awareness training to your professional development training programme will empower existing staff. They will develop the confidence to use different forms of communication.

Work-life generally:

Reasonable adjustments need to be considered for any group activities such as staff training and team-building days. So give your employee plenty of notice o arrange interpreters in good time for company events.

Top Tips for adjusting meetings at work:

You want to create a positive work environment for deaf or hard of hearing employees. One of the most difficult situations for employers is adjusting meetings or training sessions at work. Below are our top tips for adjusting meetings for deaf employees:

Before the Meeting:
· Consider the layout of the room (i.e. circular seating) in order to provide good communication.
· Ideally, use a room where a hearing loop has been fitted.
· Hold meetings in a quiet, well-lit room.
· Ask deaf or hard-of-hearing employees if they prefer an interpreter.
· Let deaf employees determine the best seating arrangement to see the speaker and interpreter.
· Assign a person to inform deaf or hard-of-hearing employees of important announcements.

During the Meeting
· Point to the person who is speaking.
· Watch for signals that deaf or hard-of-hearing employees wish to contribute.
· Ensure that one person speaks at a time.
· Do not pace while giving a presentation.
· Speak clearly and slowly.
· Do not talk with your back to the audience while writing on a whiteboard.
. Keep jargon to a minimum

After the Meeting
· Have minutes or notes taken for future reference.
· Review critical issues introduced in a meeting to ensure understanding.

· Use hands-on demonstrations to assist in training.
· Allow extra time for communication when training.
· Provide an outline of the training session.
· Assign a mentor to work directly with deaf or hard-of-hearing employees during the training period.

· Incorporate visual aids, demonstrations, flip charts, written agendas, and handouts in presentations
· Use appropriate captioning on video clips.

In Case of Emergency
· Use a buddy system to alert deaf or hard-of-hearing employees to emergency situations.
· Install flashing lights to work in conjunction with auditory alarms.
· Review safety procedures, including exits and alarms.
· Use texting, e-mail or pager to contact deaf or hard-of-hearing employees in the event of an emergency.
· Notify security if deaf or hard-of-hearing employees are alone in work areas.

We encourage employers to sign up to the Disability Confident scheme.