Published: 4th May 2023
The 1st to 7th of May is Deaf Awareness Week, a campaign that promotes awareness of the challenges faced by the D/deaf community in accessing communication and the barriers that exist in society.
During this blog, we’ll explore the barriers and struggles that exist for the D/deaf community in the workplace. However, before we get into the finer details, it’s worth ensuring that employers and colleagues understand the correct terms to ensure language is inclusive and non-discriminatory.
Be Deaf Aware
The Deaf Awareness Week campaign explains the three terms used to describe deafness.
Hard of hearing: is used to describe people with some hearing loss who may have difficulty hearing some speech, especially whispering.
deafened: describes those who have lost their hearing due to accident or illness. These people will have most likely learned to speak, read, and write before they lost their hearing.
Deaf: is used to describe those either born without hearing or lost their hearing during early childhood or infancy. As such, Deaf people will have learned Sign Language as their first language.
You may see that ‘deafened’ has been written in lowercase – this isn’t a typo. The word Deaf is capitalised when referring to people who have been deaf their whole lives. When not capitalised, deaf describes anyone with a severe hearing problem that they weren’t born with and therefore have become deafened.
Barriers in the Workplace
Research by the Royal Association of Deaf People (RAD) reveals some concerning statistics, notably that 63% of D/deaf people believe they’re not given equal opportunities at work.
Deafness is a protected characteristic within the Equality Act 2010, and as such, employers deemed to be discriminating against D/deaf employees could be taken to tribunal.
Take a moment to think about how your business or team runs meetings.
Does the presenter use slides as a talking point, putting minimal text on the screen and delivering most of the content verbally? It’s how people are advised to present, but we can immediately see how that would impact those hard of hearing, deafened or Deaf.
Learning & Development
How does your business deliver its learning and development training modules?
Online video learning is becoming more popular and is a beneficial training method for neurodiverse employees. However, they are often heavily reliant on audio, creating a barrier for those within the D/deaf community. You can overcome this by ensuring you always add subtitles to the audio track.
Team Building Sessions
Whether held onsite or at a dedicated venue, team-building sessions can be problematic for D/deaf or hard-of-hearing employees.
With many businesses adopting remote and hybrid working practices, team away days are a welcome occasion for colleagues to engage face-to-face. This means lots of people having multiple conversations, which leads us to some of the other statistics highlighted by RAD as listed below:
- 83% of D/deaf employees felt excluded from conversations with their colleagues
- 69% said they felt lonely at work
- 59% felt left out when attending social events.
Creating an Inclusive Environment
Regarding inclusivity, there are laws businesses must adhere to, including making reasonable adjustments. However, as with employees or job seekers with neurodiversity (such as ADHD, autism, or dyslexia), there’s no obligation to disclose deafness.
However, being open and honest with employers would be advantageous to ensure the necessary support is received.
D/deaf job seekers can apply for a grant from Access to Work to get assistance in paying for communication devices and the technology that will help them when starting or returning to work.
In addition, organisations should assess each employee’s needs and consider adding hearing loops to the office or purchasing speech-to-text reporters. These adjustments will make the workspace more accessible for D/deaf employees, making it easier to engage with colleagues.
Hearing loops may not make a difference to Deaf employees, but speech-to-text reporters will, making verbal communication more accessible.
Deaf Aware Meetings
In businesses today, many meetings, catch-ups and calls are done via a virtual meetings provider. These all have D/deaf-aware features such as turning on live captions and recording and sharing meeting transcripts.
All it takes is a behaviour change to ensure these steps are always taken. Additionally, it’s best practice for all participants to turn on their video to allow for lip reading.
Making Employee Benefits Accessible with Sodexo Engage
Communicating the employee benefits you’ve made available to your people will likely be via written communication such as posters and email. What needs further thought is what those benefits look like in terms of the D/deaf user experience.
Here at Sodexo Engage, we have an in-house customer service team that helps, when needed, with the use of some of our employee benefits. To support clients and customers from the D/deaf community, our team is trained in the use of a translation/text phone service which is free to use.
Making Use of Benefits
Many of our employee benefits are physical or digital and, therefore, accessible to all. These include retailer discounts, vouchers, salary sacrifice schemes, or prepaid cards (to list a few). However, there are services where accessibility needs to be considered.
Online GP, our virtual GP service, has several features that make accessing medical support inclusive for D/deaf employees. Available via an app on your employees’ phones, all instructions are written, as is the general medical advice. Online GP and ANP consultations are performed via video, which creates the opportunity for lipreading and captions.
Our Employee Assistance Programme provides employees access to BCAP-accredited counsellors 24/7, 365 days a year, by phone, via email, an app, and face-to-face. These options ensure your D/deaf employees can still access crucial mental health support when needed.
Visit our blog and guide sections to find more helpful information for employers. Arrange a call with one of our employee wellbeing and engagement experts for help and support in creating an inclusive and accessible employee benefits package.