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Deaf Awareness Week: Supporting deaf employees in the workplace

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Deaf Awareness Week 2024 runs from 6-12 May and serves as a reminder of the importance of accessibility and independence for people who are either deaf or hard of hearing. 

It provides an opportunity for employers to provide support, learn about their employees’ experiences, and continue to work towards a more inclusive and accessible workplace.

According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, 12 million adults in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing and are 12% more likely to be unemployed than people who aren’t hard of hearing. Of those employed, 50% of employees who are hard of hearing feel reluctant to discuss their condition with their employer. 

Employees who are hard of hearing can find the workplace a difficult environment to be in at times, which may result in:

  • difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say, especially in noisy places;
  • asking people to repeat themselves;
  • listening to presentations or videos with the volume higher than other people need;
  • difficulty hearing on the phone;
  • finding it hard to keep up with a conversation; and
  • feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening.

These difficulties, coupled with the fact that many don’t discuss their condition with their employer, can lead to anxiety for employees who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Employers should be alive to these issues and seek to reduce the negative impacts as much as possible. 

What employers can do to help

From a legal perspective, employees who are hard of hearing may also have additional protection under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act) if their condition amounts to a disability as defined in the Act. If that is the case, then the employee would be protected from discrimination (including direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment) and the employer should also consider whether any reasonable adjustments could be made to support the individual. A failure to do so could result in the employee bringing a discrimination claim under the Act and, if successful, being entitled to an uncapped amount of compensation. 

When considering reasonable adjustments that could be made for employees who are hard of hearing, employers should: 

  • think about background noise and ways this can be reduced (e.g. by having quiet zones or areas where it is easier to concentrate);
  • adapt meetings so they are more accessible (i.e. recording or transcribing meetings so they can be listened to or asking someone to take notes during the meeting so they can be shared thereafter for reference);
  • consider which tasks are most suited to the individual dependant on their needs and abilities; or
  • consider whether assistive products and technology could be provided.

This is a non-exhaustive list and employers should always speak to the individual employee to understand what reasonable adjustments should be made to accommodate any impact that their deafness may have on their ability to carry out their work tasks.

By taking steps to improve working practices for those who are hard of hearing, businesses will also likely benefit from improved employee retention, as employees will feel supported in their roles. Where employers are unsure of how best to support employees who are not forthcoming with suggestions then seeking specialist advice externally is an option. 

Employers may also wish to go a step further than their legal obligations and provide additional support. For instance, employers may wish to provide company-wide training relating to deaf awareness and how colleagues who are hard of hearing can be supported. Additionally, in some instances, it may be a good idea for teams who have deaf colleagues to be taught basic sign language so they can communicate more easily with them. 

As with all matters of this nature, employers should ensure that it is approached sensitively as some employees may not feel comfortable disclosing or discussing their condition or its impacts.

Policies and procedures around supporting those who are deaf or hard of hearing should form part of a wider diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy. If you’re unsure whether your business is compliant with the rules and regulations around DEI, then Gateley’s DEI compliance audit can help. Our team of experts will examine your organisation’s policies and procedures to advise on how inclusive and compliant your business is. For more information on the DEI compliance audit, click here

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