Clare Vale, managing director of Sign Solutions, explores how Deaf Awareness Training can help employers improve inclusivity for Deaf workers in the workplace
Over nine million people in England are affected by hearing loss and over four million of those people are of working age. With working from home now the norm for many businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever for employers to support staff members with hearing loss so they can work well and contribute their best in the workplace.
Why do Deaf employees face workplace exclusion?
Unfortunately, the Deaf community face exclusion in many aspects of their lives, from trying to access local services to seeking medical advice and finding employment.
At work, feelings of isolation can become particularly apparent. In fact, research on the experience of people with hearing loss and employment found that just over two-thirds [68%] agreed that they sometimes felt isolated at work because of their hearing loss. If not addressed, this can prevent Deaf employees from fulfilling their potential and could even force them to leave employment altogether.
For many Deaf employees, the adjustment to working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic has been especially problematic, with a lack of digital accessibility inhibiting them from doing their jobs properly.
If employers fail to give Deaf employees the support they need, their business’ productivity could suffer, they could lose valuable and skilled employees and be left with the costs of recruiting and training new members of staff. However, with the right adjustments and employer support, hearing loss does not have to present a barrier in the workplace, or when working from home.
What are employers’ obligations with regards to Deaf staff members?
Under The Equality Act 2010, all employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for Deaf staff members so they are not put at a disadvantage with non-disabled people and agreed reasonable adjustments for home-based working still apply during and after the current pandemic.
The term ‘reasonable adjustment’ is open to interpretation, but the aim must be, as far as possible, to remove or reduce any disadvantage faced by Deaf worker(s). The necessary changes will depend on the company’s size, the type of work the Deaf employee carries out and the available financial support, but employers must be prepared to make any adjustments so their Deaf employee can fulfil their duties just as well as any other worker. Employers should start by becoming educated about their Deaf employee and the challenges they may face in the workplace – this is where Deaf Awareness Training can help tremendously.
What is Deaf Awareness Training and how can it help?
According to Action on Hearing Loss, the main reason Deaf employees are without support is because they feel colleagues lack the knowledge to help, and almost half of survey respondents said Deaf awareness [“information on educating your colleagues or managers”] would help them fulfil their potential.
Deaf Awareness Training is a great way for employers to become Deaf-aware. Being a Deaf-aware organisation shows people that a business is committed to equality of access. Deaf Awareness Training workshops are fun and interactive and can help employers make decisions on reasonable adjustments for Deaf staff members. It can also help facilitate effective communication between Deaf/hard of hearing and hearing employees.
A good Deaf Awareness Training provider will create individual packages to meet an organisation’s specific needs. The training can include an introduction to British Sign Language [BSL] to help facilitate effective communication within teams between Deaf/hard of hearing and hearing employees and should cover what BSL is, the differences between BSL and Makaton, Deaf culture, fingerspelling and lipreading.
Once a business has completed Deaf Awareness Training they will be able to communicate comfortably and confidently with Deaf staff members, identify issues, improve accessibility and understand where to apply the Equality Act 2010 to really help Deaf colleagues feel supported, equal and included adding to overall business success.
Deaf Awareness Training will be particularly beneficial for businesses currently working from home, as it can help make remote working more positive and productive for all members of staff, allowing Deaf employees to feel more understood and at ease when physically isolated from the rest of the workforce.
Knowing how to cater for Deaf staff members can be challenging for employers, especially if they have limited previous experience working with people with hearing loss, but Deaf employees have the same right to feel accepted and included at work as anyone else.
In addition to Deaf Awareness Training, there is a multitude of other support available to help business owners navigate the complexities of managing a Deaf employee’s needs. With the right knowledge and guidance, it is possible to get the very best out of Deaf employees, not just whilst working from home throughout the pandemic, but in a post-coronavirus world, too.
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