A 2016 survey by Totaljobs found that one in four deaf people have quit their job due to discrimination and 47% reported receiving no specific support or guidance from employers.
With more than 11 million people in the UK living with some form of hearing loss, and more than 900,000 being severely or profoundly deaf, we still have a long way to go as a country in educating employers on how to assist the hard of hearing.
Carolyn Tucker, a Surrey Choices employee, explains how she helped a young woman get paid employment at Squires Garden Centre.
“I had been helping Jacqui look and apply for work for a while prior to her no longer being eligible for our service. She had applied without any help for a vacancy at a cafe in Walton on Thames to work in the kitchen. After learning that she couldn’t get Access to Work to pay for an interpreter to help her at the interview, I offered to accompany her.
After explaining to staff why I was there, I helped Jacqui with signing and when we struggled to communicate, we wrote things down instead. Some of the interview questions were already written down so Jacqui could have an opportunity to get to grips with what was being asked. Usually interviewees don’t get to see the questions beforehand, but this simple act made it so much easier for Jacqui to understand the process.
It is important for employers to understand that adjustments have to be made when interviewing people who are deaf – especially if there has been no time to arrange for an interpreter. Access to Work (ATW) will fund an interpreter, but if the interview is going to take place quickly, then sometimes this is difficult to arrange as an application has to be made to them at least a few days in advance. It is not a case of picking up the phone and asking for help – in Jacqui’s case it requires emails or texts which take longer.
Deaf people are sometimes unable to write an application request for a job as their grammar is different to the way we speak. The subject is always first, i.e., we say “what is your name” but they say “name, you, what.” For this reason, many employers who are unfamiliar with the way deaf people speak will find it difficult to understand why it is written this way. This in turn can lead to them throwing out application forms simply because they don’t fit the usual expectations.
It is always this way around when we are signing, i.e., subject first, “shopping, you go, where?” “Where do you go shopping?”
Employers also need to read the application form properly. Jacqui has received phone calls on many occasions inviting her to an interview in a couple of days – again – no time to get an interpreter arranged in some cases. If the deaf person doesn’t have someone around to listen to the message and call the future employer back confirming they will attend an interview, it can sometimes result in a rushed interview or missed interview. Jacqui always points out she can’t hear and prefers text or email correspondence.
Employers can sometimes forget about employees who are deaf at meetings. Some employees will have their own one-to-one support interpreter. It is unfortunately common for them to be missed out when other staff are talking (say in the kitchen) about their weekend. They can miss out on jokes and day to day chats. Open plan offices can be difficult for people who are HOH (hard of hearing), i.e., background noise, people not speaking loud enough, forgetting they can’t hear or not facing you when they talk are all common issues that they face. It is difficult for HOH people to join in general conversations that take place in an office environment and often they are left out of things that are happening within the office. Educating other staff who work with anyone who can’t hear is very important as otherwise, the deaf person is going to feel isolated from the rest of the team.
If people want to gain a deaf person’s attention it might be agreed they would be happy for you to touch them or gently bang the table. Make sure you check with them what the best way to gain their attention is.
There needs to be more deaf awareness in companies to make everyone aware of the difficulties that deaf people face every day, preferably given by someone who is HOH themselves. There are many challenges in the workplace and a good employer will always take the disability into consideration. For example, all company training will include an interpreter for the employee. Even if they can lip read they will always need an interpreter to ensure they never miss anything which could be important.
Thanks to the support that was offered to Jacqui during the interview process, she is now in full time employment at Squires. The company went out of their way to get advice from us in order to make Jacqui’s experience as positive as possible and I hope that other businesses can follow suit.