2 May 2022

Deaf Awareness Week: Deaf Inclusion

For Deaf Awareness Week starting on 2 May, Keith blogs on the theme of inclusion, and how it can be improved for deaf people in the workplace.

The theme for Deaf Awareness Week (DAW) this year is Inclusion. The UK Council on Deafness says “deaf individuals often feel unsupported, unwanted, invisible, and excluded. Deafness very often goes hand in hand with other invisible challenges” on of which is mental health.  DAW (2-8 May) is focusing on Inclusion Deafness to highlight the impact of hearing loss on everyday life, the importance of mental health, to increase the visibility and inclusion of underrepresented groups amongst the deaf and raise issues of deafness being overlooked within education and the workplace.

I was born with mild hearing loss and use hearing aids. I didn’t actually need to get hearing aids until I started working in the Scottish Government, as it was the first time I’d ever worked in an open plan office. The background noise prevented me from hearing colleagues sitting near me.

The workplace, for those deaf or deafened, can be a challenging environment, especially the open plan offices favoured by many employers. Keyboard noise, chatter, printers, doors opening or closing etc. can all prevent someone hearing properly or interfere with hearing aids – which can often struggle to pick out human voices from background noise (although the technology is improving all the time). These problems can all lead to a deaf person feeling excluded from the day to day life of a workplace.

Working from home or in quieter or individual offices can be a reasonable adjustment for someone with hearing loss but where that’s not possible, other factors in the building and awareness from your colleagues can help make the workplace more inclusive and accommodating. Equipping meeting rooms with induction loops, asking all speakers at an event to use microphones and face the audience or deaf(ened) person and using subtitles on recorded material can all help. Sign language interpreters should be standard for any large events. Training for colleagues to allow them to be aware of lip-reading needs or to speak clearly etc. is of great benefit to all, not just the person with hearing loss.

The RNID website has information on how to communicate better and how to make meetings deaf aware.

If you have issues in your workplace because of your hearing, raise it with your manager, document it in your workplace disability passport if you have one and speak to your local PCS rep. Our reps are trained in issues concerning disabilities and you have the legal right to have adjustments made for you by your employer. Often very simple and inexpensive modifications to your working environment can make all the difference.