A few weeks ago, The North East Initiative on Business Ethics and our charity, Deaf Awareness North East came together at St Andrew’s Church in Newcastle to debate: “Deaf Employment. What barriers do Deaf People have in finding work? What can business do? Is it easier to get a job if you have been in Prison than if you are Deaf?”

There are approximately eleven million people in the UK with some form of deafness. This can range from profoundly deaf people who hear nothing at all without hearing device input, to people who report slight deafness in one ear or the other. A whole host of other people live in denial of deafness and learn to navigate their day through bluffing conversation and modifying ways of living, such as altering where they go, what they do.

That’s one in six people living in our communities who might struggle as employees and customers with things such as basic face-to-face communications, contributing to staff meetings, with the natural flow of social and work colleague interactions, and with receiving instruction or deciphering announcements.

Too often deafness negatively defines the person, to the detriment of their individual skillset and knowledge base, missing out on their sometimes positively altered view of the world, their increased empathy for others with perceived differences and their strengths for particular tasks. Getting on with the job without the interruption of idle chit-chat is regularly forwarded as a plus point for a deaf employee, though we must of course guard against this being regarded as the sole quality of specific individuals.

To get the debate going a presentation was given by Helen Kerridge, one of our key deaf awareness raising trainers.

Garnered from the daily experiences that many deaf people face with communication breakdowns, leading to frustration and often withdrawal and isolation, our presentation focussed on the underlying message that businesses, and indeed individual people, can make practical adjustments and take on collective mindsets that will help to improve communication between deaf and hearing people and, ultimately, improve the inclusion possibilities of deaf people.

Helen related much of her own personal story of her search for work as her hearing worsened over the years, citing times of indirect discrimination alongside the more positive approaches of employers implementing reasonable adjustments to help make her a fully valued member of a staff team.

As an organisation we have evidenced positive changes via the undertaking of deaf awareness training and would encourage all businesses to adopt some basic tips and strategies toward deaf inclusion.

The deaf person often has a positive view of the world, with increased empathy for others having perceived differences and strengths for particular tasks, yet highly qualified individuals struggle to find employment. Some of the common barriers deaf people face in finding work are:

  • Lack of deaf awareness amongst employers
  • Communication issues
  • Lack of awareness of the Government’s Access to Work Scheme from employers
  • Direct and indirect discrimination
  • Lack of awareness by employers of their duties under the Equality Act 2010
  • Employer attitudes
  • Lack of accessible careers advice
  • Dismissive guidance from career advisers, teachers, parents and employers
  • Lack of key support services for deaf people seeking employment
  • Lack of Deaf Advisors in Job Centres
  • Poor literacy rates and under-qualifications
  • Lack of skills and training for deaf people
  • Barriers to voluntary work
  • Low self esteem/confidence
  • Worries about revealing my deafness on my CV and job application forms

Businesses could and should do more to employ deaf people. What then can they do?

  • Make their businesses more inclusive
  • Break down communication barriers through deaf awareness training
  • Work with the DWP to support the promotion of Access to Work
  • Gain knowledge and understanding of the government’s Access to Work Scheme/flexibility with ‘Reasonable Adjustments’
  • Guard against direct and indirect discrimination
  • Develop a standard within businesses that recognises talented deaf employees
  • Provide better job placements/deaf role models for young deaf people
  • Target the government to provide more specific support to help deaf people look for work and keep gainful employment
  • Do not assume

Businesses looking to employ deaf people and to cater for deaf customers can learn more and receive practical advice and information from the deaf awareness training delivered by the deaf members of deaf awareness: NE.

To find out more, or to book a training package, please email info@deafawarenessne.org.uk

Derek Craigie – Chief Executive Officer, deaf awareness: NE