How Deaf Aware Is Your Workplace?

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By Jessie Hayes

This week Jessie Hayes, Digital Strategist at Forward Action, is sharing her reflections, insights and top tips on deaf awareness in the workplace, during the pandemic and beyond.

The pandemic has made life difficult for most of us in one way or another. As someone living with severe hearing loss, I have new anxieties about leaving lockdown that those without hearing loss may not have considered. We’re heading into a different world – one shaped by new rules, priorities and routines.

This week it’s Deaf Awareness Week in the UK. Every day you’re likely to meet someone who is deaf or has some level of hearing loss, so here are a couple of things I’d love for you to have in mind, particularly as we head back to the office (and the pub).

Deaf awareness benefits everyone

Did you know that 1 in 5 adults have a significant hearing loss? That includes more than 40% of people over 50 years old. This means it’s not just about making adjustments for those who are profoundly deaf or visibly hard of hearing (someone wearing hearing aids, for example).

Many people will be living with a hearing loss that hasn’t been diagnosed, or for which they don’t have communication aids. Only 40% of people who could benefit from hearing aids actually have them.

Even those that aren’t hard of hearing can struggle to hear in echo-y spaces or with excessive background noise. Essentially – being deaf aware directly supports a larger proportion of the population than most would think, and clear communication benefits everyone.

Communicating remotely

We’ve all had lots of practise working remotely over the last year, but it can be easy to let accessibility slip if it’s not embedded in your working habits. Here’s some things to have in mind that will help all of us communicate easier:

  • On video calls, do you turn your camera on when speaking, so that others on the call can lip read and see visual cues?
  • Do you mute yourself when not speaking, to reduce background noise and sound quality interference?
  • If you’re giving verbal instructions, do you also write them down or show them on a slide?
  • Could you talk to your workplace about installing a live-speech-to-text app or other communication aids? RNID are running free online seminars every day during Deaf Awareness Week, so this is a great place to start.

Face masks and deaf awareness

Many of the UK’s 12 million people who are deaf or have hearing loss rely on facial expressions and lipreading to communicate. With face masks mandatory right now, and likely to be encouraged for some time, those who lip read will continue to face communication challenges.

People who are deaf or have hearing loss must be able to communicate in public spaces, while also protecting themselves and others.

So if you’re back in the office, the pub, or anywhere else, remember that you’re allowed to temporarily lower your face covering (while still maintaining social distancing) to communicate with someone who relies on lipreading or facial expressions. Face the person you’re speaking to, lower your mask if it’s safe to do so, speak clearly and move away from any noise that might be interfering.

Taking time to adjust

Having spent a year working (and socialising) at home, with my headphones plugged in and the luxury of minimal background noise, I’m apprehensive about heading back to the office.

I’ll have less control over when and how I need to be able to hear. Having headphones in for calls will mean anxiety about not being able to hear those around me and I’ll need to get used to filtering out background noise again. Simple things like colleagues being mindful of volume levels when we’re in shared workspaces or signalling visually for my attention as well as asking for it will really help me settle back in.

Be mindful of everyone (not just those with hearing loss) as we get back to busy, noisy spaces – some might find it a more challenging adjustment than others.

If you’d like more information on how to make your organisation more inclusive and accessible for people with hearing loss visit RNID. Our partner organisation NDCS also has information and advice specific to children with hearing loss.


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Written by Jessie Hayes

Digital Strategist