Research shows that those with a hearing impairment or those who are hard of hearing, often have to work harder to secure employment opportunities. This is mainly due to employer lack of awareness and understanding around how to support people or make reasonable adjustments. Gov.UK reports that there are 11 million people in the UK who have hearing difficulties and only 65% of those who are of working age, are in employment, compared to 79% of the general population (Gov.uk: Statistics about hearing loss).
Although, it’s a legal obligation for employers to provide equal work opportunities to people of all abilities, as specified by the UK Equality Act and the Northern Ireland Disability Discrimination Act, it’s striking to note that people with hearing difficulties still face discrimination. A report conducted by The Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD) found that 63% of respondents said, “they had not been given equal opportunities at work” with 60% highlighting a lack of career progression and 83% feeling they had been excluded from conversations with colleagues (Hearing link: RAD research reveals significant barriers to employment for deaf people).
Having a mother who from the age of 3 became 98% deaf, IDEX Consulting Founder and CEO, Matt Green, understands only too well the barriers that the deaf community can face in the workplace. “After spending time doing fairly mundane jobs, my mum was able to get a part time job in a bank, which she got because she was bright and intelligent, but there were still barriers and limitations to the work she was able to do. Gradually, as the bank began to acknowledge the importance of equity, they provided mum with tools and extra bits of equipment that enabled her to do her job as well as her co-workers. There are still challenges many people with hearing impairments experience, so that’s why it’s more important than ever for employers to take the time to understand these barriers and proactively address them, by creating opportunities and making reasonable adjustments. This is essential in creating an inclusive environment that fosters diversity, innovation and growth.”
So, with that in mind, what specific challenges do people with hearing impairments face and how can employers support?
Lack of understanding and awareness
There are still a number of challenges around a lack of understanding by employers and the actions businesses need to take to create productive working environments for those with hearing difficulties. A key issued raised by respondents in a UK national survey was a lack of awareness amongst employers, communication concerns and barriers to tools and resources (Disability rights UK: RAD survey highlights barriers to work for D/deaf people). Furthermore, 53% of people said, “they did not feel supported at work…two thirds (69%) reported feeling lonely at work, whilst over half (59%) had been left out of social events” (Disability rights UK: RAD survey highlights barriers to work for D/deaf people). It’s therefore no surprise that over a half of those with a hearing impairment are reluctant to discuss it with their employer (RNID: Deaf awareness at work).
Different communication methods and tools are needed to ensure that someone with a hearing impairment can have the same experience as anyone else, whether that’s during an interview, meeting, presentation or general working environment. With 55% of communication being non-verbal (Disabled person: Challenges for deaf people in the workplace and how to overcome them) it’s important to raise awareness of non-verbal cues and alternative communication methods, such as sign language interpreters to improve communication for those with hearing difficulties.
The rise in remote working and the use of Teams and Zoom, can also present challenges for those who may rely on lip reading and body language. These platforms can become a significant barrier to communication, with buffering, un-synced sound and background noise disrupting the audio.
Things that people may take for granted are often not considered when it comes to making adjustments for those with hearing impairments. Processes need to be adjusted to ensure working environments are adapted, especially for critical regulations and procedures involving health and safety and technology.
Now we’ve looked at some of the barriers people may face, how can employers address these to attract diverse talent and create inclusive working environments?
Cast a wider net and evaluate the interview process
It’s important for businesses to evaluate their talent attraction methods and ensure job ads, descriptions and supporting content is accessible. Using alternative accessible communication formats such as textphones, subtitling, and sign language will help employers to tailor their communications to a wider talent pool. Interview practices should also be adapted to ensure prospective employees feel supported and have all the information they need to perform their best.
Assistive technology and tools
There are a number of tools and platforms employers can onboard to support those with hearing difficulties, such as amplified telephones, hearing loops, and applications. These don’t have to be expensive; a lot of existing software, smart phones and technology has in-built features that can help enhance communication and accessibility.
Deaf awareness training (DAT)
This helps an organisation, and its employees understand and respond to the needs of the deaf community. DAT can create a more inclusive workplace, ensuring those with hearing impairments feel less isolated and their needs understood. This will drive engagement, productivity and retention. Following DAT, a business will be able to identify any issues and barriers, communicate more effectively and confidently, and improve overall accessibility.
There are an number of things that can be considered to enhance the office environment for those with hearing impairments. A few examples include adding a flashing light to people’s phones when it rings, creating communal spaces for meetings without barriers such as glass panels, using speech recognition devices and having support networks available. The Access to work scheme can provide workplace assessments to ensure employees get the support they need, and barriers are removed.
There are many ways an employer can make their attraction and hiring practices more equitable for those with hearing impairments. As well as many other benefits, this will help to increase engagement, reduce attrition and ensure that personal needs and goals are supported.