The importance of Deaf awareness in the workplace
Published by HearFirst for HearFirst in Health and also in Communities, Education, Housing, Local Government
With one in six people in the UK suffering from some degree of hearing loss, organisations, particularly those with front line members of staff, are being encouraged to raise awareness of the different types of deafness.
Next week, over one hundred deaf charities and organisations across the UK will be celebrating national Deaf Awareness Week, which is co-ordinated by the UK Council on Deafness.
The week-long campaign between May, 7 to 13, aims to improve the understanding of the different types of deafness by highlighting the methods of communication used by deaf, deafened, deafblind and hard of hearing people, such as sign language and lipreading.
Deaf Awareness Week is now is its ninth year and has been continually supported by a 41-year-old mother of two from Bacup in Lancashire.
Julie Ryder suddenly found that she was going deaf and had a mild loss of hearing in 1991 after answering the telephone at work.
“I answered the phone at work one day and couldn’t hear the other person on the line. I swapped the handset over to my other ear and still couldn’t hear so I made an appointment to get my ears tested. It was during those tests when my whole life changed.” said Julie.
Over time, Julie’s hearing deteriorated and by 2000, she became profoundly deaf on both sides. She had hearing aids fitted but found it difficult and tiring to lip read and became increasingly frustrated that not many people knew sign language. It was a difficult transition for her to make particularly when communicating with her two children, Alfie and Annie.
In 2002, Julie had a cochlear implant fitted to her left side and for the first time ever, she could hear what Alfie and Annie said without having to lip read them.
“Alfie was almost four years old when I heard him speak for the first time - it was such an amazing feeling.”
Julie is encouraging as many people and organisations across the country to get involved with Deaf Awareness Week particularly those organisations who provide a front line service.
She said, “Throughout my ‘deaf’ journey I’ve met many people who simply don’t know how to communicate with deaf people effectively. Communication is two way so even though I can lipread and use British Sign Language, there’s still a lot that hearing people can do to help me, and the millions of other deaf people in the UK, access conversation and information.
“For me, the onset of deafness felt like the end of my life but it turned out to be just the beginning.”
Just over ten years ago, Julie embraced and used her disability to help others by setting up her own training company, HearFirst, to educate service providers to meet the needs of deaf and disabled people.
Julie added: “I wanted to deliver workforce training that was not only innovative, lively and participatory but would have an impact and motivate them to change their attitude, environment or work processes to meet the needs of their customers.”
HearFirst works with a number of clients across many sectors including housing associations, schools, colleges and universities, museums, libraries and galleries, the NHS, community groups and commercial organisations.
One organisation who has recently benefitted from disability and equality awareness training is the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley, London. Heritage Officer, Eleanor Sier, said: “Since we had the training, there has been a general change in attitude as an organisation to improving our access and we are holding more and marketing better screenings with hard of hearing subtitles.”
Julie added, “We work with many organisations across a variety of sectors but they all have one common goal – to educate and train their staff on disability awareness, promoting the benefits and improving services to their customers.
“Deaf Awareness Week is a great opportunity for organisations to organise local events and work with their staff, tenants and customers to raise awareness of deafness.”
Julie’s top tips to improve customer service to deaf people
- Offer a range of contact options for your organisation - not just a phone number.
- Ensure you’ve good signage so people can see where to go rather than asking.
- Remove background noise when you’re meeting people or are on the phone.
- In meetings ask the deaf person where’s the best place for them to sit to see your face.
- On a sunny day you can easily put your face in shadow. The light should be on you as the speaker.
- Don’t be afraid to use gestures to link it with what you’re saying.
- Always speak as clearly as you can but never shout.
- Know where to get a BSL interpreter from if you need one.
- Be aware that most older people have some degree of hearing loss.
- Use pen and paper to get specific information across e.g. times and dates.
For more information on Deaf, disability awareness and BSL training, please contact Julie at HearFirst on 01706 872 816 or visit www.hearfirst.org.uk