We recently celebrated World Deaf Day, which also brought to a close the annual International Week of Deaf People. This awareness week aims to recognise and celebrate Deaf communities, as well as to bring to light the daily challenges Deaf people experience in their day-to-day lives. However, the celebration and awareness shouldn't stop after a single day or week of the year. It's important in our daily lives to be mindful of these challenges and learn how we can help.
A motto we live by at Great Place to Work is “a great place to work is one where you trust the people you work for, have pride in what you do and enjoy the people you work with”. This is something that we are constantly striving for, because one of the most important things for any organisation is building a high-trust environment for its employees. Going hand in hand with this is fostering an inclusive workplace for all. By doing this, you are ensuring your organisation has happy and secure employees who enjoy their work and trust in you as an employer.
Unfortunately, Deaf people in the workplace don't always feel this trust and inclusivity, and the 2016 Census found that the labour force participation for hearing impaired people was just 24.6%. It can be extremely difficult for Deaf people to get their foot in the door when seeking employment due to a number of communication obstacles as early as the recruitment stage, and even once in the job there are many challenges to face on a daily basis.
Here are 5 ways to ensure your organisation is doing the best it can to be an inclusive workplace for Deaf people.
1. Start with the recruitment stage
The recruitment stage and how you’re posting your job opportunities is your way of telling the world what kind of employer you are. Try to ensure that you are making your commitment to inclusivity clear in all aspects, from the job posting and wording, to your company website. Is your website accessible for Deaf users? If you have informational videos, are closed captions provided? For the interview process, does your candidate require an interpreter?
It’s important to take on board these considerations, and more, in order for potential employees to know your organisation takes inclusivity seriously and it isn’t just a marketing ploy of "all talk, no action". For hearing people, the interview process can be a daunting one, but for Deaf people, the challenges they can face at this step are, at times, insurmountable in comparison. Deaf people shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to find employment, and it is every organisation’s responsibility to make sure they are an open access employer.
2. Maintain open communication
The way for you to know what works for your Deaf employees is to communicate. Not everyone is going to have the same requirements, and the last thing you want to do is to assume what it is your employees need. See what works for them, and don’t be afraid to ask. It’s important to educate yourself and your organisation on the many communication methods available, but also maintaining open communication with Deaf employees will help you to understand first-hand the challenges they go through, and how you can aid in any way you can.
On top of this, examine how you are communicating. If a Deaf employee mainly communicates through lip-reading, make sure you are not covering your mouth when you are speaking; if on Zoom, be sure to keep your camera on and for other employees to do the same. Changes like this can make the world of difference to a Deaf employee and making the effort to make these changes helps them know that you are there to support them.
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3. Implement staff training
A 2016 TotalJobs survey found that 56% of Deaf employees surveyed have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to being Deaf or hard of hearing. A huge issue in terms of communication for Deaf people in the workplace is feeling isolated or discouraged due to not being able to communicate with other colleagues. Colleagues may also feel unsure of how best to communicate or how best to approach a Deaf colleague. This is why training for all staff members is so important. Educating employees about these issues is a key element in ensuring Deaf employees don’t feel left behind and are on the same wavelength as everyone else at work.
AbbVie honed in on the importance of this – following the employment of a Deaf person, they were quick to implement deaf awareness training for colleagues. This training focused on creating an understanding of how to communicate in a deaf-friendly way, learning about barriers experienced by deaf people, explanation of Irish Sign Language, and to demonstrate how challenging it is to lip read – particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Miscommunication is the last thing a Deaf employee wants to experience in a possibly already-challenging workday, and implementing this training helps create a more straightforward and secure environment for all.
4. Ensure accessibility for all
Going hand in hand with employee training is ensuring your organisation has measures in place to provide an accessible experience for Deaf employees. Again, these accessibility measures are a case-by-case basis. The HSE cites helpful measures in its 2017 Guide, some of which include: being aware of where individuals stand during presentations, positioning of desks to allow staff members to see and be seen and planning appropriate methods of alerting Deaf employees other than audible alarms in emergency situations. These are just some of the many initiatives you as an employer can take to make work life easier and more equitable for Deaf employees. Again, communication is a huge factor in this – you won’t know what works for your employees unless you ask, and they will appreciate you more for doing so.
5. Spread the word!
Implementing these changes and practices is all well and good, but what’s the point if no one knows about them? As an organisation you want to make sure you are making clear your stance on inclusivity, not so that you can look good as a business, but to spread the word to potential Deaf customers and candidates that your business does not and will not discriminate. Simply sharing your practices on social media sites like LinkedIn or Twitter could help the message reach hundreds or even thousands of people, and possibly start a conversation for other businesses and organisations on what steps they should be taking to do the same. It’s a great opportunity for your business to pave the way for others and to inspire change elsewhere, in turn helping to create a more inclusive society for all.
In short, it is so important for an employer to be actively participating in the inclusion of candidates with disabilities in the workplace. These candidates are an untapped pool of potential who just need to be seen and heard and it is every employer's responsibility to ensure that that potential can be tapped into just the same as every other candidate. In turn, this ensures an equitable and inclusive work experience for all.
About Great Place to Work®
Great Place to Work® is the global authority on workplace culture. We help organizations quantify their culture and produce better business results by creating a high-trust work experience for all employees. We recognise Great Place to Work-Certified™ companies and the Best Workplaces™ in more than 60 countries.