Deaf People in Employment – by Julie Ryder
Here are some useful tips which outline the benefits of employing somebody in your business regardless of their disability.
As a deaf business who prides itself on employing deaf people, we have always embraced the opportunity to treat everyone as equal. But, that’s not necessarily the case for all employers – why would you hire a deaf person when you have scores of hearing people knocking on your door?
I could tell you about their eye for detail, good problem solving skills or benefits of having a staff team which better reflects the diversity of your customers. Or I could tell you about your social responsibility as an employer. I’m not. I going to share with you my own story of employing four deaf and very different people and what I’ve learnt along the way.
Our first ever deaf employee was William who we took on board for the plain and pure reason that he had the skills we needed to expand our product range. In the early days of the business, I was working as a sole trader delivering deaf awareness training to corporate clients. For the business to grow, we needed to offer a broader range of courses across other areas of disability. William had the perfect skill set to move our business forward. He was born deaf and had very clear speech, a relevant university degree, experience across the spectrum of disabilities and more creativity than I could ever have hoped for, so developing our new training products was perfect with creativity, fun and interaction included as standard! Deaf awareness was already embedded within our team and business, the office environment was fully equipped for good communication too in terms of quality lighting, good acoustics and very little background noise. All good.
So why did he leave us? I assumed he would be happy (or even thankful) to continue in our deaf aware environment doing what he’d always done. What I hadn’t considered was his need to progress and grow as a person.
Key point: Just because you meet someone’s access needs, remember they still have needs not related to their disability.
Alison filled the gap left by Will. After leaving Uni, she was desperate for someone to give her a chance and she had great British Sign Language skills, which we needed. It turned out a good move as clients enjoyed working with a native BSL user. They found it thought provoking and it challenged them. As time went on, I gave Alison more responsibility. That was a first for her and perhaps it came too soon. Often deaf young people don’t have enough work experience opportunities as they grow up, other people can have low expectations and then over praise them. It all makes for a large leap into the adult workplace where maturity and professionalism are key to successful employment.
Key point: Discuss and be clear what you expect beforehand.
Whilst Will and Alison have moved on, I still employ two deaf people. Dave became deaf as a teenager after a bout of meningitis. He communicates via his cochlear implant, speech and uses some BSL. He has the skills and knowledge we need but he’s assertive too and this is the key to his success in employment. We always try to meet his needs but if we fail, he tells us and we listen. Problems get nipped in the bud before they become issues.
Key point: Listen and encourage assertiveness in employees.
Our most recent recruit is Sharon. Sharon was born deaf, is a BSL user and has autism. An employer might hesitate employing someone with one disability never mind two but in all cases, it’s about whether the person can do the job right? not what disabilities they have. Sharon is our cleaner and the routine of this work suits her. She doesn’t get bored or distracted and keeps her focus until the job is done. To make this into a successful role, we’ve made a few minor adjustments. The key one was creating a book with a photo and the order of each room to be cleaned. Basic words for the areas which needed cleaning were written on the relevant pages. The effort of making the adjustments has been outweighed with the success of her performance.
Key point: Focus on what a person can do and support them to flourish.
So it turns out that successful employment is about people, their skills, their preferences and a healthy two-way relationship with their employer. (That includes making adjustments needed to create accessibility.) Isn’t that the same for everyone? What about your business? It’s not a question of why would you hire a deaf person - why wouldn’t you?
For specific ideas on adjustments for deaf and hard of hearing people please see our top tips.
VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please call 02037405973 or email [email protected] for more information.
We are also officially recommended by Disability Confident as a step on achieving Employer status, please click here for more information.