Jacqui and Rachael tell us how taking time to talk about adjustments in the workplace can make a massive difference.
Before I joined the Department for Transport (DfT) I spent my life apologising for not being able to hear properly. I felt somehow it was my fault and was embarrassed. Deafness is an invisible disability, and can cause confusion simply because people don’t realise I am deaf.
I wasn’t born deaf. I caught pneumonia at a young age and the after effects of the antibiotics was considerable hearing loss. Now I can only hear high sounds in one ear, and low sounds in the other, so my hearing range is predominately mid-range only.
A hearing aid doesn’t help, so I lip read. In social gatherings I quickly lose track of conversation because people turn their heads. As a result, I sometimes stop joining in. Friends who know me well, ensure they face me or speak clearly so that I can join in
At my first Ability Network meeting I was handed a badge reading ‘I’m a lip reader, please face me’. Reluctantly I put the badge on. I can honestly say people noticed the badge and spoke clearly, directly to me. How amazing is that? I didn’t have to mention my deafness and forgot I was wearing the badge.
Joining DfT was a new experience for me. I was invited to meet with a hearing adviser from Action on Hearing Loss. Pauline asked lots of questions about my hearing (or lack of!) and we discussed things related to my deafness that I hadn’t considered. We looked at the job description for the new role, and she talked me through options that she thought best suited me – for example, moving my desk to make life easier for me.
This was the first time I had experienced this - I knew from this exchange that working in DfT was going to be different.
I was very surprised when my new Line Manager, Rachael Etebar, asked what she could do to help me. I had never been asked how others can assist me. So, what can you do to help me? Well, I’ve prepared some tips at the end of this blog.
I also have a fabulous piece of kit to assist me, a sort of headset with a pen-sized amplifier which has made a huge difference. And as odd as it may sound, I quite often attend meetings and hear more than the person sitting next to me, simply because I am concentrating on what the speaker says.
I would never have written this blog before I came to DfT. I was always ashamed about being deaf. But I was actually really keen to be involved simply because people at DfT have been so positive about my disability. Somebody outside of work said to my colleague, Jen, that it must be difficult working with someone who can’t hear all that well, and she replied ‘no not at all’. I feel I’ve become more Disability Confident since I started, and my colleagues are too.
I didn’t know until Jacqui came for the interview as my Personal Secretary that she was deaf. She very confidently asked at the beginning of the interview if the panel would look at her so she could read our lips and then she proceeded to ace the interview.
It was only when I offered her the job and she expressed her surprise that I understood she had assumed that because she might not be able to do all aspects of the role, such as taking minutes, she expected to be rejected. I had focussed on far more of what Jacqui could do – manage my crazy in-box, organise me and demonstrate that she could deal with confidentiality, which is hugely important in an HR function.
I asked the reasonable adjustments lead to have a chat with Jacqui, so that we could ensure that she had the kit needed in place for when she started. He was able to arrange for Jacqui to meet a hearing loss assessor so that she could receive expert advice on what tools would help. I also spent time reassuring Jacqui that if something didn’t work, we would try something else. I think it’s really important that you shape a job around a person’s skills and not the other way around.
I remember Jacqui minuting her first meeting - she was so nervous! But I think so were the team because they wanted to support Jacqui, by ensuring they talked clearly and made sure that they faced her. It’s been great to see Jacqui blossom in confidence and grow into her role over the last few months. We have a great working relationship, which I think is due to the trust established right at the beginning of our time together. (And by the way, her minute taking is good!)
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