New business owners could be missing out on accessing a valuable pool of potential employees by not taking steps to create an inclusive working environment for people with hearing impairments.
According to Hearing Link opens in new window, around 11 million people in the UK are affected by hearing impairments, making it the second most common disability.
Currently, around 4.4 million opens in new window people of working age have a hearing impairment.
Yet a recent survey found that almost three-quarters (74%) of those with a hearing impairment felt that their employment opportunities were limited by their disability and 41% had retired early due to the impact of their hearing loss and struggles with communication at work.
As a business owner, you will want to recruit and retain the best talent possible – and with hearing loss affecting around 12 in every 100 employees opens in new window, creating a workplace culture that supports deaf and hearing impaired employees makes good business sense.
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Tips for creating a positive work environment for hearing impaired individuals
There are several ways employers can make deaf and hearing-impaired employees feel safe, part of a team, and able to fulfil their potential.
As an employer, you might be concerned about the cost of making workplace adjustments for people who are deaf or have hearing loss but there is help to hand.
The UK Government’s Access to Work opens in new window government scheme, for example, provides financial support towards the cost of practical workplace adjustments.
Charities and other organisations can also offer support and training for employers and employees.
Not all deaf and hard of hearing people experience the same issues, so it’s important to talk to employees and find out what they require.
Carrying out a workplace assessment is advised so that individual needs can be identified and planned for.
Research from Action on Hearing Loss found that 7 in 10 opens in new window hearing-impaired individuals have said colleagues have not communicated effectively with them.
Whether the individual is entirely deaf or experiencing some hearing loss, it’s essential to communicate clearly.
Even if they wear a hearing aid, you should always ask if they need to lipread for better understanding.
Tips for communicating clearly include:
- not covering your mouth when speaking
- speaking clearly but not too slow or too fast
- using regular lip movements, facial expressions, and gestures
- using plain language and avoiding overcomplicated vocabulary.
You should ensure that you directly face them so they’re able to lipread and ensure you have their attention before speaking.
A wide range of technology can help remove workplace barriers for deaf or hearing-impaired employees.
These include amplified telephones, hearing loops and the Phonic Roger Pen – a wireless microphone that helps people with a hearing impairment to understand more speech in noise and over distance.
The environment and office arrangement can be just as important as communicating clearly.
Employers should consider asking the individual what you can do to make them more comfortable and work more efficiently.
Improving the environment can consist of:
- complementing the office acoustics with soft furnishings such as carpets and rubber caps on furniture legs
- positioning the employee in a work area where they can see the room correctly
- ensuring efficient lighting for clear lipreading
- keeping background noise to a minimum.
Health and safety
As an employer, you are responsible for the health and safety of all employees.
For hearing-impaired employees, that may mean making reasonable adjustments.
These adjustments could include:
- visual fire alarms that flash to alert people
- dedicated emergency marshals to help and alert deaf individuals in emergencies
- providing accessible health and safety training for deaf employees that have been adapted for them, such as using subtitles on videos or interpreters
- flashing doorbells or vibrating pagers that alert the employee when someone enters the office.
Individuals with hearing impairments may appreciate working in a quieter environment, such as a separate office with a door, allowing them to manage their surroundings.
They may also require time off during the day for audiology appointments.
If staff require time off or a separate room, ensure they’re not isolated and include them in meetings or social situations to prevent them from feeling neglected.
Train your employees
Provide training for employees to help build their confidence and awareness of hearing loss.
Supporting hard-of-hearing employees can be one of the most helpful things to do.
Checking up regularly with them to ensure they’re supported can help them feel like a respected employee and a valued team member.
Regular workplace assessments ensure the environment is suitable for employees with hearing loss.
An assessment report can be used when applying for funding through the Access to Work opens in new window scheme for more expensive adjustments.
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Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.