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5 Tips On How To Be Deaf Aware At Work

Published Date: 29 Apr 2021
Photo: Deaf Woman At Work

For Deaf Awareness Week, Deaf Works Everywhere Lead, Martin McLean who is deaf himself shares his tips on what to do if you have a deaf person joining your team.

5 things to do if you have a deaf person joining your team

I got my first paid job back in 1998 – a 6-week summer job in a genetics laboratory (Yes, my career has changed a few times since!). I really enjoyed that summer job – what made it a good experience for me was the great people I was working with, who made a real effort to make sure I felt part of team. Since then, I have had quite a few different jobs and found that it is my colleagues that make the biggest difference as to whether a job has been for me or not.

Here are my 5 tips for you if you have a deaf person joining your team:

1. Don’t assume!

One of the biggest mistakes people can make is assuming they know what a deaf person needs. We are all different to each other –

  • Some of us use sign language, some of us don’t.
  • Some of us use communication support (e.g. sign language interpreters) but others don’t.
  • Some rely a lot on lip-reading, others less so.
  • Some make a lot of use of what they can hear through hearing aids or cochlear implants, others don’t.

Take the time to find out how your deaf teammate prefers to communicate and what situations they find more difficult.

2. Include your deaf colleague in the workplace banter and gossip

There is nothing worse than feeling left out of your team’s banter and feeling you are the last person to know what is going on. If sharing a joke with your teammates, take the time to ensure your deaf colleague gets it as well.

Communication is often easier 1:1 – why not invite your colleague out for a coffee or lunch and give them the lowdown on who is who where you work.

3. Think about deaf inclusion in meetings

Most jobs involve team meetings of some sort and they can be difficult for deaf people to follow if their needs are not considered. Some things for you to consider:

  • If your colleague uses sign language interpreters, booking meetings well in advance will help you find an interpreter in time.
  • If your colleague relies on listening through their hearing aids, arranging a meeting in a noisy environment makes it much harder to follow what’s being said. Where possible find quieter rooms (online and in person).
  • Speaking one at a time in a meeting is important - if your team meetings are chaotic affairs, now is the time to change!

4. Remember communication support is for you as well as your colleagues

If your colleague uses communication support like palantypists or sign language interpreters this can help ensure access to the workplace. These are usually funded by the valuable Access to Work scheme. However, organising communication support can require a bit of admin and often it is your deaf colleague who has to sort out their own support. If you organise regular meetings involving a deaf teammate why not offer to book the communication support? – After all, it is there to help you to be understood too.

5. It’s ok to get it wrong

Sometimes new colleagues can be a bit clumsy and they make mistakes. I’m fine with that – that is how we learn. I much prefer this to the colleague who avoids you in fear of getting it wrong.

Deaf Works Everywhere

Deaf Works Everywhere is our campaign to get more deaf young people into work – and into jobs that inspire them.