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How do I communicate at work?

Photo: Not everyone you meet at work will be deaf aware but they should make sure you feel included

It's normal to feel nervous about starting a new job. For a deaf person this can include worries about whether you will be able to communicate easily with the new people you’ll meet. However, there are lots of things your new colleagues and employers can do to help, you may also be able to get funding from Access to Work to pay for services and technology.

Our technology case studies include lots of examples about how technology can help you at work.

If you have questions about communication at work, including technology please contact our Helpline.

How do I join in with meetings?

You have the right to be able to follow what is being said in meetings, contribute your views and ask questions. Your colleagues must make reasonable adjustments so you can be part of the meeting.

Reasonable adjustments for meetings might include:

  • people speaking one at a time – hearing people can often forget this one so don’t be afraid to remind them
  • sitting where you can see people’s faces clearly
  • having an agenda and sticking to it
  • sharing presentations or handouts in advance
  • regular breaks
  • planning meetings in advance so you have time to book communication support.

Communication support in meeting could include:

  • a BSL interpreter
  • a communication support worker
  • a note taker
  • a lip speaker
  • a palantypist or speech to text reporter – they can do this in person or remotely online.

There’s also technology available that can help you in meetings, such as:

  • radio aids (like the Phonak Roger Pen) which has a group setting
  • speech recognition software (like Nuance Dragon) for note taking.

An Access to Work grant can cover the costs of technology and communication support.

What if I need to use the phone?

Employers must think about what reasonable adjustments can be made if you cannot hear on the phone.

If you can’t use the phone yourself then there are ways around this.

  • It may be reasonable for your employer to adapt tasks so you use email, text or Skype instead of phone calls.
  • You could use Relay UK (previously Next Generation Text – NGT).
  • If you use BSL you could book a BSL interpreter or communication support worker to answer the phone and relay what it being said. This can be paid for through Access to Work.
  • Or you could use a BSL video relay service.

Depending on your deafness there may be technology that could help you to use a phone. For example:

  • Twm uses a phone amplifier
  • James uses a radio aid
  • Beth uses a binaural Personal Stereo Lead (direct input lead)
  • Niamh has a phone that flashes when it rings.

An Access to Work grant can cover the costs of technology and communication support.

How do I make friends at work?

Being part of a team and making friends with colleagues can often have a big impact on your job satisfaction.

Not everyone you meet at work will be deaf aware or even friendly but they should all want to make sure you feel included, particularly your manager. Access to Work can fund disability awareness training.

Alternatively, you may want to do the deaf awareness for your colleagues yourself. Ellie had a difficult time in her first apprenticeship but after finding a new role she decided to do deaf awareness training with her team. By doing the training herself she was able to tell her colleagues the specific things that would help her.

Even if your new colleagues have met or worked with a deaf person before it is unlikely they will know exactly what works best for you.

Some people may be more welcoming than others and easier to communicate with. These people can become your “allies” so you might want to focus on forming good working relationships with them. Sometimes it may feel like you miss out on informal work chat. Your ‘allies’ can be very useful in making sure you always know what is going on and don’t miss any workplace gossip.

Taking conversations online can help make sure everyone is included and increasingly people prefer to message than talk on the phone or even face-to-face. Most workplaces have Skype, which you can use for group chats or there’s usually email. Some teams keep in contact outside of work too using WhatsApp or other messaging apps. Be careful what you put in your messages though – there’s always a chance someone you don’t want to might see it.

Do I need to have good written English?

The level of written English you need will depend on the job. Employers should not ask for a high level of English unless it is necessary for the role.

If you are supported by a BSL interpreter or communication support worker through Access to Work they will often be happy to support you with reading emails and documents. You can also ask them to look over your emails or written work, like reports to check your written English.

Top tips for communicating with people at work

  • Tell colleagues what you need them to do to communicate with you.
  • Apply for an Access to Work grant to help fund technology and services if you need them – they will do an assessment and can recommend things if you aren’t sure what you need.
  • Understand your rights. think about what reasonable adjustments your employers could make to ensure you are included – if you aren’t sure an Access to Work assessment can also make recommendations for reasonable adjustments.
  • Technology is there to help. Whether it is taking a conversation with a colleague online or getting equipment to help with meetings or using the phone there are lots of options available.