Enabling inclusivity for Deaf employees through Access To Work

In the UK, five million people of working age are living with hearing loss or Deafness[1]. There are millions of Deaf people who are willing and able to work but, still, people with hearing loss continue to face barriers when it comes to the world of work. In fact, almost three-quarters (74%) of respondents in a recent survey felt their employment opportunities were limited because of their hearing loss[2].

Whilst it is a legal obligation for employers to ensure prospective and existing Deaf employees are given equal opportunity compared to employees who are hearing, providing inclusivity goes far beyond ticking a box and doing ‘the right thing’.

By making your organisation attractive and welcoming to people with hearing loss, you will be able to increase your talent pipeline and allow all staff to reach their full potential.

Making reasonable adjustments for Deaf employees

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are required to provide reasonable adjustments to remove, reduce or prevent the obstacles a Deaf employee may face as a disabled worker.

The term ‘reasonable adjustment’ is open to interpretation, and much will depend on the size of your company and the type of work your employee carries out, but it is crucial to be aware of these obligations.

You must also be prepared to make additional adjustments as required to provide extra support for Deaf employees adapting to a home working structure during the coronavirus pandemic, so they can fulfil their duties just as well as any other worker.

Access To Work

Many employers may not be aware that help available through the government’s Access To Work scheme could cover the costs of any such adjustments.

Access to Work is a publicly funded employment support programme that aims to help more disabled people start or stay in work. It can support you to not only hire and retain disabled people with the skills you need, but to also demonstrate that you value and will support your employees by having good employment policies and practices.

The Access To Work scheme provides financial support towards the cost of practical workplace adjustments for people who are Deaf or have hearing loss, up to an annual limit of £57,200, and a grant could help pay for any assistive devices or communication support your Deaf employee needs at work.

Support packages are agreed based on individual needs, and it is either the Deaf employee’s responsibility to apply or they can nominate a third party, such as their employer to apply and administer the grant on their behalf. After they have made their application, an ATW adviser will contact you and your employee to discuss what help might be available.

Your employee may need a workplace assessment to determine their needs. If this is the case during the current pandemic, the assessment could be conducted remotely using a British Sign Language [BSL] video interpreter to ensure the assessment with the professional is accessible to the employee. An Access to Work adviser will then discuss the application with you and your employee to develop a tailored package of support.

The value of the grant that your employee receives depends on their individual circumstances, and you, as their employer, may also have to contribute depending on factors such as the size of your organisation, your turnover, etc.

Arranging support for your Deaf worker

Once your Deaf employee’s Access To Work package has been awarded, you can liaise directly with the awarded service providers to implement the adjustments and support needed at every stage of recruitment, training, induction and throughout employment. Service providers will invoice your organisation or Deaf employee directly and then an onward claim will be made from the government via an ATW claim form.

For Deaf employees, Access To Work funding will usually cover a mix of face to face and video interpretation, translation and note taking services, and will allow them to pre-book a face to face/remote interpreter. ATW also allow the use of on-demand BSL Interpreting services to ensure Deaf employees can communicate instantly for meetings, calls and peer to peer communication as and when the need arises. External interpretation providers can also be used to translate any written policies or information and training videos into a BSL video to make them accessible for the Deaf employee.

Sign Solutions currently works with a number of large corporate organisations, including Royal Mail and Amazon, to provide Interpretation, training, advice and translations and to ensure their D/deaf employees have access to shift briefings, meetings, inductions, training and policies. We encourage organisations to look at their whole employment process with regards to accessibility, from making job adverts accessible, advertising in the right places, ensuring the interview process, training and induction is accessible and then that the right support is in place for the duration of employment.

By giving Deaf employees the support they need, making adjustments and utilising government initiatives like Access To Work, employers can remove workplace barriers for Deaf employees and Deaf job applicants and profit from the diverse skills and talents they have to offer. Employers that show understanding and flexibility will not only have a more engaged workforce, but they will enable their Deaf employees to truly thrive.

Clare Vale is managing director of Sign Solutions

[1] World Health Organisation, 2020

[2] NHS England, 2017

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