Improving Support for Deaf Employees

Published: Jul 20th, 2016

All employers in the UK have a ‘duty of care’. This means they must take all the steps necessary to ensure the health, safety and well-being of their employees – whatever their ability. Following a recent ‘Fit for Work’ seminar, Alasdair Grant was left wondering whether d/Deaf and HoH employees are properly recognised under this ‘duty of care’. Often disability is seen in a medical light, but what about those who have a disability that fits into the social model of disability (a disability that results from societal beliefs)?

Supporting disabilities in the workplace – the limitations for the d/Deaf and HoH

A deaf employee in an officeThe ‘Fit for Work’ scheme is a voluntary service that employers can use to help employees with health conditions and/or sickness absence to stay in, or return to, work. It involves an occupational health assessment followed by the creation of a tailor-made plan to help employees back into work. This includes solutions to support health and well-being and involves a range of work-related health advice based on personal circumstances.

Whilst this service is useful for people with disabilities that fall into the medical category, for people with deafness (a disability that falls into the social model of disability) there are limited benefits.

Alsadair Grant explains:

“I was recently given information on a ‘fit for work’ seminar delivered by Thrings Solicitors on behalf of the West of England Branch of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD). The materials I received got me thinking about how being ‘fit for work’ applies in the context of the different models of disability. So far it appears to be run simply from a medical perspective – using the skills of occupational health professionals, many of whom are not d/Deaf or disabled themselves, and may not have any understanding of d/Deaf culture or BSL. There is no mention of the different models of disability.”

Does the ‘Duty of Care’ recognise d/Deaf  employees’ cultural and linguistic identity?

“This led me to consider the legal framework of common law negligence and a ‘Duty of Care’ from employers towards employees. Does the ‘Duty of Care’ include the right to recognise d/Deaf employees’ cultural and linguistic identity? I also wonder whether employers, and learning and development professionals, are aware of the impact being d/Deaf has on people’s work – and how they go about achieving the same results as their hearing colleagues, (which is often in a completely different way). It’s well known that differences and misunderstandings in how people work can lead to workplace conflict and stress.

“Although the Equality Act 2010 can be used to carry out the appropriate steps to tackle any disadvantage or discrimination experienced by a disabled person in work – the key question is, does that ‘disadvantage’ link to the social model of disability and how society responds to a disabled person needs? I am interested to explore whether the concept of culture in the workplace between d/Deaf and hearing people can cause conflict and how this can be resolved.”

The usefulness of deaf awareness training

Employees doing deaf awareness training“One thing that springs to mind is deaf awareness training. For colleagues and employers working alongside d/Deaf and HoH individuals, this would be a considerable step towards reducing any conflict in the workplace. It would help to highlight the different communication needs between d/Deaf and hearing people and provide resolutions to ensure effective communication at all times.

“Of course, the concept of effective communication is an interesting point. What is considered ‘effective’ for the mainstream community may not be so effective for the d/Deaf community. For example, line managers’ insistence to use the telephone more than email. d/Deaf people find email correspondence particularly useful because it is visual and gives them a chance to express their emotions, feelings, and anxieties to their hearing colleagues. Moreover, body language and lip movements are really important when communicating with d/Deaf people, and conversations over the phone do not include these elements. This made me wonder whether the introduction of deaf awareness training could be a useful way to reduce stress in the workplace and improve the health, well-being and productivity of employees – based on the social rather than the medical model of disability.”

Employers and line managers need more support to help d/Deaf employees

“I think it’s really important that line managers are getting the right support from their HR teams on how to interact with d/Deaf colleagues, and to get the best performance out of them whilst taking into account cultural differences. A lack of understanding of the cultural and linguistic values and perspectives can be quite challenging.

“At Deaf Unity, we want to support the HR profession to ensure that line managers are fully supported. We want to see more guidance on the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development website on how to get the best performance out of their d/Deaf  colleagues. I have personally pursued a Level 3 Learning and Development course from the CIPD and I was a bit disappointed at how little that course covered on developing d/Deaf and disabled people in the workplace – whilst respecting a d/Deaf person’s linguistic and cultural identity and how this links to wider organisational cultural values.”

Working towards supporting d/Deaf and HoH workers through the social model of disability

“Thinking back to the ‘Fit for Work’ scheme, it would be so much better if the social disability model was integrated into the service so that the occupational health assessment could support people with a range of disabilities and impairments – not just ones that fulfil the medical model of disability. The occupational health professions could
themselves recruit a range of people with impairments to become better occupational health assessors, and more efficient in working closely with a range of individuals.

AN employee ties his shoelaces“So far the existing approach seems to be heavily based on the medical model, but there is so much room for improved engagement. The hugely successful Deaf and Disability Careers Fair 2016 is a good example of how d/Deaf and disabled people can communicate with mainstream employers to learn about different careers and connect with equal opportunity employers who have the foundations in place to offer their full support.

“There is no need for employers to fear d/Deaf and disabled people, or consider approaching specialist organisations for advice. Employers can and should engage with these individuals themselves rather than through experts, who often do not have the insight to understand the true needs of these individuals. The social model of disability recommends employers to engage and work directly with d/Deaf and disabled people, who are ultimately just as capable as hearing employees if the right support is made available.

Collaboration and learning together

“Deafness in the workplace can be a very isolating experience, making it extremely challenging to develop some of the competencies that employers expect their employees to demonstrate. Engagement is a competency in itself. Deaf and disability engagement from both sides of the agenda is an example of demonstrating collaboration and learning from each other. Many d/Deaf and disabled people do not know about HR practices and measures of performance because they are unable to pick up conversations in the workplace and not aware about those things.

“Deaf Unity would love the HR profession to come out of their shell and engage with us and tell us all about the wonderful work that they are doing to improve performance. The d/Deaf and disabled community want to be part of the HR profession too and to work and collaborate with their mainstream HR colleagues whilst remaining true to their cultural values. Cultural diversity is good for business. A mono-cultural organisation doesn’t thrive in a world where cultural values are evolving rapidly.

“Moving forward, I want to put together a set of possible recommendations to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development to revise the ‘Fit for Work’ concept. I would love to hear from a wide range of employers and members of the d/Deaf community about their experiences in employment to develop a ‘Fit for Work’ assessment that takes into account the social model rather than the medical modeI. I am particularly interested in how performance appraisal can take into account the different communication methods between d/Deaf and hearing people – compared to the wider hearing norms –  and how to communicate across the two different sets of communities with different communication media.”  

If you’d like to help and get involved, please get in touch. You can email Alasdair directly at alasdair.grant@deafunity.org with your thoughts and comments. 

Take a look at our careers section for more information on the employment support deaf people are entitled to in the workplace.

 

One Response to “Improving Support for Deaf Employees”

  1. Penelope Beschizza says:

    Good to bring up those issues concerning the need to reflect the social model of deafness & disability within employment-related policies / good practice.

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