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Employing a Deaf or hard of hearing person

Employing a deaf or hard of hearing person? What you need to know….

At some stage or another, it is likely a company may want to employ a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. If you are about to employ someone that is deaf or hard of hearing, here’s some pointers on how to make sure it is a smooth process for all involved:

As an employer, you have a duty (outlined in the Equalities Act 2010) to make and anticipate reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and to treat them as you would any other employees. Just being aware of their deafness is important.

Let’s start from the beginning.

During the recruitment and induction period, you should firstly use the Disability Symbol (two ticks) in your job advertisement to show that your company is positive about the recruitment of disabled people (see the Job Centre for information if you have not been awarded the Disability Symbol).

It’s vital that any new deaf employee is offered communication support throughout the interview process and during the induction period and it’s always a good idea to ask for advice from a deaf employee themselves about how you can support and include them when they start.

All the different acronyms that come along with starting a new job are always difficult so provide a list of the in-house acronyms and their meanings. It is important to find out whether your prospective employee considers themselves as having hearing loss or whether they see themselves as a Deaf person. The first may not require a sign language interpreter; the latter may consider they have a Deaf identity and therefore be in a language minority rather than disabled.

You should know where you can book professionally registered sign language interpreters, if required, for situations which are critical to employee orientation, job training, performance evaluation, staff meetings and important social functions etc.

Find out individual preferences

Reasonable adjustment doesn’t mean offering the same adjustments to all deaf staff. Everyone is different, as are their levels of deafness. You should find out from your deaf employee how they prefer to communicate on a one-to-one basis, groups and meetings.

For general work communication on a one-to-one basis it may be email, instant messaging, lip-reading, writing, or visual demonstrations. Groups and meetings can be difficult as people tend to talk over each other so lip reading/interpreting becomes an issue.

There are a few simple things to do to make things easier. Firstly, ensure that everyone is facing each other – a circular table would be perfect. Secondly, offering deaf employees first refusal of where to sit to give them a chance to strategically position their interpreter. Making sure everyone speaks in turn; possibly raising your hand if you want to speak is a good idea so that no information is missed by the interpreter. During presentations, the speaker should always be facing the meeting and using hand outs and other visual aids will help.

Something that can easily be left out of consideration is office support, which can include making and receiving phone calls and asking colleagues quick questions to interpreting written materials to British Sign Language (BSL) and translating and writing material from BSL. As the grammatical structure of BSL is a little different from English, professional emails and letters are quite difficult to write. An interpreter will often write letters and emails for a deaf employee so that they can be easily understood by the hearing person receiving them. However, it’s best to ensure that hearing colleagues are comfortable and knowledgeable about answering textphone calls or calls via relay services as it is unlikely interpreters can be provided for every working hour.

Access to Work

A scheme that all employers should know about is Access to Work (AtW). AtW is a service provided by the government to help with funding for anyone whose health or disability affects the way they do their job. Funding is provided for payment of interpreters and other services for deaf employees who need them for office support, meetings, training, and reviews etc. However, Access to Work has a special mileage rate, so you do need to mention that it will be Access to Work funded at the point of booking as this helps when it comes to invoicing.

Willingness to communicate goes a long way

Communicating with a deaf employee/colleague can be a little daunting if you have no sign language skills. However, having a willingness to communicate is far more important than being a fluent signer. If you can, learning the alphabet and some basic, work related signs will be useful; also using body language and facial expressions and even miming actions can help.

Before a deaf employee begins working it would be a good idea to set up Deaf Awareness training for colleagues working alongside the deaf person to enhance successful communication. There are also a few straight forward things to simplify communication like, keeping eye contact and speaking clearly, but not too slowly or exaggerating words. You can attract the attention of a deaf employee/colleague by tapping them on the shoulder or upper arm, or if they are across the room wave your hand or even switch the lights on and off.

Another tip is to stand away from the light of windows and make sure your hair or hands aren’t covering your mouth when you talk. Also avoid jargon, and finally, ensure all new video/DVD material has subtitles or BSL translation.

What NOT to do

There are also things that you should not do: don’t ignore deaf colleagues simply because communication feels awkward or takes longer - remember English is not the first language of a Deaf person so don’t pretend to understand their written English if you clearly do not.

Never shout at a deaf person.

When a deaf person asks what has been said in a conversation, don’t say ‘I’ll tell you later’ try to give a brief explanation straight away.

Try not to give a deaf colleague a desk that faces a wall or with their back to a door so they can’t see people approach them.

Be mindful of background noise - don’t position a deaf person where there is a lot of background noise as this could interfere with hearing aids or be distracting.

Finally, when showing a presentation, don’t turn out all of the lights so that lip-reading or seeing an interpreter becomes impossible!

Employing a deaf person will require some changes, but hopefully you can see that it doesn’t take too much to change the workplace to be more inclusive to the deaf employee.

For more advice, please visit our website (, follow us on twitter ( or like us on Facebook ( and if you need to book an interpreter contact the office on 01392 49 49 22 or

We are the preferred supplier for the following service providers

  • Devon County Council
  • NHS Devon
  • Exeter City Council
  • Royal Devon and Exeter - NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Devon Healthcare - NHS Foundation Trust
  • Torbay NHS - Care Trust
  • Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education
  • Living Options

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