Making adjustments to someone’s working environment is the right thing to do. It will mean your employee can better do their job to the best of their ability.
As an employer, you have some legal obligations around supporting your employees with hearing loss. Under the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland), employers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people who are disabled because of hearing loss. Don’t fear the price tag of providing this vital support – many adjustments will be simple and free or inexpensive to implement, such as improving the working environment, offering flexible working hours or providing assistive products.
The government’s Access to Work scheme is designed to help organisations cover the cost of more expensive workplace adjustments such as the provision of communication support. Remember, everyone is different and so the adjustments required will vary.
To be able to give the best tailored support, we recommend offering the employee the option of a workplace assessment, which outlines the changes that employers can make to remove barriers for staff with hearing loss.
Workplace assessments are usually provided by the government scheme Access to Work.They’re also available from specialist providers, such as Action on Hearing Loss.
Tips for improving the working environment
- To improve the acoustics in an office: use soft furnishings such as carpets, install acoustic panels, and fit rubber caps on chair and table legs.
- Position an employee with hearing loss in a work area that has good acoustics and where they can see the rest of the room.
- Adjust the layout of a meeting room and use good lighting to help everybody see each other clearly, which is important for lipreading.
- If you play music in your workplace, either turn this off or down.
- If your employee uses a communication professional such as a sign language interpreter, factor in the need to seat an additional professional, and ensure that they are in a well-lit area.
People who are deaf or have hearing loss may need to work somewhere quieter and, if they need to, take time during the day to attend an audiology or cochlear implant appointment.
Assistive products and technology
There’s a wide range of products and technology that can help to remove barriers in the workplace for people who are deaf or have hearing loss – from amplified telephones to the Roger Pen, which is a conversation listener that can facilitate communication in meetings. Also consider a hearing loop for your meeting room to help hearing aid users understand speech over background noise. See the Action on Hearing Loss online shop to find out more.
It’s also worth considering that assistive technology doesn’t have to be an extra or specialised piece of equipment. Lots of everyday technology, such as smartphones and routine pieces of software, has built-in features that can enhance accessibility for people with hearing loss.
“Recently, a colleague who works in a specialist role felt he was struggling to keep up with conversation in group meetings, as well as using the telephone. We don’t want to lose his skills and talent and so we have made adaptations, with support from Access to Work, which enable him to carry out his job. He now has a Roger Pen, a wireless microphone, which enhances speech, to use in meetings, and an amplified telephone. Without these adaptations, he wouldn’t be able to continue in his role and we would lose a highly skilled employee” – Beverley Dwyer, Employee Relations Officer, Western Power Distribution
People who are deaf or have hearing loss will require different communication professionals depending upon their needs and the situation:
- sign language interpreters are trained to interpret spoken English into sign language and vice versa
- lipspeakers convey the spoken word using clear lip shapes, facial expressions and natural gestures to clarify what is being said
- electronic notetakers type a summary of the spoken word onto a laptop using specialist software
- speech-to-text reporters capture a word-for-word record of what’s said by using a specialised phonetic keyboard to a computer; this can then be linked to one computer, or a public screen if there are several users who are deaf or have hearing loss.
Please note: If you’re booking a sign language interpreter, to ensure quality, you must book a professional who is registered with either the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) or the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI) in Scotland.