Deafness and hearing loss: how can HR offer support?

Deaf Awareness Week 2024 began on Monday (6 May) and continues until Sunday 12 May

Roughly 12 million people in the UK have hearing difficulties, according to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID).

This becomes more prevalent in older people as 40% of people over 50 have hearing loss, which rises to 70% for over 70s.

The government defines hearing loss as a disability when it has a significant impact on an individual’s daily life.

Teri Devine, director for inclusion for the RNID, told HR magazine that organisations should ensure that workplaces are inclusive of people with hearing loss from recruitment onwards.

She said: “It’s really important that businesses make sure recruitment is accessible, so you’re not missing out on talent. 

“At least one in five adults are deaf or have hearing loss, and it’s important to create an open culture so staff feel supported and able to disclose.”

Simon Houghton, founder of workplace awareness campaign #WeSupportDeafAwareness and consultancy Backline Consulting, explained that people with hearing loss might be concerned about disclosing their condition at work.

Read more: Employees with invisible disabilities left to source workplace support alone

He told HR magazine: “The biggest issue is that staff often feel that disclosing or sharing that they have an unseen disability such as hearing loss, is that they will feel judged or stereotyped.

“The most important thing that HR can do to ensure that the workplace is inclusive for employees with hearing loss is first of all to create an environment that allows staff to speak up about their hearing difficulties.”

Research from DEI consultancy INvolve UK in May 2023 showed that 67% of employees with invisible disabilities said that they have to source support and reasonable adjustments at work.

Devine noted that HR could create an inclusive culture for people with hearing loss by offering training and hearing checks for all employees, and adjustments for people with hearing loss.

She commented: “You can do this by supporting initiatives like Deaf Awareness Week, providing deaf awareness training and rolling out RNID’s free online hearing check for your staff.”

Read more: Breaking the silence: a spotlight on employees with hearing difficulties

Houghton added that training should equip staff with a basic understanding of deafness.

He continued: “It is important that staff have a basic understanding of deaf awareness. This includes learning about the different levels of deafness, and understanding simple behaviour changes that will help conversations that may involve staff with hearing loss. 

“An example would be to always look at the person who has hearing loss when talking, and to ensure their mouth isn't covered, because it is possible that they lipread, and so it would be easier for them to hear. 

“Even if they don't lipread, the voice will project better and make it easier for someone to hear what is being said.”

Devine suggested that this should extend to communications with external parties and during recruitment.

She said: “Offer alternative ways for people to contact you other than phone. Clearly state that you offer communication support at interviews, and make sure that the applicant knows what to expect, so they can let you know whether adjustments are needed.”