The national campaign #WeSupportDeafAwareness, led by Simon Houghton, aims to encourage organisations to become more deaf aware and reduce isolation for people with hearing difficulties.
Houghton told HR magazine HR leaders need to provide training so that deaf people feel safe when communicating with retail staff.
He said: “Many deaf people rely on lip reading and the pandemic has made communication almost impossible with the need to stay safe and wear masks.
“Many employees in essential services have not understood just how difficult it is to communicate without the ability to lip read and have not had the awareness training to manage this effectively.”
Sebastian Mattern, director at HR consultancy Tiger HR, said HR teams need to offer staff training so that they are prepared to speak with customers who rely on lip reading.
Speaking to HR magazine he said: “Policies which cover how people interact with each other sit with HR and this is particularly true where disabilities of either customers or colleagues come into play.
“Businesses are required to make reasonable adjustments to support those with impairments in accessing work, goods and services, in other words the Equality Act 2010 requires that a business puts in place measures to ensure that a disabled person is not disadvantaged when compared to a non-disabled person.”
Mattern said business serving customers need to be ready to deal with the unexpected.
He said: “In an ideal world customer-facing staff need to be trained in what to do when serving someone relying on lip reading.
“Legal requirements aside, any business in which staff are confident in treating a person with an impairment in a dignified and supportive manner without any awkwardness plays a part in creating a world with equal opportunities for all.”
The pandemic has also highlighted the negative impact not supporting deaf employees can have on a business.
Gemma Farina, managing director of GF HR Consulting, said businesses haven’t taken the time to understand the challenges deaf employees faced using video conferencing during the switch to remote working.
She told HR magazine: “The pandemic has highlighted the need for employers to be more aware of the individuals they employ and the challenges they face and understanding that every employee will have different needs.”
Employees who are profoundly deaf or hard of hearing have a hidden disability and it can be easy for colleagues to forget that their teammates may be struggling, Farina added.
“In a world where people are feeling isolated in their own surroundings, for those who are hard of hearing, these feelings will be exacerbated, leading to increased feelings of isolation and poor productivity amongst those employees who are deaf,” she said.
The #WeSupportDeafAwareness campaign will be launched on 12 April, alongside the re-opening of non-essential shops in England.