Many disabilities can be hidden and this is very true for individuals with hearing loss. My elderly father is about to be fitted with two hearing aids and I know several people both young and old who are deaf or now have hearing problems. To me it seems therefore that deafness is common and hearing loss raises issues for the workplace.
Those of us who do not have hearing problems take our hearing for granted. However, according to Action On Hearing Loss (http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/) one in six of us have a hearing problem which means 10 million people in the UK; this figure is rising. Many people take ten years to deal with their hearing loss and despite two million people having hearing aids only 1.4 million actually use them regularly whilst a further four million could do with using them. Men are more likely to suffer from hearing problems compared to women.
Hearing loss can take many forms.
This can mean profound deafness, but may also be used to describe a less severe hearing loss. Deaf people may use British Sign Language (BSL), Sign Supported English (SSE), speech-to-text, lip reading, or a combination of these. Hearing aids may be of little benefit to someone who is profoundly deaf. Deaf’ (with a capital letter) usually refers to deaf people who use BBSL as their first or preferred means of communication and who consider themselves part of the Deaf community. Sign language however is as diverse as language itself and there are lots of different sign languages across the world. In the UK the Deaf community sees itself as a linguistic minority rather than a group of people with a disability.
For companies that use publicity materials to be more inclusive, the term “deaf” (note the lower case ‘d’) should be used as this can refer to people who are Deaf, deafened or severely hard of hearing.
This is used to describe people who were born hearing and became severely or profoundly deaf as adults, often suddenly. Deafened people usually have good English skills and may use speech-to-text reporters, lipspeakers or electronic notetakers to aid communication. Many deafened people have cochlear implants – small, complex electronic devices that help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. This can help them cope with lip reading which an often present many problems as many words have the same lip shapes.
Hard of hearing
This term refers to anyone with a mild to severe loss. It is usually used to describe people who have lost their hearing gradually as they have become older. Some hard of hearing people wear hearing aids and find lip reading helpful in certain situations. They may also find sound enhancement systems beneficial, such as loops and infra red.
A recent BBC programme, Inside Out East (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03nxg10), highlighted how a simple visit to the shops can be a huge struggle for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Although the technology exisits to help such individuals the programme found that only one in six retail outlets are actively using hearing loops which allow people with hearing problems to take part in a conversation and convey their needs. The programme shockingly exposed Next and John Lewis as poorly performing yet high profile retail outlets and compared this against Sainsbury’s who ensure that hearing loops are used because they see the benefits to their customers.
The Equality Act 2010 provides for reasonable adjustments to be made and access to services and products should be readily available otherwise discrimination is taking place.
A total of 3.7 million people are of working age have hearing difficulties with 40% who are aged over 50 which has implications for employers.To avoid discrimination employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments by:
- changing a provision, criterion or practice (ie the way things are done)
- adjusting physical features – such as the layout of an office or room
- providing equipment such as an induction loop or textphone.
Employers should always check job descriptions to ensure there are no barriers to those with hearing problems; allowing an individual to use purely email for communication rather than communicating by phone for example. Then at interview employers should ask what reasonable adjustments the individual requires. Whilst not all requirements may be possible due to financial constraints, the employer should strive wherever possible to meet any needs.