Around 9 million people in the UK have some form of hearing loss*. Every deaf person is different, with various degrees of loss, and using a wide range of assistive technologies depending upon their access requirements. Communication is the main barrier that deaf people face, particularly with access to services.
Sadly, today many services remain inaccessible to deaf people; however, with the correct attitude and approach, this can change. With various laws, including the Equality Act 2010, organisations have a legal obligation to provide reasonable adjustments to make their services more inclusive for disabled users**. Unfortunately, there is very often a very negative view placed on this.
This guide is aimed at organisations/service providers/event organisers to help encourage them and provide tips on ‘How to make services more accessible for deaf people’.
A proactive approach
It’s always wonderful to see organisations who are proactive in wanting to make their services widely accessible in many ways. This means they look at accessibility in a positive light, understanding how deaf people can use their facilities as hearing peers can.
Here are some useful tips:
- Research legal obligations, understanding what must be provided for deaf people
- Look around at what other organisations provide
- Consult specialist deaf organisations for advice on access
- Connect with deaf service users and ask their views
Please do not assume information from hearing people or professionals accurately reflects what’s best for deaf people – they are the service user at the end of the day.
Approaching inclusivity in a constructive way brings so many benefits! Organisations would be praised on accessibility, they would gain more customers; deaf people would talk about it, encouraging friends and family to join and so much more.
Turning a negative into a positive
Everybody hates complaining! It’s the last thing customers and businesses wish to deal with. Mostly, organisations just worry about how much money compliance will cost. This should not be the case.
One main reason a deaf person could complain, is about how a service is inaccessible to them. This can have either a tiny impact or can hugely affect their life. If changes are made to allow access to all services, disputes will cease.
If organisations are receiving multiple individual complaints, look at the trend and address the issue. Negative press will reduce and there will be positive outcomes.
Perhaps look at it from the deaf person’s perspective? How do you think they feel when they can’t do something that their hearing peers can, simply because they can’t hear?
Frustrated? Angry? Sad?
Would you want to feel like that? It’s crucial to listen to the customer rather than assuming what they need. Find out more information before making any assumptions.
Are there any short-term quick-fix changes that can be made? Some processes take longer, especially with researching, seeking advice and funding. Often, it’s about reaching an acceptable compromise, rather than presuming nothing can be done.
If organisations can announce that they are addressing equality, and state how they are implementing changes, it looks better than ignoring it.
Accessible contact methods
Some organisations only provide telephone numbers and are reluctant to give away email addresses or SMS text numbers. This is challenging for most deaf people as they cannot hear on the phone.
Mass or wrong usage of a contact method can be a concern for businesses, but they mustn’t forget some deaf people are reliant on these methods to contact the organisation.
Having multiple contact methods makes it easier for deaf people to get in touch.
Contact methods to consider:
- SMS text messaging
- Live instant messaging: Via website/social media or alternative
- Video calling: Skype/Oovoo/or alternative
- Text relay: Relay UK or alternative
- Sign video relay: SignVideo/SignLive/InterpreterNow or alternative
Deaf awareness and staff training
Most errors, false approaches, bad attitudes and ‘copy/paste non-sympathetic replies’ are down to lack of understanding of deafness.
It’s important to train staff and make them aware of deafness; what it is, the impacts it can have and how a lack of accessibility can affect deaf people. There are numerous deaf awareness or disability awareness training courses and providers out there. It can be a worthwhile investment to brush up staff knowledge. It also gives them skills for the future, if they meet a deaf person in public.
Here are some tips on how to communicate with deaf people:
Physical access for deaf people is also worth looking into. Ranging from how a deaf person can gain access to a building, to technologies assisting with more generalised tasks and so on.
- Doorbell: Consider extra features; visual/flashing/app with camera
- Intercom Doorbell: Deaf people may not be able to hear the person speaking, do you have an alternative?
- Fire alarm: Is it visual as well as auditory? Is there an evacuation plan for deaf people?
- Hearing Loop: Does this work and is it tested regularly?
- Lighting: Is it bright enough to see/lip-read
- Background noise: Can this be cut down? Consider furnishings to absorb sound?
- Accessible materials: Do you have versions with:
- British Sign Language format
- Simple English
- Large print
- Additional contact methods on letters/emails – Not just a telephone number
Finally… advertise accessibility!
Why have an accessible service if no one knows about it?
Advertise accessibility, promote what you do, highlight the changes you’ve made. Inspire others to do the same and they’ll follow in the right footsteps. Change can’t happen overnight, but it can start today.
It’s all worth it for extra customers, fewer complaints, positive brand image, awareness of accessibility and positive attitude towards deafness.
Feel free to send this guide to organisations and let’s hope they’ll influence change. Any extra tips, please comment below or let us know – please spread the word on social media.
Disability Confident Scheme: https://disabilityconfident.campaign.gov.uk/
‘The Disability Confident scheme supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace’.
Equality Act 2010: www.gov.uk/guidance/equality-act-2010-guidance
‘The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. Information and guidance on the Equality Act 2010, including age discrimination and public sector Equality Duty.’
Action on Hearing Loss Employers’ Hub: www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/how-we-help/businesses-and-employers/
‘Louder than Words products and services will help make your organisation more accessible – from workplace assessments and deaf awareness training to assistive products and communication support.’
Access to Work: www.gov.uk/access-to-work
‘If you’re disabled or have a physical or mental health condition that makes it hard for you to do your job, you can talk to your employer about changes they must make in your workplace and get extra help from Access to Work, including mental health support’
NHS Accessible Information Standard: www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/accessibleinfo/
‘The Standard sets out a specific, consistent approach to identifying, recording, flagging, sharing and meeting the information and communication support needs of patients, service users, carers and parents with a disability, impairment or sensory loss.’
‘We work with millions of employers and employees every year to improve workplace relationships. We’re an independent public body that receives funding from the government.’
‘AccessAble is here to take the chance out of going out. To give you the detailed information you need to work out if a place is going to be accessible to you.’
Citizens Advice: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/
‘We give people the knowledge and confidence they need to find their way forward – whoever they are, and whatever their problem.’
Disability Rights UK: www.disabilityrightsuk.org/
‘We are disabled people leading change, working for equal participation for all’
Equality Advisory Support Services: www.equalityadvisoryservice.com/
‘The Helpline advises and assists individuals on issues relating to equality and human rights, across England, Scotland and Wales. We can also accept referrals from organisations which, due to capacity or funding issues, are unable to provide ‘in depth help and support’ to local users of their services local users of their services.’
‘Ofcom is the regulator for the communications services that we use and rely on each day.’