Discrimination at work still a major issue

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BDN this month reveals the findings of a new survey which demonstrates a lack of support for deaf people both while they are seeking employment and while they’re employed.

Discrimination plays a large part in the working lives of deaf people and many are forced to quit their jobs because of it.

oct-16-11-2That is the key finding from a new survey, created by totaljobs in partnership with five deaf charities including the BDA. It reveals that the majority (56%) of deaf or hard of hearing employees have experienced discrimination during their career. This has led to one in four (25%) deaf people leaving a job because of a difficult environment.

Discrimination was most likely to come from colleagues (62%), and then from management (53%). More than one third of deaf jobseekers (37%) have faced discrimination as early as the interview stage.

While the vast majority (74%) of deaf people feel confident they have the right skills to look for work, almost the same number (72%) have received no support because of being deaf in finding a job. Furthermore, only 13% believe there is enough support available to help deaf people to look for work.

1 in 4 (25%) workers state there is no provision for deaf employees at their workplace and nearly half (47%) said that they did not receive support and guidance from their employer for issues related to being deaf. Moreover, almost one in five (19%) people have not told their employer they are deaf or have experienced hearing loss.

These figures are fuelled by an absence of understanding across UK businesses with one third (34%) of deaf people claiming lack of deaf awareness as the biggest challenge facing deaf people in the workplace.

John Salt, totaljobs group sales director, said: “Sadly, discrimination in the workplace can be compounded by a lack of awareness and support from employers. But the benefits of providing this support are obvious. Inclusive employers that engage diverse workforces tap into a broad talent pool with skills, abilities and experience that bring fresh perspective and
benefits to the business.”

Dr Terry Riley OBE, Chair of the British Deaf Association, said: “The survey clearly shows a lack of support for Deaf people in employment. We must make sure more employers and Deaf employees are fully aware of the availability of Access to Work which is vital in helping Deaf people reach their full potential at work. Also they are valuable contributors to the economy, and must be seen as equals in the workplace and society: it is clear that a national awareness campaign about Access to Work is required.”

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Survey stats

437 respondents participated in totaljobs’ deaf jobseeker and employee experiences survey between 30 June 2016 and 25 July 2016. The survey was created with the help of Action on Hearing Loss, the British Deaf Association, the Scottish Council on Deafness, SignHealth and Wales Council for Deaf People.

Totaljobs felt it was important that deaf organisations were involved as advisors throughout to ensure that the survey would represent the deaf community as much as possible.

More than half (55%) of respondents identified as wearing hearing aids while approximately one third (36%) said they used BSL.

The survey was compiled by eDigital Research and distributed online via deaf charities, organisations, bloggers, activists and online forums.

GENEVIEVE BARR, 30-year-old self-employed actress from Harrogate. Born deaf, she was fitted with hearing aids aged four and has never learned sign language, relying on lip-reading to complete the sound picture.

It’s always the recruitment process that makes life difficult as a deaf person. When looking for jobs it’s difficult to manoeuvre around phone interviews and know at what stage of the interview process to disclose that I am deaf.

People’s perceptions of deafness are very different and deaf people have a diverse range of communication abilities. Some people use British Sign Language (BSL), others speak, others a combination of both.

For me it’s always the recruitment process that makes life difficult as a deaf person. Once that first hurdle is over, it gets easier as you’ve established a relationship with your employer.

You need to educate people in how to communicate effectively. Technology has made it easier to communicate without a telephone. However, when you work in a global organisation it’s harder, particularly when conference calls take place.

You need to educate people in how to communicate effectively and clearly to you. It can take time for people to get comfortable with doing that. The trick is to be assertive when it’s so easy to sit quietly in the background.

As a self-employed actress, my job is to be adaptable to a whole array of people – from the director I’m working with, to different actors, the producers and casting directors.

I think deaf confidence needs to grow.

I do think that a deaf employee needs to instigate and determine how they want to work and communicate with their colleagues and employers because you have to be responsible for their learning.

I think we are in a society which is awakening to the value of diversity in the workplace and starting to practice what they preach. I think deaf confidence needs to grow and that will help raise the level of employment for deaf people.

That applies to both sides – the deaf employee and the employer. The cuts to Access to Work are very damaging for deaf people partly because the cost of interpreters is so high.

Employers need to understand and feel comfortable with what is required of them in order to employ deaf people. The Business Disability Forum is brilliant for that.

JUSTIN SMITH, International Programme Manager at SignHealth, a charity dedicated to enabling deaf people to get equal access to healthcare and health information, and one of the biggest employers of deaf people in the UK. Justin was born Deaf into a Deaf family and is a sign language user.

As a Deaf person, I can use a telephone – it isn’t impossible. More often than not the job advertisement only offers a telephone number to contact for additional information. There are no alternative deaf-friendly options like an email address or the opportunity to speak face-to-face as well.

Similarly, there are numerous job positions that require the applicant to be able to use a telephone. As a Deaf person, I can use a telephone, with an interpreter, adaptations and technology – it isn’t impossible, yet so many deaf people are rejected on that small technicality.

Recruiters may also have a fixed image of a deaf person and what they can and can’t do. They may find it impossible to believe that a deaf person can manage teams and supervise others, deliver pitches or represent an organisation etc.

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I rewrote my CV to remove any references to my deafness. There’s a genuine sense of injustice at having seemingly matched the minimum requirements in terms of experiences, skills, and qualifications and then not getting through to the next stage.

An experiment to rewrite my CV to remove any references or clues about my deafness and to appear as if I was a hearing person who just happens to know sign language, resulted in immediate success with getting through to the second stage/interviews.

For example, rather than placing prominently and proudly saying I was bilingual in BSL and English, I simple wrote, as a footnote, that I was fluent in both languages.

In my opinion there is no need to mention your deafness or of any disability unless it is in your best interests to do so.

Relying on an inexperienced and unsuited interpreter is a big gamble for a deaf person’s career. Getting through to the second round and interviews is when I would notify the recruiter that I am Deaf and that I require a BSL interpreter. This is a fundamental make or break stage for an applicant who is a deaf sign language user.

Employers may not hire deaf people because they don’t understand Access to Work. There is also the case of understanding the various hurdles and loops of Access to Work and who organises and pays for the interpreter in the interview process, and for the support when employed, and how it all works.

For an unsuspecting potential employer this demand for the provision of an interpreter plus the administrative nightmare of Access to Work may leave a negative imprint in their minds which consequentially can influence their attitudes and decision-making in the recruitment process.

Many deaf people also face difficulties in accessing appropriate employment services. The first drop-in point would be their local job centres, where more often than not they would face barriers with poorly trained staff that lack deaf awareness.

Even assigned specialised Disability Employment Advisors may have limited knowledge and communication skills to effectively support a deaf jobseeker.

An identified job worth applying for may require an initial telephone call which the deaf jobseeker is unable
to do because the job centres are poorly equipped.

Missing out on office gossip can be a debilitating experience. Being unable to pick up work-related information and missing out on general office gossip and chit-chat can be a debilitating experience for a deaf person in a hearing dominated office.

It can have an impact on a deaf employee’s morale and enthusiasm for the job if they begin missing out on aspects of office/working life like these.

The worst thing you can do is to ignore the deaf person, or to assume that they wouldn’t understand, or wouldn’t be interested in what has been said.

It’s difficult to be flexible as a deaf employee. It amazes me how much the telephone is used in the office and how easy it is for hearing colleagues to quickly call another colleague at another office station for questions or information. For deaf people, we can get around this by sending emails, but it isn’t guaranteed we’ll get a response immediately.

Deaf people and sign language are becoming more visible within society. Deaf people are now employed across a wide variety of sectors with some great success stories and admirable achievements. As a result of this, or because of this, there is an increasing level of understanding and acceptance of deafness and deaf people.

There is a lot of potential with technology that will certainly develop over time that will enable hearing colleagues to communicate with their deaf colleagues; particularly with online interpreting services and with live captioning applications.

Read the totaljobs report here