Opinion: Scott’s story

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BDA Access & Inclusion (Engagement) Officer Helen Morgans-Wenhold tells us about Scott and his continuing problems in the work place despite Access to Work (AtW).

The story I would like to relay to you is one of success and of failure. It is about how we can get things so right and also so wrong all in the same moment.

Scott (name changed) had been in employment with a company who held a contract for a high-level government department. For 20-plus years he worked, developed and achieved in his career in I.T., in no small part due to the support and provision that Access to Work put in place for him.

Within his work place he had the provision of a bank of six BSL/English interpreters who worked on a Rota system to provide access and communication every working day. Access to Work even paid for BSL/Deaf Awareness training for his colleagues. How wonderful, you would think. However, not everything is as good as first seems.

As I said, Scott works for a company who had the contract for a high level Government department. The company had a very high turnover of staff and Access to Work realised that they could not offer BSL/Deaf Awareness training on a regular basis because of that, so the training was cut and eventually stopped.

The interpreters that were used needed high-level security clearance. The result of this level of clearance was that the ability for Scott to pick and choose which ones he liked was not available to him. The bank of BSL/English interpreters have a variety of outstanding skills, however they did not possess any knowledge of I.T and its jargon or how to interpret in such a technical environment.

The interpreters within the team had no desire to access training in I.T of their own accord and so Scott, realising that he needed interpreters who had a sound knowledge of I.T., had no other choice but to train the interpreters himself to a level he required to be successful. Again an extra demand on his time.

His working day would consist of up to three extremely technical meetings. Scott does not use spoken English and relies on effective interpreting to ensure full communication within these meetings.

His managers identified that he was working at a standard above expectation and continuing to develop his skills. Scott was fortunate to have this level of support from Access to Work. Without it, he felt he would not have been as successful.

You would expect Scott to tell you he loved his job. But that was not the case.  Scott felt completely isolated.

On a typical working day, his colleagues would arrive and welcome each other with a “Hi how are you”. What they never ever did was extend the same courtesy to Scott despite him having a BSL/English interpreter there everyday.

If colleagues had a work related issue and needed to talk with Scott, they chose to do so through instant message on the computer or at tea break they would speak to the interpreter and ask them, “How is Scott?” The interpreter encouraged them to speak directly to Scott but they still chose not to.

In an attempt to try and bridge the gap between himself and his hearing colleagues, Scott decided to volunteer to teach BSL to staff members in his lunch hour. This was very successful, the ice was broken and his colleagues began to feel more comfortable in approaching him. However, what Scott learned through teaching colleagues was that some were more interested than others and this led to awkwardness between Scott and his colleagues. Due to a restructured working environment, the company then made the decision that he was no longer allowed to teach BSL to staff and because of the high turnover of staff within the company, it reverted back to the old situation of new staff with no BSL/Deaf Awareness and no desire to interact with him.

Completing the weekly administration of Access to Work forms would take up a lot of his working day. Trying to arrange meetings for his supervisor to counter-sign the paper work caused issues between him and his manager. They didn’t seem to understand the necessity of the onerous paperwork. This created even more stress for Scott, stress that should have been avoidable.

Slowly over time Scott became isolated, feeling vulnerable and as a result his mental health was affected.

The big question here is whether or not Access to Work works well. Is BSL/Deaf Awareness enough?

If the Deaf employee is prepared to arrange BSL/English interpreters, organise BSL/Deaf Awareness and understand the policies in place to support themselves in the work environment, then surely they have done enough. Could the hearing colleagues have met them half way? How do we find a solution to this problem?

Here in Scotland we have the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Equality Act 2010 but are these political measures enough to support Deaf employees in the work place?

I would suggest that it is not just about access to the language of an environment, but more than that, it is about social attitude and diversity in society, something that should be learned during your formative years within your education and at home. The question here is, who teaches this? Who is responsible for creating positive social attitudes and promotion of diversity?

Having Access to Work is critical but attitude within the work place is just as important.

Why should Scott have had to work twice as hard as other employees just to navigate his way through his working day? Why should he feel isolated?

What do you think? Maybe you have had similar experiences.