Workplace Adjustments

The unemployment levels of disabled people are high – at a staggering 9.1% compared to 3.6% for people without disabilities.

But there are many opportunities available in a range of roles across the country; so why are these numbers so high?

I believe that the answer to this question is twofold.

  1. Deaf people’s lack of opportunity and confidence

This is an interesting point as on many levels we now inhabit a world with many possibilities. We can learn about anything, read about everything and access information like we have never been able to before. And for someone with a high level of confidence, drive and ability, it has never been easier to set up your own business.

A great example of this is BrewDog, starting in 2009 from humble beginnings and a passion for brewing beer. They wanted to create a craft beer similar to those they had tasted in California and now have a business valued at more than 1 billion.

So, why is it that deaf people are entering the workplace with a lack of confidence; and what’s causing it?

Back in 1997, a green paper called Excellence for all children meeting special educational needs was produced.  This was the new Labour government seeking to create an inclusive education by “extending the capacity of mainstream schools to provide for children with a wide range of needs”.

When we refer to ‘mainstream’, we are talking about deaf children attending a school where their peers have no disabilities.  The majority of the time, that deaf child will be the only deaf child in the class and sometimes in the school.

When you’re the only deaf child, a hearing environment can be challenging and isolating. It’s often hard to follow all of the lesson and easy to feel like you don’t fit in with your peers.

A BBC article in early 2019, reported that only 30.6% of deaf children achieve a GCSE ‘strong’ pass – which is grade 5 or above in both English and maths. This is compared to 48.3% of children with no special educational needs.

This lack of opportunity puts deaf school leavers at a disadvantage, with fewer choices when it comes to university places and often leaving school not knowing what path to take.

Facing these challenges can create a lack of confidence for the deaf.

The experience of their education has created a picture of the world. A world of inequality with both perceived and real disparity between the experiences that deaf people have compared to hearing people.

This results in a lack of confidence in deaf people applying for job roles and taking opportunities. They are concerned about their lack of ability and whether the experience they had in school will be the same in the workplace. 

  1. Employers’ lack of knowledge of deaf employees needs

The Business Disability Forum recently undertook a survey of 1200 disabled people, called ‘The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey ‘.  This survey was seeking information about workplace adjustments. In other words, the changes that employees put into place so the disabled employee can thrive in the workplace.

The survey highlights the challenges that employers are facing: a lack of knowledge about how to provide a suitable environment for disabled employees.

The survey found that:

  • 73% felt that the adjustments had made a positive difference in removing some of the barriers in the workplace.  However only 19% felt their adjustments had helped to remove all the barriers at work
  • Whilst 44% said they had all the adjustments they needed, 27% had requested other alternative adjustments that were not yet in place, and 29% had considered them but decided not to request them.” 

This survey highlights the question of how can someone can continue to be productive in a role and their team if the adjustments haven’t been put into place? And also, what would they be doing while they’re waiting for these adjustments to put into place?

From our own experience, when we provide deaf awareness training to businesses who have a deaf team member, they have said the following:

“The team realised they had little, or no knowledge of communicating with deaf people on a daily basis.”  After the training they shared that “training and awareness are vital to educating companies in how to cater to the needs of their deaf team members or customers.”

“We had a challenging situation where a deaf member of our team is building barriers between himself and his colleagues.  When deaf awareness training was provided, it meant that deaf member of staff was to be understood finally. He felt his colleagues could now empathise with his frustrations because previously he hadn’t been able to find a way to do this.”

It would be great to see more businesses really looking at how they can fully support existing deaf staff and potential deaf staff, as deaf staff, are super adaptable, bring a fresh perspective, are hard workers, are focused on the details and offer greater loyalty!