One of the biggest changes that businesses have had to tackle during this time has been moving a vast workforce into a home working setting.

For deaf employees, this shift is even more seismic.  Despite the wide range of technology available, there can still be a strong feeling of isolation as a deaf person.

Not wanting to be out of the loop.  Feeling responsible for checking in with Managers when you don’t hear from them for a few days.

And the potential effect on Mental Health, with less connection,  As it may be easier for hearing colleagues to pick up the phone rather than jumping on a video call.

In this article, we interviewed a deaf lady working in an administrative role.  She has has been office-based and is now working from home.  This will give you an insight into what this has been like for her and what it may be like for your deaf employees.

The importance of team connection

It will be no surprise that her first comments were about the feelings of isolation.  One that we can all easily relate to.  Working away from our teams and missing the everyday banter and connection of office life.

Many deaf people find it difficult to build relationships with team members because of the difficulties in communication.  This can lead to isolation in the workplace.

And this could be exacerbated for a deaf employee in these current working conditions.

There was an interesting article written by Charlie Swinbourne.  He is the Editor of the most popular deaf blog drawing parallels between social distancing and the experiences of deaf people. https://limpingchicken.com/2020/03/19/charlie-swinbourne-social-distancing-and-the-deaf-experience-have-a-lot-in-common/.

In this blog post, Charlie explained “I’m not alone in expressing these kinds of thoughts.  Disabled writers I know have said that they’re often prevented from going to events, such as Theatre performances, because of access barriers, so the current situation is nothing new to them.”
He went on to say that this may allow hearing people to gain an understanding of the isolation that can come from being deaf.

Previous Experiences

On discussion of the current pandemic, she reflected on what this has been like in her current job.  And then compared this to what it could have been like in previous roles.  It was clear that a good team makes all the difference for a deaf person.  With her previous office-based roles, she commented: “If it was my last workplace then I would have experienced increased anxiety as I already felt isolated by the team”.

She felt that she could feel disconnected working from home.  The additional distance would dramatically increase the disconnection felt when returning back to the office.  “The feeling of not wanting to work and not valued as a team member.  As I know that they would not have kept me included unless I did all of that myself.”.

Working from home can also make it more challenging for a deaf employee.  Making it difficult to ask questions about their work or the business in general.

It is easy to use text-based systems to ask questions about current tasks.  But not so much when discussing a new task or piece of information where there is a risk of misunderstanding.  It is also difficult to seek clarification like you would in a face to face environment.

This is especially relevant right now.  Where employees are having to take on other responsibilities as colleagues are either furloughed or busier than usual.

She described past experiences.  Recalling where she had asked if a colleague would call someone on her behalf (as she could not do this as a deaf person), and eyes were rolled.

Making a call on a deaf person’s behalf would be considered as a reasonable adjustment.  It is equally important that the deaf employee feels confident in asking, knowing that their co-worker is more than happy to help.

How to use tech

Tech has a part to play here, in bringing teams together whilst remote working.

Many businesses will have established Internal Communications systems already in place.  But they may not have used all of the features they will need to use now.

There are some lovely examples of tech.  Microsoft Teams is an example of this, being used to sustain connections in teams by checking in with team members during the day.  Even nice to haves like sending GIFs in response to comments.  All of this offers a visual way to maintain the connection, helping to convey the feeling behind the words.

Video calls are also a great way to connect with your team.  Remember to consider what you need to do for your deaf team member to be fully included.

Take a look at this blog that we have put together on How to include a deaf person in a video conference.

Consistent Engagement and Communication

One thing to consider is that staff anxiety may be higher currently due to what is going on in the world.  Add this to the sudden change that we have all experienced.  There is a risk that this is heightened for deaf employees.  Who may already have concerns over the current Pandemic and how they will communicate if admitted to the hospital as well as the life change that is happening.

There is likely to be more regular and timely communication being distributed among businesses at this time.

Her company had been sending daily and weekly emails about the Coronavirus and some video.  These had all been subtitled, to her delight (and surprise!).

There may also be changes to the everyday processes that your team members follow.  So communication of these is equally as important.

Working for an Inclusive Business

Bottom line – she is working for an inclusive business where she already feels like a valued member of the team.  The measures that are being taken now are building on that feeling of connection.  Strengthening her loyalty to the business who in her mind is bossing it!

She described her perpetual concern, of working for a company that treats her differently – not the same as hearing colleagues.

We have put together 7 things that you can do to create highly engaging employees which will help now more than ever to support your deaf colleagues working from home.

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