Assisting Those with Hearing Impairment at the Office

By September 10, 2020Employment Law

In the UK there are currently around 12 million people (1 in 6) suffering from hearing loss, and with an ageing population this is predicted to rise to 14.2 million by 2035 (1 in 5).   As many as 40% of people over 50 years old have hearing loss, and this rises to reach an alarming rate of over 70% for those over the age of 70.   Not being able to hear clearly, or at all, can lead to those with hearing impairments withdrawing from both social and everyday situations, creating an isolated bubble which can often result in issues such as loneliness and depression.  With research showing 80% of people find a lack of deaf awareness by corporations to be their main barrier to services, it is important that we all take steps to adapt our practices wherever possible to offer a service that is accessible to all, and thereby helping combat these issues.

Inductive Loops for Hearing Aids

There are many ways in which steps can be taken to help make the office more deaf aware for our clients, such as by installing an induction loop in client facing areas like reception and meeting rooms.  An induction loop helps to improve the clients listening environment by submitting a signal to the hearing aid which removes background noise and distraction.  There are two main types of induction loops; a Counter Loop which is installed permanently in areas that are consistently busy and noisy (such as your reception area), and Portable Loops which are lightweight and easy to use and are particularly suited to small group conversations where the participants are sitting within 1 metre of each other (such as for use in your meeting rooms).

Staff Training

With over 70% of those with hearing aids choosing services where staff are deaf aware, arguably the most important step which a corporation can take is to train staff so that they can communicate effectively with clients.  Examples of effective communication include the following:

  • Finding a light room that is away from any noise or distractions so that your client can understand you as clearly as possible.
  • Even where a client utilises hearing aids, always ask first if they would prefer to lip read you.  
  • Face towards the person you are talking to, and use simple gestures to attract their attention such as pointing or waving.
  • Speak clearly, using normal lip movements, facial expressions and gestures, and avoid shouting or speaking too slowly or quickly.
  • Keep your speech concise by using plain language and avoiding any waffle, and make sure the client understands what you are saying.  If they do not, repeat what you have said or rephrase your sentence clearly.
  • Be aware that due to the pandemic, the wearing of facemasks may make communication particularly difficult for those relying on lip reading and facial expressions.  Writing things down and using simple gestures can help.

Action on Hearing Loss, the UK’s largest charity helping those with hearing impairments, offers various staff training workshops and more information can be found here https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/how-we-help/businesses-and-employers/.  Staff should also look out for clients wearing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard to help identify those that may need greater assistance.   

British Sign Language

In addition to the above communication training, you may also consider training your staff to use British Sign Language via local courses, or through Action on Hearing Loss’ programme ‘Louder than Words’ https://louderthanwords.org.uk/british-sign-language-bsl-training/.  Alternatively a BSL regulated interpreter can be arranged to be present at your client’s meeting to translate, and this can also be booked through Action on Hearing Loss.

As clients suffering from a hearing impairment are much more likely to enquire about your services online, rather than by phone, it is helpful for them if you clearly state on your website any action that you may have taken to ensure your company is deaf aware.   If you would like to find out more information on hearing loss and how you can adapt your services to better accommodate clients, then please see the charity Action on Hearing Loss.