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Before I begin to discuss challenges at work I want you to take a moment to reflect and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you have D/deaf people within your family or friend circle?
  2. Have you ever worked with or line managed someone from the D/deaf community?
  3. Have you ever come into contact with someone who is D/deaf?

I imagine for many of you, you will have had limited contact with the D/deaf community throughout your life and even if you have friends or relatives that are D/deaf it doesn’t mean that you will have been inclusive. I can certainly think of times where I haven’t at family gatherings. It is our job as allies to ensure that we create an inclusive environment for the D/deaf community and educate ourselves on exclusive practices.

According to the World Health Organisation, 430 million people require support to address hearing loss. It’s estimated that by 2050 over 700 million people will have hearing loss across the world. In the UK alone 12 million adults are D/deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus.

The numbers alone make it likely that we will have this community within our workplaces. Our workplaces are not set up to support this community and our line managers and team members are not either. Hearing loss as stated above is set to increase and so many people we work with now could end up with hearing loss.

What is deafness?

There are different types of deafness and different ways that D/deaf people describe themselves.

Deafness occurs when one or more parts of ear are not working properly. This can impact the two main functions of the ear, which are:

  • Receiving and converting sound into signals for the brain to comprehend
  • Supporting physical balance

Describing people who are deaf

When describing people who are D/deaf, you may have noticed the change in the title case. Take a look below at what the various terms mean and how they differ.

Deaf (using uppercase D)

Deaf with a capital D describes people who were born Deaf or were Deaf before they began to talk. It is likely that Deaf people will use sign language as their first language. Their spoken language is their second language.

People who are Deaf are also likely to be highly engaged with the Deaf community (although this can vary depending on the individual’s environment and access to resources) and if their Deafness forms an important part of their culture and identity.

deaf (using lowercase d)

Using a lowercase d to describe deafness refers to the physical condition of hearing loss. Those who refer to themselves as deaf may not feel as strongly connected to the Deaf community and may not use sign language as their primary communication method.

Hard of hearing

People who identify as hard of hearing may have mild-moderate hearing loss. They are unlikely to use sign language as their preferred method of communication.

It will depend on the individual’s experiences and choices as to whether or not they identify as Deaf and engage with the Deaf community. Someone can be hard of hearing and identify as Deaf.


Using the lower and uppercase D/d is a way to include everyone within the D/deaf community when we talk about deafness.

People who are D/deaf may be able to communicate through a variety of methods such as speech, Sign Language, written word, lip reading, hearing aids and hearing loops or a combination of these.

What is deaf discrimination?

People who are D/deaf or hard of hearing are defined as disabled and are protected under the Equality Act 2010 and are entitled to equality of opportunity without discrimination.

According to 2020 figures 11 million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing and this community are 12% more likely to be unemployed

D/deaf discrimination can take many forms. Examples include:

  • Communication discrimination – where access is not made possible for deaf people to communicate
  • Making assumptions – it is common for other people to make assumptions about the capabilities of D/deaf and hard of hearing people, as though their being D/deaf makes them less able to do certain things.
  • Feeling sorry for people because they are D/deaf. Many people are proud to be part of the Deaf community – everyone will feel differently but do not assume deafness is a curse and something to be sorry for.
  • D/deaf and hearing discrimination at work – employers should never make assumptions about what D/deaf and hard of hearing people are able to bring to the workplace. A Totaljobs survey found that 56% of respondents had experienced deaf discrimination at work.
  • Audism – the belief that the ability to hear makes people superior to those who are D/deaf or hard of hearing.


“Many employees from the D/deaf community discuss feelings of isolation due to difficulties in hearing conversations and having a hidden disability.”

Download the D/deaf Awareness Factsheet to learn how to support your colleagues
A person putting on their hearing aid

Understanding workplace struggles for deaf people

Difficulty with access to work for D/deaf people happens at every stage of the employee journey. A recent survey by the Royal Association for Deaf People revealed that a lack of awareness among employers was a serious barrier to employment and career progression.

The study highlighted the following statistics:

  • 63% reported they had not been given equal opportunities at work
  • 83% felt excluded from conversations with colleagues
  • 69% reported feeling lonely at work
  • 59% had been left out of social events

There can be barriers to employment for D/deaf and hard of hearing people before they enter the workplace. There are many ways employers can understand and improve disability recruitment practices.

People will be ready to disclose their deafness to new or potential employers at different times, which can make arranging interviews challenging.

D/deaf people may be apprehensive of how their potential employer may react to a request for an interview method that suits their communication style, fearing others preconceptions and deaf discrimination.

D/deaf people experience many microaggressions and the impact of implicit bias from employers, such as doubting their abilities and denying them opportunities because they as employers don’t feel equipped to support them.

By understanding the barriers to employment, we can create more deaf-friendly jobs and employers.

How to be a deaf friendly employer

It is likely that we currently do not work with D/deaf people which is worrying in itself. Deaf people and people with hearing loss are less likely to be employed than the general population. However, those that are working do not always have the experience they should with the support they need.

To be inclusive of all D/deaf people, there are many ways to become a deaf-friendly employer and prevent deaf discrimination at work.

Be fair in your recruitment process

Consider what adjustments you can make to improve access to work for D/deaf people in this initial phase of the employee life cycle. Is your website accessible and deaf-friendly for job seekers? Does your website actively encourage applications from a diverse range of backgrounds?

Talk directly with interviewees to find out what communication style will suit them best – be clear that you want to get the best out of them and provide the environment for this to happen.

Don’t make assumptions about what individuals need. As we have learnt above, there are different types of deafness and hard of hearing and individuals within these communities will have different preferred ways of communicating.

Organisational learning and development

Organisational learning and development should be in place to support D/deaf employees, both current and prospective.

This is so that organisations, leaders and people managers especially, are equipped with skills to be inclusive from recruitment to managing an employee.

Find communication methods that work

People within the D/deaf and hard of hearing community will have different communication needs. Educate yourself about the different communication methods for deaf people so you know what methods will need to be considered. These may include:

  • Sign language interpreters – there are two main sign languages; British Sign Language (BSL) and International Sign Language
  • Lip speakers – using clear lip shapes, facial expressions and gestures to communicate what is being said
  • Electronic notetakers – they can type a summary of the spoken word onto a computer using specialist software
  • Speech-to-text reporters – use a phonetic keyboard to capture a word-for-word recording of speech, which can then be linked to a communication screen

Other communication considerations include:

  • Many of the D/deaf community rely on lip reading to follow conversations. Employees should ensure that they are speaking clearly and at a normal pace without mumbling.
  • Since Covid we have seen an increase in people working from home this has presented challenges with virtual spaces and sound quality. Colleagues should use individual headsets to improve sound quality, have cameras turned on to help read body language.
  • Members of the D/deaf community can struggle with listening fatigue. Take detailed notes from meetings so that if vital information is missed you can catch up. Use things like an Inclusion Passport to understand how to support each individual.
  • For face-to-face meetings ensure that those chairing the meeting know how to use hearing loops to stop any challenges in the moment.
  • Request accessibility information before meetings or training.

Eligible employees are entitled to practical support in the workplace through the Access to Work scheme. This could include a grant to improve communication methods for D/deaf people, including BSL interpreters and some of the other examples listed above.

Learning how to communicate with D/deaf people in your employment will enable them to give their best and your organisation to get the best from them.

Have a safe and open workplace

Take time to consider how the office environment can be exclusive due to acoustics and lots of background noise. Work with the employee to see where the best location for them to sit and avoid hot desking to avoid challenges.

The Access to Work scheme can also provide workplace assessments to ensure that D/deaf employees get the best support for their needs and that workplace barriers can be removed. Workplace assessments are also available from specialist organisations.

Here are some things you may need to consider to support d/Deaf and hard of hearing employees:

  • Improve the acoustics: soft furnishings like carpets, install acoustic panels and fit rubber caps on chair and table legs.
  • Layout and positioning: make sure your D/deaf employee is working in a space that has good acoustics and where they can see the rest of the room clearly. Think about the layout of meetings – can everyone be seen clearly? If a D/deaf or hard of hearing person needs to lip read it will be important for them to see everyone’s faces.
  • Music: music in the workplace should be played at a low volume or turned off completely.

Be open to reasonable adjustments

Not only are employers required to make reasonable adjustments for people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing under the Equality Act 2010, but being a deaf-friendly employer is the right thing to do to create an inclusive, thriving workplace.

By talking to your D/deaf employee and considering all the points outlined above you will be able to develop an understanding of what reasonable adjustments they need in order to do bring their best selves to work.

Raise D/deaf awareness

By raising awareness of D/deafness and hearing loss in your organisation you will be taking a step to becoming a more deaf-friendly employer.

Many employees from the D/deaf community discuss feelings of isolation due to difficulties in hearing conversations and having a hidden disability. This can lead to challenges around career progression. Organise awareness sessions across line managers and all employees to understand challenges of the workplace and how to be more inclusive.

Many people suffer hearing loss at different times of their lives. This change in a person’s health can take time to accept and carries a stigma. Regular awareness sessions and conversations in the workplace about hearing loss and the D/deaf community normalise the topic.

If colleagues and managers know more about deafness and how to communicate with D/deaf employees they will be more confident to engage with them and d/Deaf employees will feel supported and safer at work.

You could raise awareness by:

  • Sharing this article
  • Asking a D/deaf colleague to share their story

How Inclusive Employers can help you become a deaf friendly employer

The team of expert consultants at Inclusive Employers can support you to become a D/deaf friendly employer and create more opportunities for you to improve your work place for D/deaf people.

Members can access our D/deaf awareness resource for free.

Not yet a member and want to find out more? Contact our team today and we will happily support you through our options and benefits.


Grow your team

When you become an Inclusive Employers’ Member you grow your I&D team.

Your account manager works with you to understand your goals, your challenges and achievable next steps.

Do you need more support for your inclusive culture to thrive?

Learn about membership today

Join us on an upcoming webinar