As a North East accessibility consultant, I work with organisations across the region to educate their staff and create accessible spaces so everyone can enjoy their business. Whether you run a shop, cafe or office, accessibility should be a high priority for you. With over 14 million disabled people in the UK, there’s no excuse for not accommodating as many people as you can. 

This week is a particularly important one for me as it’s International Week of the Deaf. Over 11 million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing, and 151,000 are British Sign Language users. The deaf community is full of incredible people, and I want to help make sure every business can be accessible to people like me. So, here are some top tips to ensure your workplace is accessible to the deaf community.

Consider signage carefully

Clear and concise signage is important in any workplace, particularly when it comes to communicating important information with deaf and hard of hearing employees, visitors and customers. When creating signs, avoid waffle and unnecessary images. Focus on short sentences and bulleted lists that are easy and quick to read.

Provide captions to videos

Most businesses use the medium of video to communicate these days. Whether it’s training videos or marketing advertisements, video is more common than ever, so make sure all can access it. Provide accurate and accessible captions on all videos – even if they are only for internal use, you never know who might benefit—got videos in need of captions? I can support with accessible transcription and captioning services.

Look at people while talking 

Deaf and hard of hearing people communicate in different ways. From hearing aids to lip reading, assistance dogs and, more often than not, a combination of these and other means of communication, no two people are the same. So, even if someone has a hearing aid, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t also lipreading. 

Regardless of whether someone has told you they are deaf or hard of hearing, you should look at people while talking to them. If you sit side by side with colleagues or approach customers from behind, be aware that not everyone will be able to hear you clearly, so eye contact and clear communication is vital.

Don’t all speak at the same time

Following on from the above, when multiple people talk simultaneously, it can be really hard for a person who is deaf or hard of hearing to differentiate between who is speaking, particularly if they have a hearing aid or are trying to lip-read everyone in the group. In the same vein, if someone asks you to repeat yourself multiple times, don’t speak louder – speak clearer and look directly at the person. 

Visual emergency alarms

This is something that very rarely occurs to people who don’t have hearing difficulties. Fire and burglar alarms are, by their very definition, very loud. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone knows if there is an emergency. Something as simple as a Visual Alarm Device (VAD) will ensure your workplace is compliant and safe for everyone. 

Prioritise emails and chat functionalities

There are many reasons why someone would prefer email and/or chat communication, this isn’t just relevant to the deaf community. If you sell products online, make sure your customers can get in touch with you via multiple channels, so they can choose what’s best for them – a phone number might be ideal for one customer but a hassle for another. Equally, if you manage an office workplace, you can easily make accommodations like ensuring deaf and hard of hearing people are able to communicate via email, or provide speech-to-text phone devices where necessary. 

Remember: creating an accessible space doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many accommodations you can make without breaking the bank, and there is also the Access to Work Scheme, that may help provide financial support for employees with disabilities. 

If you want to learn more about supporting deaf people at work, check out this fantastic Employer’s Guide from RNID. To book disability awareness training or a workspace audit, get in touch with me directly at [email protected].