Hundreds of organisations and employees across the UK are supporting national Deaf Awareness Week this week by learning about disability awareness and promoting the benefits and improving services to their customers.
With one in six people in the UK suffering from some degree of hearing loss, organisations, particularly those with front line members of staff, are participating in the week-long campaign, which has been co-ordinated by the UK Council on Deafness.
The campaign aims to improve the understanding of the different types of deafness by highlighting the methods of communication used by deaf, deafened, deafblind and hard of hearing people, such as sign language and lipreading.
National award winning workplace training and consultancy company, HearFirst has seen demand increase over the years for training of front line members of staff as they begin to recognise the importance of delivering an inclusive service to their customers and employees.
HearFirst works with a number of clients across many sectors including housing associations, schools, colleges and universities, museums, libraries and galleries, the NHS, community groups and commercial organisations.
The demand for training has also extended as far as Central Government with her team booked to deliver bite-sized deaf awareness and British Sign Language (BSL) training sessions to staff at the Houses of Parliament next week. The aim of the sessions is to raise awareness of people who are deaf and hard of hearing and learn about the range of communication methods people may use when they are visiting or working at the Houses of Parliament.
One organisation who has already recently benefitted from deaf awareness and BSL training is Lancashire-based housing provider, Community Gateway Association (CGA). Front-line staff within the organisation have received training and Gareth Sym, Learning and Development Advisor from CGA, said: “The training that has been delivered has been well received and staff are already asking when we will be providing this training again. They have taken on-board everything that Julie and her team have taught them and now feel more confident in communicating with those that are hard of hearing or profoundly deaf. Some staff members are already looking at gaining their BSL Level 1 qualifications to better our services provided to all tenants and residents of Community Gateway Association”.
Julie Ryder, Director and Founder of HearFirst found that she was going deaf and had a mild loss of hearing in 1991 after answering the telephone at work. Over time, Julie’s hearing deteriorated and by 2000, she became profoundly deaf on both sides. She had hearing aids fitted but found it difficult and tiring to lip read and became increasingly frustrated that not many people knew sign language. It was a difficult transition for her to make particularly when communicating with her two children, Alfie and Annie.
In 2002, Julie had a cochlear implant fitted to her left side and for the first time ever, she could hear what Alfie and Annie said without having to lip read them.
She said, “Throughout my ‘deaf’ journey I’ve met many people who simply don’t know how to communicate with deaf people effectively. Communication is two way so even though I can lipread and use British Sign Language, there’s still a lot that hearing people can do to help me, and the millions of other deaf people in the UK, access conversation and information.
“For me, the onset of deafness felt like the end of my life but it turned out to be just the beginning.”
Julie added: “Our aim is to promote the positive aspects of deafness and encourage social inclusion. By encouraging as many organisations to learn about deaf awareness and how to communicate to a deaf person will help to reduce any barriers. Deaf Awareness Week is a great opportunity for organisations to educate and train their staff on disability awareness, promoting the benefits and improving services to their customers.”
Julie’s top tips to improve customer service to deaf people
- Offer a range of contact options for your organisation – not just a phone number.
- Ensure you’ve good signage so people can see where to go rather than asking.
- Remove background noise when you’re meeting people or are on the phone.
- In meetings ask the deaf person where’s the best place for them to sit to see your face.
- On a sunny day you can easily put your face in shadow. The light should be on you as the speaker.
- Don’t be afraid to use gestures to link it with what you’re saying.
- Always speak as clearly as you can but never shout.
- Know where to get a BSL interpreter from if you need one.
- Be aware that most older people have some degree of hearing loss.
- Use pen and paper to get specific information across e.g. times and dates.
HearFirst provides a full range of equality & diversity training courses to organisations across the UK. For more information on Deaf, disability awareness and BSL training, please contact Julie at HearFirst on 01706 872 816 or visit www.hearfirst.org.uk