Image of a woman with her hand to her ear.Hearing loss and deafness in the workplace

Ever thought about how much you use your hearing in the workplace?  Phone ringing, colleagues talking to you, customers asking you questions, manager asking for that report, fire bell ringing….. What about if you had no hearing?  How would you cope? It sounds pretty isolating to me.

Some shy away from deaf people, unsure how to communicate so instead of trying, they simply ignore the person. 1 in 6 people is deaf or has hearing loss meaning 11 million people in the UK affected (Action on Hearing Loss), that’s a lot of people to be ignored!

Protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. Protected characteristics

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

A deaf person would be classed as disabled under the Equality Act and may well have other protected characteristics.

Note that there are limited circumstances where an employer may act in a way which is discriminatory if it can ‘objectively justify discrimination’ as what the law terms ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. This is a complex process and advice should be sought before relying on this.

Employers’ responsibilities

Employers have a responsibility under the Equality Act 2010 to treat applicants and workers no less favourably because of a ‘protected characteristic’ (direct discrimination).

Reasonable adjustments remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. Employers must also make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for a disabled person to ensure that he or she is not substantially disadvantaged when applying for or doing a job. Employers should make sure policies and working practices do not put disabled people at a disadvantage.

With advances in technology, there are fewer barriers for disabled people in general and greater opportunity for those deaf or with hearing loss.  Speech-to-text and electronic devices make meetings more accessible and those with hearing loss can prosper in environments that they may not have done previously.

There is much support available for deaf people at work (see the end of this blog) which ranges from allowing a BSL interpreter to be present at an interview, to arranging for special equipment to be available to help the person do their job.  It needn’t cost the earth and there is usually some kind of funding available too!  With such a huge number of people of working age affected by some kind of hearing loss, it would be a mistake to discount a huge range of people with excellent skills!

Consider developing workers to be deaf aware. Many organisations offer training programmes as well as workplace assessments and products to help employers become more inclusive of and attractive to people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

Action on Hearing Loss offer an Employer’s Hub giving information and advice on understanding hearing loss, recruiting people who have hearing loss and how you can support employees with hearing loss.


There are lots of ways colleagues can support deaf people and those with hearing loss:

  • Get the person’s attention before you try to communicate – imagine someone suddenly tapping you on the back when you didn’t hear them approaching!
  • Try to find an area where there are few distractions; lip reading takes a lot of concentration.
  • Speak clearly, slowly and using normal lip pattern and expressions.
  • There’s no need to shout (unless you’re asked to)!
  • Remain facing the person you’re communicating with – they can’t receive what you’re trying to say if they can’t see your face.
  • Learn British Sign Language!

Organisations which you may find useful

In East Anglia:

Cambridgeshire Deaf Association

CDA work with organisations to help make their services accessible to deaf people and provide a wide range of services themselves.

They support clients who have additional needs such as learning difficulties or physical disabilities meaning they have a depth of knowledge about not just deafness, but many other issues deaf people face.

CDA helps protect deaf women from domestic violence; hold hundreds of deaf drop-in events to provide support and combat isolation; and focus on the training and development of expert staff to support deaf people in a huge variety of situations.

Action on Hearing Loss

A national charity working across the UK

Access to work

A publicly funded employment support programme that aims to help more disabled people start or stay in work. It can provide practical and financial support for disabilities or long term physical or mental health condition.

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