27 April 2023

Celebrating Deaf Awareness Week 2023 At MHR

Hands clapping together.

One in five people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing. This year, MHR decided to do something to improve deaf awareness in one of our teams.

With collaboration as one of our core values, inclusive communication is a key concern at MHR. Ensuring everyone can share ideas and be heard leads to a happier and more diverse team that can produce exceptional work.

This is where one of our graphic designers, Ravi, stepped in.

Ravi was born Deaf and has been a huge advocate for deaf awareness in the workplace. With this in mind, the marketing team decided to go through a short British Sign Language course to learn more about deaf awareness and pick up some tips for making the workplace more inclusive.


The Facts

There are 12 million deaf people in the UK, and as the biggest cause of hearing loss is age, that number will only go up as the average age of the population increases. 40% of people over 50 years old have some form of hearing loss, and that percentage jumps to 70% in the over 70s.

But deafness isn’t just something that happens as you get older. Some people, like Ravi, are born Deaf and grow up learning how to communicate using British Sign Language (BSL). Many of them consider themselves part of a linguistic minority, one with its own unique culture. There are 151,000 BSL users in the UK, and 87,000 of them are Deaf.

A lot of hearing people assume that if they speak slowly and clearly enough, deaf people will easily be able to pick up what they’re saying.  Many people will assume that deaf people are all naturally amazing at lip reading, but even the best lip readers can struggle at times. Only 30-40% of speech sounds can be lip-read, even in the best conditions.


What We Learned

MHR put together a bespoke training day for the marketing team members who work most closely with Ravi. In addition to a crash course on fingerspelling the alphabet and an overview of deaf culture, there was a particular focus on words that would be useful for use in an office, including ‘meeting’ and ‘graphic design’.

By the end of the day, the team were happily fingerspelling their names, and asking for more key words. Some of them have already started making plans to learn the language on a more in-depth basis.

Crucially, while the training didn’t make anyone BSL fluent, it did help boost awareness among the team massively. There was a real drive to learn as much as possible.

Even though BSL takes as much time and effort as any language to learn, these are some of the tips that the marketing team walked away with.

  • Keep eye contact
  • Always get the attention of the person before you start talking
  • Don’t overenunciate or speak too slowly. It’s patronising and actually makes you harder to lipread
  • If you’re struggling to communicate, don’t just give up or keep trying the same tack over and over. Fingerspelling, drawing, or text are all options when speech fails.
  • Listen to the deaf person. They’ll tell you if they need you to slow down, or to try a different approach.
  • Never shout. It’s unhelpful for the profoundly deaf, and very uncomfortable for hearing aid wearers.

After the session, Ravi said, “Don’t be afraid to meet some deaf people, they will be more than welcome to help you if you want to learn sign language that they will be happy that you have made the effort to talk to them.”


What Your Business Can Do

Even if your business doesn’t have any Deaf or hard of hearing employees presently, introducing these traits into how you operate will create a more inclusive environment that can effortlessly welcome them in.

It can also help all your employees become more considerate and empathetic communicators, which makes for a much happier office.

Here are some simple adjustments that you could make in your company today to make it instantly more deaf inclusive.

  • Keep things well lit. Signing is much harder in poor lighting
  • Include subtitles on training videos
  • Provide agendas, handouts and other written materials for meetings
  • Encourage employees to avoid talking over each other
  • Consider your emergency processes. Many fire alarms are entirely sound based, for instance

What works really well for one deaf person may be a problem for another. For a truly accessible business, keeping things as adaptable as possible while sourcing input from a range of members of the deaf community is your best bet.

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