20th July 2021

Top tips for communicating with Deaf employees

Blog post from our Members Sign Solutions



Communicating with Deaf or Hard of Hearing employees, whether on a one-to-one basis, around the office or during a meeting, is simple when you make small adaptations to the way you speak and your body language.

Unfortunately, while much progress has been made to break down communication barriers in the workplace, many businesses and organisations still aren’t doing enough to accommodate their Deaf employees or customers and make themselves genuinely open and accessible to all.

Many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people still face inequality and discrimination at work or when trying to access services or information that most hearing people take for granted.

Better communication lies at the heart of this issue.

It’s what helps develop stronger relationships with colleagues, leadership and management, customers, service users and other stakeholders.

It also helps to create a diverse and inclusive workplace culture that engages everyone and doesn’t discriminate.

However, many businesses don’t realise that it can be easier than they think to make the reasonable adjustments Deaf or Hard of Hearing employees need to do their job more effectively and feel a valued part of the team.

Here, Clare Vale, Managing Director of specialist interpretation, translation and communication support company Sign Solutions, shares her top tips for communicating with Deaf or Hard of Hearing employees.


How to make Deaf employees feel at ease with communication
If you have Deaf or Hard of Hearing employees, the first step is to better understand their communication needs, so you can support them in the workplace.

Failing to accommodate reasonable adjustments is a common form of disability discrimination. Reasonable adjustments can include anything from audio equipment to BSL interpretation, translation and note-taking. Any additional equipment you need to purchase can usually be funded through the Government’s Access to Work scheme.

Once you’ve made those reasonable adjustments, here are a few practical things for you and your team to bear in mind when communicating with Deaf or Hard of Hearing colleagues:

Gain attention
Make sure you have your Deaf colleague’s attention before you start talking to them. You can do so by putting yourself in their line of vision or tapping their shoulder or desk lightly.

Speak clearly
Try not to mumble, speak too loudly, or cover your mouth. Many Deaf people can lip read, which will be made more difficult if you over pronounce or mumble as this distorts your lip movements.

Check the lighting
To help your colleague see you clearly, make sure you have adequate lighting in the room so they can see your face. Also, try not to stand too close to them as this can distort the way they read your lips and facial expressions.

Limit background noise
Whether it’s other employees in an open office space, the radio, or loud outdoor traffic, the less background noise, the better. For those who wear hearing aids, it can be harder to process multiple sounds. Limiting background noise will enhance communication. 

Check for understanding
Look for signs that your colleague is on the same page as you and is understanding throughout your conversation. If not, repeat or rephrase what you are saying and don’t be afraid to ask them how you can improve your communication.

Have good body language
Sit or stand face to face with your colleague so they can see your facial expressions as well as your body language. Maintain a good level of eye contact throughout your conversation, both when you’re communicating and when they are communicating.

Learn the basic signs
Learning the British Sign Language (BSL) alphabet and basic signs will significantly improve the way you can communicate with Deaf colleagues. Offering BSL training to hearing employees will enhance overall communication throughout your organisation.

Encouraging an organisational culture that is accepting of all, where everyone feels valued and able to contribute, is a fundamental part of good business management.
There are around 11 million people with some form of hearing loss in the UK, many of whom have skills, expertise and experience that would make them an asset to any business.