The silence is deafening – awareness of hidden disabilities and what employers can do

The 4th May to the 9th May heralded Deaf Awareness Week, which is an annual event aimed to raise awareness of deafness but also "acquired deafness", which relates to people who lose hearing during their life (as opposed to being born with hearing loss or deafness).

Over the past year of pandemic pandemonium, you may be forgiven for looking past certain things: bad haircuts, unexpecting pets in zoom calls, and other associated eccentricities that have presented themselves since the working world was upended over a year ago. However, as we inch back to a sense of normality and potentially begin re-entering an office environment and face-to-face contact, it is important to remember to be receptive to both colleagues and customers/clients who may have hearing loss and deafness, which is classified as a hidden disability.

In the UK alone there are millions of people living with some form of hearing loss, ranging from mild to profound. The challenges faced by these individuals can be great, as when your ability to communicate is impacted, your working life or ability to engage with others in general can be altered.

At Foot Anstey LLP we were visited recently by Simon Houghton, Deaf Awareness advocate and founder of a deaf awareness campaign designed to promote knowledge of this area and train organisations. The #WeSupportDeafAwareness campaign provides hearing/deaf awareness training to staff and helps improve awareness of our own communication skills and also those of others.

What should an employer do?

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for disabled employees, as set out in the Equality Act 2010.

Reasonable adjustments could include modifying a job to account for the needs of an individual with hearing loss and will be dependent on the resources your business has (or is expected to have). However, being inclusive goes beyond merely ticking the box under the legal rules. By making your business an attractive and welcoming place for all people, you could increase your ability to hire talent and allow staff to reach their full potential.

Here are some simple steps that an employer can adopt in respect to creating an inclusive workplace for those who are deaf/hard of hearing:


If an employee or customer/client is struggling to keep track in meetings (whether virtual or in-person) consider the following simple steps:


  • Ensure videos are turned on as this can assist with lip-reading
  • Turn on captions – some platforms allow for immediate transcription from speech (although be attuned to the varying degrees of accuracy)
  • Make sure there is as little background noise distraction as possible and encourage participants to wear headsets to improve audio quality
  • Offer a whiteboard functionality, if preferred, or explain (and use) the comment box

In person

  • Ask the individual if they lip read, and if so, consider clear masks, Perspex screens, or ensure there is space to be socially distanced to safely remove your masks in order for your face to be clearly visible – relevant COVID restrictions providing
  • Offer a pen and paper or whiteboard
  • Consider a voice to text application or speech-to-text reporters
  • If needed, some services are available to offer real time video sign language interpretation (such as Sign Solutions)
  • Do not turn your back or move your face away from someone when talking
  • Adjust the layout of a meeting room so people are able to easily face each other
  • Use good lighting to assist with visual cues

About the #WeSupportDeafAwareness campaign

The campaign was set up by Simon Houghton, someone with a severe hearing loss, after struggling to communicate during the pandemic due to the barrier of masks. The campaign includes employee training, and since campaign launch on 12th April 2021, more than 23,500 employees have been provided access to the training across multiple NHS Trusts, Charities, large corporations, as well as small businesses.

Want to learn more?

If you are a interested in learning more, are a business that either has employees that are deaf or hard of hearing, or are a business that interacts with the general public or customers (e.g. retail, hospitality, travel etc.) and want to become more deaf aware, then please contact [email protected] or visit for more information on the #WeSupportDeafAwareness campaign and learn how you can get involved.

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