How to contact someone who is deaf or who has a hearing loss
People who are deaf or have hearing loss have a range of communication needs. For some hearing aid wearers, a telephone conversation may not present any difficulty but, for a British Sign Language (BSL) user, this would be impossible. It’s important that you know how to contact each individual and that you tailor the way you communicate to suit their needs.
If a basic phone call isn’t appropriate, some of the other contact methods available include:
- Relay UK – Relay UK has replaced Text Relay. If someone has hearing loss, when they make or receive a phone call, a relay assistant converts speech to text and vice versa, so the two people in the conversation can communicate
- text message to a mobile phone
- email or letter – but bear in mind that these may still present a barrier to someone who uses BSL as their first language. Please see below for tips on writing in plain English.
How to communicate in writing
It's very important to use plain English when writing for somebody who uses BSL as their first language.
Here are some basic guidelines to get you started.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point
- Always use short words instead of long words where possible. For example, say ‘use’ not ‘utilise’ and ‘buy’ not ‘purchase’
- Avoid jargon
- Break up the writing with headings and bullet points
- Think about using clear diagrams to replace long written descriptions
- Use photographs to illustrate your points. These can be especially effective if they're real people and not models.
How to communicate at appointments
- When someone who's deaf or who has hearing loss arrives, ask for their name and continue the process of ‘signing on’ as normal. Remember, people with hearing loss may find it more difficult to hear because of poor acoustics or background noise. For more information about communicating better with people with hearing loss, see Tips for hearing people
- If the jobseeker wears a hearing aid, ensure that the hearing loop system is working, switched on, and that all staff know how to use it.
- If they are a BSL user, explain that if they want to discuss anything at more length, then a separate meeting will need to be arranged and you will need to book a BSL Interpreter.
- If the jobseeker is a BSL user, and you want to discuss their current job searches, a BSL Interpreter will be needed to discuss the job details.
- There's a range of communication support services available, so be aware that not all people with hearing loss access English through BSL Interpreters, so you should check their preferred method of communication (for example, lipspeaker or notetaker).
How to provide communication access
If someone’s hearing loss means that they require communication support to access Jobcentre Plus services, it's your responsibility to provide this. We advise using communication professionals registered with the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD).
For more information, read our Tips for working with communication professionals.
To book a communication professional through Action on Hearing Loss, see Communication support
What are Jobcentre Plus's obligations?
As a public sector organisation, all Jobcentre Plus locations have obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to make adjustments to meet the needs of disabled people. For people who are deaf or who have hearing loss to gain employment, and receive the necessary support, they must be given equal access to the service the Jobcentre provides.
Public sector organisations are also required to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty. This requires public bodies, such as Jobcentre Plus, to take account of disabled people’s requirements when making decisions on policies or services.
What is Access to Work?
Access to Work is a government-funded scheme, delivered through Jobcentre Plus that helps people with disabilities gain equal access to the workplace.
For deaf people, Access to Work could pay the cost of the communication support and equipment necessary to provide equal access to the workplace. This can include the cost of communication professionals such as interpreters.
Access to Work is available to people aged over 16 in Great Britain who are:
- in work
- about to start work
- have an interview for a job
- trying out a new job which has been sourced by the Jobcentre.
To find out more read Access to Work
I work at Jobcentre Plus, how can I support people with hearing loss?
- You can refer jobseekers with hearing loss to a Disability Employment Advisor (DEA) who has specialist knowledge of local services, training and support. If no DEA is available, make sure the individual is put in contact with the relevant work coach.
- If you are a DEA or work coach, you may need to signpost the person with hearing loss to more information or support. You can direct them to Action on Hearing Loss on 0808 808 0123 (telephone), 0808 808 9000 (textphone), text 0780 000 0360 (SMS only) or email our Information line.
- If you are in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, Action on Hearing Loss's specialist employment support services may be able to support the people you are working with.
What if an employer asks for advice?
If an employer asks you for advice about making work accessible for people with hearing loss, Action on Hearing Loss can help. We provide deaf awareness training to businesses and organisations. And through our workplace assessments, we can advise employers on simple adaptations in the workplace to make it accessible to employees with hearing loss.
For more information about how we can help employers, read Services and training for businesses
What is 'Louder than Words'?
Louder than Words is our nationally-recognised accreditation for organisations striving to offer excellent levels of service and accessibility for customers and employees who are deaf or have a hearing loss.