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How to… support deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues

Alexandra Broderick, a Biomedical Scientist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, looks at the issues and the actions that are needed.

In March I attended a Health and Care Workforce gathering in Leeds for and with other deaf and hard-of-hearing (HOH) NHS professionals and employees from around the UK. Our collective careers included nursing, medical doctors, pharmacy and administration, among others. I was the only attendee from biomedical science.

Matthew James, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and Retention from NHS England, organised this event because the NHS has been going for 75 years and nothing has been established for the deaf/HOH people. It was felt now is a good time to share experiences, information and suggestions to improve systems, policies and attitudes of working in the NHS. The overall aim was to bring vital changes within the NHS and break down barriers we face.

Our collective feelings on progress (or lack of) at this stage are that it’s protracted and often non-existent in terms of:

  • Lack of awareness/support from the managers
  • Career suppression (which is illegal)
  • Health and safety (again, illegal)
  • Lack of deaf awareness in the workplace
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of support networks
  • Hearing privilege (see terminology)
  • Mental health issues due to unconscious bias
  • Time and patience to translate the complexities of English language to plain English (some people have British Sign Language as their first language or process English in a different way)
  • Mental fatigue from concentrating all day on communication
  • “Deaf-load” – added burden to the deaf and HOH to deal with extra work on Access to Work support.

Several stories that struck a chord from the event were: missed opportunities of promotion due to career suppression; lack of understanding/support; presumptions that we cost our employers too much money; or we are too much effort to work with. When my mother was in hospital during the COVID pandemic and I had an exception to visit, I was stopped by a junior sister. I asked her to remove her mask so we could communicate socially distanced. She refused. I asked again once I had explained I was totally deaf and reliant on lipreading, she refused again. It was distressing and demoralising because I struggled to communicate and it impacted greatly on my mental health. I wrote a letter of complaint, which was passed on to the junior sister who denied my complaint and said she did remove her mask.

Action points

We picked out five significant issues that we want the NHS to take action on:

  • Mandatory deaf awareness that includes communication skills for diversity to be delivered to all staff, including executives, because deafness can happen to anyone. We would like to have opportunities in any role from the bottom to the top level. Deaf awareness training to be provided by someone with lived experience and perspective.
  • Create a national/regional network among the deaf and HOH staff.
  • Mandatory basic sign language and communication tactics among everyone (deaf people included!)
  • Ensure job descriptions and interviews do not have barriers to communication to allow deaf applicants to demonstrate communication skills so that everyone with those skills is encouraged to apply and progress up the career ladder, deaf or hearing. Possibly offer work trial/experience to show evidence to the National Occupational Standards for Communication (
  • Awareness of Access to Work to increase support and teamwork within the systems.

Hopefully NHS England will put these suggestions into practice and generate a change in the NHS to improve the working lives of deaf and HOH employees, especially as we have waited for a long time for this to happen. Anyone who is deaf or HOH, who may be struggling at work, remember that you are not alone. For those who don’t disclose their hearing loss, because of the fear of being treated differently or less favourably, it’s something we all want to change, so that we get to thrive in work by getting the equity we deserve.


Deaf – Individuals with severe or profound hearing loss. Some use spoken or sign language along with hearing aids or cochlear implant and communication devices. 

Deafened – Those who have lost their hearing either gradually or suddenly. Use either speech with visual cues, e.g. palantypist, notetaking, lipreading or sign.

Hard of hearing – hearing loss ranging from mild to severe.

Auditory processing disorder – Listening and making sense of sound is challenging, especially in environments with increased background noise. 

Culturally deaf – Individuals who actively participate in language, culture and community of deaf people, using sign language. They don’t see themselves as pathologically deaf, but deaf from a socio-cultural point of view.

Unconscious bias – Making judgements or decisions on our deep-rooted thought patterns, assumptions or interpretations that we are not aware of doing.

Hearing privilege – The term “privileged” is unsettling because it implies that those with privileges live easier lives than those without them, or that those with privileges do not acknowledge that they have an advantage. E.g. last-minute meetings where most can follow everything, but some require weeks’ or months’ notice to organise communication support; not have to worry about accessibility in training courses or use the telephone unassisted.

Intersectionality – An analytical framework of understanding how a person’s various social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege.   

Equality – Defined by giving all people the same pair of shoes in the same size.

Equity – Defined by giving people a different pair of shoes that fit them and suit their needs and requirements.


Pardon, I’m deaf Facebook Group – Wb

UK Deaf Healthcare Professionals Facebook Group –

Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) – Workplace Support –

Hearing Link – Work –

Image Credit | iStock

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