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In employment, are deaf people at bottom of pecking order

This is my recent contribution I made for the Limping Chicken website.

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Hello! I’m Tony Barlow, an employment consultant with 10 years experience of working in employment for deaf people.

My goal in writing for Limping Chicken is to cover issues relating to employment, jobs, careers, work experience and UNEMPLOYMENT.

Ugh – that word which has cast dark gloomy clouds across this proud but fragile country.

Even if you are currently working, there is a good chance you know someone who is recently unemployed, or has a job which is under threat. Or is sending endless job applications and not getting a bite.

It is hard to avoid that widespread feeling of job insecurity while the economy struggles.

Employers are pruning their staff and surviving staff are being forced to do more work for same money. The fortunate ones with job security are usually your funeral director or a bailiff…..or even that reviled figure of an investment banker.

It’s not easy to feel confident about our future when the news is reeling off reports of rising unemployment levels, benefits being cut back and 300+ applicants chasing after an unskilled job. Furthermore, with 2.7 million looking for work, the competition is intense for an average deaf and/or disabled jobseeker.

If you are currently unemployed, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling quite desperate and are worried about finding meaningful employment these days.

How do I know? Because I am one of them. Hopefully not for long – I am working on setting up a new business relating to employment.

Looking for a job when you are deaf, is in my view, made harder when JobCentres are lacking in Deaf awareness and are poorly equipped to support deaf jobseekers.

They often do not provide equipment or telephone support when you have identified a job worth applying for. In my experience, DWP Call Centre staffs can also be unhelpful when you make a relayed call about a job advert or benefit enquiry.

Disability Employment Advisors are often over stretched and their knowledge of supporting deaf people can be limited.

It wasn’t long ago, when applying for a job was more simple and straightforward, involving sending a CV with a covering letter, or a paper application.

It’s harder for deaf people to navigate their way through a quagmire of psychometric assessments, telephone interviews, time-limited online questionnaires and applications, group interviews and presentations. These need bags of confidence and can be made tougher if skills if English language skills are not one of your strong points.

After 6 months on the dole, a deaf jobseeker can find themselves placed on a Work Programme or Work Choice.

There is no assurance that you will meet an advisor who will understand your barriers and communication needs (except for isolated cases in some areas of the UK, through sheer determination of its local deaf organisations). It can be a postcode lottery.

There appears to be no consistent national framework, which provides an appropriate and consistent support system for deaf people all over the UK.

In recent years, the government – both Labour and Tories – have come up with three main employment programmes: ‘Work Choice’, and ‘Flexible New Deal’ which was subsequently replaced by ‘Work Programme’.

These have created a network of private providers (for example, A4e, Serco, Shaw Trust, Ingeus, Remploy, Working Links, InTraining) looking to win contracts in different regions.

Department of Work and Pensions expect the private providers to ensure their services are accessible. So the contract winners often bring in specialised subcontractors to address their access needs – and that is where Deaf/BSL using employment advisors like me, sometimes working for larger organisations, come in. The buzz words are ‘partnership’ and ‘chain supply’.

The danger of devising these national employment programmes and setting up a network of private providers – without really consulting with the grassroots, deaf organisations and charities on the ground supporting people with needs – is that it becomes “one size fits all.”

There appears to be no genuine quality standard or accountability in place to ensure each provider can cater and meet the varying support requirements of a diverse range of deaf jobseekers. Therefore access becomes more patchy and often an afterthought whenever a deaf jobseeker come to them.

As always, it can fall to the charities and deaf organisations to try their best to plug these gaps for deaf jobseekers.

Not all of them do step forward or can afford to fund long term support until results come in. For instance, the Work Programme is only worthwhile when a jobseeker gets a job and stays in the job for up to 2 years.

With specialised support for deaf job seekers hard to find, most deaf jobseekers will find themselves using mainstream services, where there is little expertise in supporting deaf jobseekers.

While most providers are aware of their duty to provide access, interpreters or other communication tactics, it is not always effective. At the first appointment, not all of them know what to do when faced with a deaf jobseeker. Often, it becomes a learning experience for the (hearing) Employment Adviser.

Deaf awareness is still sorely lacking in large parts – the hearing advisers don’t often know why it is important to use highly qualified BSL interpreters, and how to utilise the Access to Work(ATW) system.

Further, they don’t always know what ATW can cover: job interviews, health & safety solutions (to overcome some employers’ justification in the unsuitability of having a deaf employee in their factory for example), and that some deaf jobseekers need extra support in English writing, especially in job applications, confidence building or to say the right things in job interviews.

Despite the communication support/interpreter being provided or the advisor receiving basic Deaf awareness, the lack of in-depth knowledge and Deaf/hearing cultural differences remains the biggest pitfall. This can create a negative impact on the deaf jobseeker’s journey into employment. In my future blogs, I intend to cover more, in depth, on this subject.

I feel that it is more beneficial for a specialist provider to be brought in (a service with a first-hand knowledge of deaf issues and/or BSL) as they offer empathy and have experience of overcoming the barriers facing the jobseekers.

With specialist support being available nationally, the deaf jobseeker would start to feel confident straight away, knowing they are going to be getting expert advice, be understood and be able to compete for jobs on equal footing, instead of losing hope and motivation before they even get started.

Deaf jobseekers usually are more willing to open up when they are dealing with a Deaf/BSL/CODA specialist provider.

I know, because I’ve seen this for myself.

Tony Barlow is an employment consultant of 10 years with extensive experience of working with private providers, having previously worked for RNID and Dering Employment Services. He is currently living in Derby with a Deaf wife and 2 little girls, and is planning to launch a new employment service soon. He tweets as @Saltbar, and is also a proud geek, online activist and an England rugby fan who, until recently, have stopped teasing the Welsh fans. :-(

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