Week of the Deaf: How workplaces can become more inclusive

As Friday 23 September marks Sign Language Day, we spoke to two experts to discover how businesses can become more inclusive to the deaf community

Sign Language Day (SLD) is part of International Week of the Deaf, and this year follows the theme of “building exclusive communities for all”. As an initiative of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), SLD was first launched in 1958 in Rome to commemorate the month when the first World Congress of the WFD was held. 

Clare Shard, Head of Interpreting and Translation at Cygnet Health Care says: “Recognising events like Sign Language Day is so important to raise awareness of the deaf community but also of how they communicate through British Sign Language (BSL) to encourage others to learn and build more inclusive environments nationwide.”

Week of the Deaf holds different themes every day, including Sign Languages in Education, Sustainable economic opportunities for deaf people, Health for All, Safeguarding deaf people in times of crisis, Sign Languages Unite Us, and at the weekend, Intersectional Deaf Communities and Deaf Leadership for Tomorrow. 

How can learning BSL help to create inclusive workplaces?

As BSL is the fourth most used language in the UK, learning even a few basic signs can make others who use it as their first language feel more included and comfortable.

“It’s really important that as we promote inclusiveness and diversity, we also include people whose first language is BSL so that everybody is treated equally and able to experience the same opportunities as everybody else,” Clare says.

Learning BSL helps to build a stronger connection with people. Despite allowing you to communicate with people who cannot hear, sign language can also help you become a better listener. This is because sign language requires more concentration on the individual speaking.

“It is important, as a minimum, to grasp the basics such as “Hello”, “How are you?” “Good”, “Thank you”, “What is your name?”. It enables people to engage in basic conversation with a member of the deaf community which can feel so important to them and really boost their feelings of inclusivity,” Clare adds. “Studying even basic phrases such as these promotes better awareness of and sensitivity to the deaf and hard of hearing community. It will also help people develop a strong appreciation for deaf culture, and you can promote understanding and acceptance of the language among others.”

BSL can boost DEI initiatives in the workplace

By creating environments that are safe and inclusive for the deaf community, businesses are helping to create positive role models for others, so service users can see there is hope for a positive future ahead of them. 

“Deaf people have as much knowledge and skills to bring to a workplace as anyone else. If you supplemented BSL for French, it is exactly the same” Clare says. “You have someone who is intelligent, articulate, experienced and able to provide a professional service of the highest standard, just like anyone else. 

“Every organisation should embrace a bilingual and bicultural environment which enables deaf colleagues to perform to the best of their ability. It is a matter of securing an environment which creates the same opportunities for everybody. We should be creating a culture of recognition that BSL is a language in its own right and for those where BSL is their first language, they must be enabled and empowered to work in a way that is effective for them.”

The more companies that embrace BSL and the ability to communicate, the more the deaf community can be inspired and any remaining barriers to opportunities can be overcome. 

“It is really important that employers do not give deaf people any barriers, particularly for promotion and progression,” Trevor Borthwick-Hare, Cygnet Health Care’s Communication and Translation Specialist. “It would be fantastic to see more deaf people as Directors of large organisations, which would hopefully inspire others and make deaf people realise that anything is possible.”

What can be done to create more inclusive environments?

“It would be lovely for many hearing people to learn sign languages that will enable them to communicate with deaf people in the UK,” Trevor says. “BSL should be in the education curriculum for hearing children to learn. It will help deaf children to communicate with their peers and lead to fewer incidents of bullying in the school and community.”

In contrast, Clare says: “For me, it’s not just about learning a few basic signs, it’s imperative to have quality deaf awareness training in the workplace. If you do this and embed it right, everybody can have a greater understanding of the lived experience of the deaf community. If people can emphasise and learn not only basic BSL phrases but also the use of gestures, lip reading and how to be a good communicator, this is part and parcel of embracing our deaf colleagues and service users.

About Cygnet Health Care

Cygnet Health Care provides highly specialised services for men and women who are Deaf or hard of hearing and who have complex mental health needs including mental illness, personality disorder, autism spectrum disorder or learning disability. As a national provider of Mental Health and Deafness services, we offer culturally sensitive treatment for Deaf service users with mental disorders. Staff are highly skilled in BSL and the services are well known for innovation and development within the field.

Our specialist Deaf services provide expertise and resources to enable service users with complex communication needs who may have a mental illness, learning disability or personality disorder to participate safely and as fully as possible in their care and achieve outcomes to support their discharge from the hospital.

At Cygnet Hospital Bury we provide specialist low secure Deaf services for men and medium and low secure services for women.

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