Today I had an interesting conversation with someone who is as passionate and annoyed as I am about discrimination against hearing impaired people and limited access to employment.
This is an issue close to my heart. Years ago, I was fresh out of university and looking for a job. I didn’t know about Access to Work as no one had thought to tell me, not even the university disability officer. I had no textphone – I didn’t know about those either. When you’re deaf, access to information is much tougher – a deaf person needs to be signposted to it rather than be expected to hear it from someone else. I clearly remember the frustration of applying for jobs and not getting anywhere.
After a few weeks of this, I had a brainwave. I applied for six jobs and straightforwardly stated I am deaf and unable to use the phone. I applied for another six jobs and omitted any reference to deafness in those applications – I even included my home phone number.
The first batch of applications resulted in a deafening silence. As I had come to expect The second batch, to my complete astonishment, had every single employer calling my home, extremely keen to interview me. The problem was, this meant my mother had to pick up the phone and take a message, and explain they had to email me as I couldn’t hear on the phone. Result? They all dropped me like hot cakes. Yeah …. that’s a great one for confidence building, isn’t it.
It pays to be very careful what you tell employers and how you say it – you need to offer solutions to your deafness as well as your skillset. For far too many hearing people, hearing loss is simply something they don’t know how to deal with. It’s best left until the interview stage where they can meet you in person and you can explain the situation, and help swing the interview your way with your brilliance.
But hey, we have Access to Work. Unfortunately, ATW keep restricting and cutting access, which seems to me to be an oxymoronic state of affairs. “No You Cannot Have 40 Hours a Week of Communication Support – It’s Far Too Expensive” - even though I work 40 hours a week. Where is *my* access to communication? How would an ATW adviser like to be told “Your Phone is Too Expensive, You Can Only Have it for 4 Hours a Week, and You Have to Re-Apply for it Every Two Years”?!
Some employers don’t really understand that people with less than fully functioning ears are just as able as people with fully functioning ears – just a few adjustments are needed. Yes, this *still* happens in the UK today! The biggest barriers seem to be attitudes and cost. The biggest solution seems to be raising awareness and enabling a decent, varied, and flexible provision of communication support.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect other people to understand hearing loss and all the attendant issues, problems, and solutions ….. but I *do* expect people to be open minded enough to listen and take information on board. If they provide a service to the general public, then they have a responsibility to be reasonably accessible to the public and to find out about accessibility – and implement it. I have seen too many examples where this has not happened. You can’t just say “It’s not my problem”. A responsibility is a huge, huge thing. But sometimes it is the white elephant in the room. When you’re at a disadvantage in society, this white elephant is really, really, really, big.
So how about this one …. the government, in all its wisdom, laid down regulations on 10 February for a new work capability assessment for employment and support allowance (ESA). This will become effective on 28 March 2011. This means deaf people who can read and write will not be eligible for ESA and will have to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). Just because a deaf person can read and write, doesn’t mean the barriers to employment have disappeared. I suspect, as blind people who can get around safely with their guide dogs are no longer eligible for ESA, deaf people with hearing dogs will no longer be eligible either. It’s not logical to simply make cuts in support and then not provide a replacement for that support. In any case, the current support is inadequate – it’s not the right kind of support. There should be mentors, role models, information hubs etc. Not just a bit of money thrown at you and a DEA (government Disability Employment Adviser) who just doesn’t ‘get it’. That’s before you even secure an interview in the first place. It’s all kind of a mess, isn’t it?
Whoops. Can someone poke our lovely new government and make them think again?
Or better still – put some deaf and disabled people into senior positions so that they can use their knowledge and experience for the benefit of the rest of us.
More information on the new ESA is at Benefits and Work