Communication tips with Deaf people at work

James Loveridge
May 8, 2020 · 4 min read

As part of Deaf Awareness Week (4th to 10th May 2020), we at the FT would like to share a few things to raise awareness, share some work tips on how we work with deaf people. We also positively encourage an inclusive culture at work. We’ll also share a career journey written by one of the deaf people that work here at the FT.

Ben Fletcher, a Senior Engineer at work.
Ben Fletcher at work with the Financial Times, as seen in the video below.

How to talk with Deaf people through Sign Language interpreters

At work, native British Sign Language users will most likely have an interpreter that comes to work to assist with communication for meetings/ad-hoc conversations. The interpreters are there for everyone, not just for the Deaf person or the people that can’t sign. Interpreters are there to facilitate and to help communication flow smoothly.

My colleague Ben Fletcher has made a fantastic video which illustrates a few points on how to work with a Deaf person and an interpreter. Please do take the time to watch the video (It is 2 minutes long).

Ben also wrote a fantastic article a while back which covers culture clash and communicative labour. I recommend that some time is spent reading this article.

Two bonus tips to make things easier for everyone at work

If you are going to book a meeting room with a Deaf colleague and an interpreter, consider booking a bigger room than planned i.e. if there are going to be 4 people, book an 8 seat meeting room. The reasons for booking a bigger room are:

  • It allows you the opportunity to make sure the Deaf person can sit in a place where visibility is not a problem i.e. if the Deaf person or the interpreter was placed in front of the window, this would create visibility issues as it would create a silhouette with either person unable to see the other.
  • It allows for the Deaf person to be able to see everyone, not just the interpreter. We like to see everyone, and to build a collaborative environment.

Using a focal point object to maintain pace of the meeting, where only the person holding the object is able to speak in the meeting. The reasons for using an object like this:

  • It creates a structure in the meeting where people are not talking over each other.
  • It aids with getting people’s focus and attention in the meeting
  • It helps the Deaf person and the interpreter to maintain contact with the person that is speaking as it creates a visual aid where the Deaf person knows who is currently talking in the meeting.
  • It can be quite fun, and it allows the person who created the meeting in the first place, to improve communication for everyone so that everyone knows what has been discussed more clearly than before!

Jennifer Johnson wrote the ‘A Guide for Accessible Meetings’ article back in April 2018, and it still rings true, and is a worthwhile read and something for everyone to consider even without having a Deaf colleague.

In conclusion

There are always improvements that can be made, even at the FT. I hope that the three articles that have been published this week help people understand that what will help a Deaf person will also help them. It is not a one-way street, accessibility is improved for everyone.

What makes me really proud is that I’ve been able to look back and see the improvements that have been made since I’ve been working at the FT. The meetings I’ve been part of have been accessible and I’m not in any danger of missing out on information that I need to know at the time.

I am very excited to see what other companies are doing with their Deaf colleagues, and how they can improve things like communication or making reasonable adjustments in an office environment given the unpredictable times at the moment.

Many thanks goes to Wes Mehaffy for proofreading and his contributions to this article. I’d also like to thank Ben Fletcher for his contributions by providing such a fantastic video covering the bones of this article, and for his positive encouragement at work. Also for the photo for this article 😂 I promise to replace it with a better photo of us both when we are back at the office.

This is part three of a three post series for Deaf Awareness Week. If you have missed the other two articles, they can be found at: ‘Future Leaders: James Loveridge, Engineer’ and ‘Helping people learn sign language at work’.

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