An Access to Work guide for employers

While the accessibility and inclusion agenda has come a long way in recent years, there are sadly still incidents where Deaf and Hard of Hearing people suffer discrimination in the workplace.

In many of these cases, it’s simply down to the employer not knowing what their responsibilities and obligations are or not making the reasonable adjustments required to accommodate Deaf employees.

Fortunately for employees, there’s an easy solution. The Access to Work scheme provides funding towards any costs employers incur when making reasonable adjustments, which can help remove the barriers for Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees.

Here, we take a closer look at how the scheme works and how employers and employees can benefit.

What is Access to Work?

Access to Work is a Government-backed initiative run by Jobcentre Plus that provides practical advice and support to disabled people and employers to help remove any barriers related to a disability and promote accessibility in the workplace.

Under the scheme, employers can claim funding to help cover the cost of extra support or adaptations for disabled employees beyond the reasonable adjustments the employer is legally obliged to provide under the Equality Act.

As an employer, if you have disabled employees, you may be eligible for Access to Work funding. There are no restrictions on whether the employee is full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent, or has to work a minimum number of hours to qualify.

Access to Work can help you employ new disabled staff or retain existing employees who develop a disability or long-term condition during the course of their employment with you. This can help you keep their valuable skills, experience and expertise within your business or organisation and help you save the time and money required to recruit a replacement.

What type of support does Access to Work provide?

Access to Work can support your business or organisation in several ways.

It can provide financial assistance towards initial work-based assessments for new employees and cover the cost of any special aids, equipment or software you might need to purchase or adaptations to existing equipment.

Funding can cover the cost of training to use any specialist equipment or software you have purchased. It can also be used to subsidise travel costs for your disabled employees and pay for a wide variety of support workers, as required.

While the scheme does not provide any cash up-front, it provides grant funding to reimburse the employer for any costs they incur in purchasing additional equipment and support.

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees can generally claim back 100% of the costs of any adaptations, equipment or training they need to purchase, up to £10,000.

Medium-sized employers, with 50-249 employees, must contribute the first £500 of any approved costs plus 20% of the remainder up to £10,000, with Access to work funding the rest. Larger organisations with more than 250 employees must contribute the first £1,000, plus 20% of any additional costs up to £10,000.

How does Access to Work support Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees?

All employers are legally obliged to support Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees in the workplace.

Under the 2010 Equality Act, employers must provide reasonable adjustments to help disabled staff perform their duties to the best of their ability, ensure they are not disadvantaged and are treated the same as any other employee.

Failing to accommodate reasonable adjustments is a common form of disability discrimination that can leave your organisation open to legal action and the financial and reputational damage it can bring.

So, if you employ Deaf or Hard of Hearing people, it’s essential to understand what reasonable adjustments you need to make to determine if any special equipment needs to be purchased to help them do their job.

This can range from audio equipment, BSL interpretation, translation and note-taking to communication support or assistive devices like textphones or closed-loop systems to help your Deaf employees hear during meetings.

All of these can usually be funded through the Access to Work scheme.

There are a couple of other things to consider here.

As an employer, it’s vital to ensure your Deaf employees understand all the duties and responsibilities they will be expected to fulfil, so you can provide the additional support they need to do their job effectively.

Making any written policies, staff handbooks, training videos, and other vital documents accessible to Deaf employees is also essential, so they can access the same information their hearing colleagues can, and they aren’t placed at a disadvantage.

As an employer, the main thing to bear in mind is the benefits that having a diverse workforce that includes Deaf people can bring to your organisation.
Employees from different backgrounds and communities bring their own unique skills, viewpoints and experiences to the table, all of which can benefit your business.

How can Sign Solutions help?

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Access to Work scheme or you are interested in recruiting and retaining Deaf employees, Sign Solutions has a package that includes a 35-page guide, Deaf Awareness training and awareness presentations to help employers tap into a diverse pool of talent.

As a specialist provider of communication and support services to Deaf and Hard of Hearing people since 1998, we can also advise employers and help you apply for Access to Work funding.

We provide a wide range of communication, interpretation and translation services along with friendly, professional and helpful guidance for our clients, the Deaf community and language service professionals.

To find out more about how we can help, give us a call on 0843 178 0773, email or contact us via a BSL video interpreter.