Meetings are an integral part of working life for many businesses and organisations.
They help keep things running smoothly and enable teams to connect and share ideas, address challenges and solve problems.
However, meetings are only effective if everyone taking part feels like their contribution is valued.
This can cause challenges for Deaf or Hard of Hearing employees, especially if there are communication barriers that prevent them from feeling comfortable in participating in meetings.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the past 18 months has also seen the rise of virtual conferencing, with Zoom and Teams meetings becoming a part of everyday working life for many employees. This also presents unique challenges when it comes to ensuring they are fully inclusive.
Here, we share our top tips for making your meetings more accessible to Deaf people.
How to make your meetings more accessible
Hearing loss is a hidden condition that affects Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in different ways and to different extents.
At one end of the scale, you may have employees who struggle to hear properly in noisy environments. At the other, you may have profoundly Deaf employees who rely on British Sign Language, lipreading or other forms of support to be able to communicate.
As an employer, you have an obligation to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support your Deaf employees and ensure they can carry out their day-to-day duties to fulfil their roles.
These adjustments include making provision for any additional communication support in the workplace. They will vary from person to person, so it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with all your Deaf and Hard of Hearing employees, so you can understand and provide the support they need.
If you need to invest in any special equipment or technology to support this, it can usually be funded via the Government’s Access to Work scheme.
When it comes to making meetings accessible to all, here are a few things you can do:
Assess their needs
The first step in making your meetings more open and accessible to Deaf and Hard of Hearing attendees is to understand their requirements ahead of time.
As we said earlier, these may differ from person to person, so understanding what your Deaf employees need to make them feel more comfortable and supported is essential.
Some may prefer live captions, others may be happy to lipread, while others may prefer a BSL interpreter. There are many options for making a meeting more accessible, so there’s no point in second-guessing what the perfect solution is. Just ask what you need to do to support all your employees.
Provide an agenda
It’s good practice to provide an agenda and any other documents ahead of all business meetings, but for Deaf employees in particular it can be really useful. It will enable them to follow what’s being discussed and keep ahead of any topic changes or tangents. Having an agenda will also help you run the meeting more effectively, keep to time and stay focused.
Hold the meeting in a suitable area
Creating the right environment for your physical meetings is vital. The room you use should be well lit and free from distracting background noise. Good lighting will help your Deaf colleagues see other attendees’ expressions and lip movements, along with the actions of a BSL interpreter, if you have provided one. Meanwhile, limiting background noise will prevent it from interfering with audio equipment like closed loop systems, hearing aids, or sound amplification.
Get the seating right
Arranging the seating in the best way can also help break down a lot of communication barriers.
If there is one main speaker, then seating your Deaf employees facing them with a clear line of vision will help them see their movements and expressions. If it’s a discussion involving several people, arranging the seats in a circle will help everyone feel involved.
It’s also essential to ensure that meeting attendees speak one at a time.
If everyone is talking over each other, it can be difficult for Deaf employees to pick out what’s being said, by whom. It’s also good manners!
Provide live captioning or interpreting
Live captioning or BSL interpreting is essential for helping Deaf or Hard of Hearing employees feel more comfortable in meetings, particularly if they are on Zoom or Teams. They are often the best way of ensuring full accessibility at meetings and equal opportunity for participating.
With live captioning, you can also circulate a transcript of the meeting to all attendees after the meeting, so everyone has access to a reliable record of the content. Funding for live captioning services may be available via Access to Work.
Make your meetings more accessible
If you need to make your meetings more accessible to a Deaf audience but aren’t quite sure where to start, Sign Solutions can help.
We provide BSL interpreting and translation services in-person or online, plus expert consultancy, to help ensure your organisation is as accessible as possible.
We can also provide a range of accredited communications professionals for Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing users in various sectors.