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What, are you deaf or something? Part 5

Can you highlight adjustments that may need to be made to a workplace to help staff with any disability that may come in?

No one disability affects a person the same way as another. The best thing to do would be to get a workplace assessment carried out. At the moment B+M are in talks with Sight Scotland to carry out an assessment on our Edinburgh office for those with sight loss (any degree).

From a general point of view, I would suggest making sure that websites are accessible to all (see Skyscanner and West Lothian Council for some good examples on accessibility) and that fire alarms are both visual and audible. Consider wheelchair access and if clients and staff are able to get to meeting rooms or workspaces.

Make sure you listen to and consider any requests for adjustments. Everyone will have different needs.

Do you feel that you have a unique perspective on business innovation, and how to work because of your deafness?

I haven’t really thought about it before! I do prefer doing dictation and phone calls with clients on the days that I work from home because it’s just me in my home office. I feel a bit self-conscious at the office. It can be difficult for me to moderate my speaking voice because sometimes I can’t tell how loud I’m talking.  I’m sure my sons would be the first to say that I shout a lot at home – but I swear I’m not!!

Are there any tools which as a profession we could implement that are actually more efficient? For example, things like meeting dictation software that can take meeting notes for solicitors?

I think that solicitors in general would love to have technology that saves time and money in the long run! Dictation seems to be becoming more integrated into office programs. We have it now on Word, and text messages on phones. The thing to remember about technology such as dictation or captions is that they will only ever be as good as the speaker. Remember to speak clearly and enunciate appropriately.
I would like to see captions used as default and certainly dictation or recording would come in handy for client meetings, but keeping in mind permissions and security.

Is it scary coming to a new workplace?

Yes. I don’t quite know what I am walking into and what ways I will need to adapt. It can be daunting. I also don’t know how people will react to being told I am deaf. Most people are nice and accommodating but there are always a few who view it as an inconvenience, or just don’t acknowledge it at all and treat me as if I am a hearing person.

Is there anything colleagues can do to help?

Always! Be aware of your body language and how you are speaking. Talk about deaf awareness and get the word out there. It’s still a taboo topic for whatever reason, but we can all work to change that.

Are people awkward with you?

Sometimes! I have too many examples.

I think it has been proven that people with a disability are more likely to be overlooked for interviews or promotion. What is your experience?

I feel that I have been overlooked because of my deafness in the past, on both fronts, but it’s a difficult thing to prove. On the other side, would I really want to work for a place that stops me from personal and professional growth on account of my deafness? Absolutely not.

Did being profoundly deaf influence your choice of career?

I had thought about being a lawyer when I was a kid, but never thought I could because of my deafness and my grades. It still astonishes me that I’ve ended up here, albeit via a non-traditional route. When I look back on the jobs I’ve held, everything from babysitting, to working in a Construction office (health & safety), to retail – I am able to adapt fairly quickly, but a lot of people can’t. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have access to the same opportunities.

Are you provided with sufficient assistance to perform your job to your satisfaction?

This is something that I think about regularly. I am still working through what I think I need to do my job as a lawyer to the level that I want to do it at. At the end of the day it comes down to cost and who should foot the bill? This is what I struggle with. I am deaf, and chose to do this job. Should I ask my employer to foot the bill because of my choice? Should I use Access to Work because of a choice? It’s a moral question. 

Is there a cultural difference between people who are born deaf and those who become deaf?

I would say so. I appreciate that’s a bit one-sided, though!  When you are born Deaf, it’s part of your identity. You don’t know who you are without it. You’ve never known who you are without it. If you acquire deafness later on in life you know what it’s like to be both. I read somewhere on a website, I can’t remember which one – but this website defined a Deaf person as someone being born with it. The website said that if you weren’t born with Deafness you are hard of hearing. It’s possibly a controversial statement!

Do you sign, and if so do you use BSL and how prevalent is it?

I know basic phrases and the alphabet in American Sign Language, but I know next to nothing on BSL. I’ve started watching videos on Instagram to get a feel for it. It’s quite different from ASL! I would love to learn it and be able to have a conversation via BSL but money is a key consideration. It seems a bit unfair that in schools the assumption is there that everyone can hear. English is taught as a first language. Sign language should also be part of the school curriculum. At the time of answering this question, deaf people have to pay in order to communicate via sign language. That just seems wrong to me.

Is there one thing which you wished hearing people stopped doing or assuming?

Saying “never mind” when I ask them to repeat what they said. It is so isolating.

Do you lip-read and if so, does it help if people “over-enunciate” or is this annoying because you may feel like you are being treated differently?

Yes I do. I would say that I lip-read about 90% of the time. It does not help if people over-enunciate because the mouth movements become exaggerated and can be difficult to make out. Just speak normally.

If you do lip-read, do you see a difference in peoples’ accents? Did you notice this when you came from Canada? How do you experience a foreign accent?

No, I don’t see a difference in accents. English is English and the word formations on the mouth are the same. The only thing that changes for me is the tongue movement but it’s not so different that it’s hard to make out what the person is saying. Accents and telephones – that is difficult!

What is the one thing that people do that makes living with profound deafness difficult, and how can we change that?

Oh…this is a tricky one. We all experience deafness and hearing loss differently. For me I guess it’s ignorance. People not wanting to educate themselves or to learn about good communication skills that are inclusive. To beat that we need to educate and learn.

Do you find it exhausting some days trying to do your job (which is exhausting in itself) and having scenarios throughout the day where you are not able to hear what is going on so well?

Oh yes. Some days are worse than others. I do find that when I am overloaded I start to mentally shut down.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I have 24/7 tinnitus. This can be exacerbated by stress. So I am trying to find ways of lowering my stress levels to help that. I am in personal uncharted territory in my new role as (trainee) solicitor, and finding ways to balance my work load and how much I can handle. I’d love to know all the deaf and hard of hearing people in this field, for support and to bounce ideas on how to manage our mental health and well-being. It is not easy.

Disability Officer

As Balfour+Manson’s Disability Officer I want people to know that they can come to me and discuss support that they need, or even if you just need to talk. I am an ideal person to talk to if you need to get something off your chest and want it to be confidential. I’ll just switch my hearing aids off and you can talk away and I won’t know. 😉

I am working with Disabling Barriers Scotland, a support group for disabled people coming into the profession – set up by Thomas McGovern and Fraser MacKay. I would encourage you all to check us out over on LinkedIn and join up. I’ll post the link the Resources section further down.

I am also representing the Law Society of Scotland in the BSL Justice Advisory Group with the Scottish Government and other Justice Partners to discuss how to implement legislation for BSL interpreters and the impact that has on the justice system. 

I want to do cross-working with other organisations that support disabled people and how we can make our workplaces more inclusive. We have recently had a meeting with Sight Scotland as how to we can support people with sight loss. I’d love to work with other disability charities too. I want to promote deaf awareness across the legal industry, from law firms to the Courts and actually help make the justice system accessible to all. We are all supposed to have “equal access to justice” but let’s be real, we don’t and that needs to change. 

Please join me in the cause of making the legal sector, and society as a whole, more inclusive.

Resources

There are so many links out there, but here are a few and in no particular order:

Disabling Barriers Scotland

Scottish Government’s BSL National Action Plan

RNID

Deaf Action

Sign Health

Sight Scotland

Diversity +

Thank you all for reading. I’ll be back in the new year! Wishing you all a safe and restful holiday period and all the best for 2024.

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