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Friday, July 19, 2024

Most People Don’t Know How to Communicate With Deaf People

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M&H Carriers urges business owners to be more inclusive

We take for granted idle chat in the workplace: office banter, watercooler moments, catching up on what happened at the weekend.

But for people like John Montgomery, operations supervisor for M&H Carriers in Inverness, those day-to-day interactions present unique complications.

Born profoundly Deaf, John joined M&H Carriers in 2009 – and since then the business has adapted its way of working to allow him to thrive.

Not all businesses are so accommodating, though – despite 1 in 8 adults of working age living with hearing loss in the UK (5 million people).

Now Fraser MacLean, managing director of the leading Scottish haulier and distributor, is urging business owners to practise what they preach in diversity and inclusion.

“A lot of employers aren’t aware of how to work with D/deaf people,” said John.

“D/deaf people aren’t allowed to be part of workforces offshore or join the army for health and safety reasons.

“I think business owners sometimes unconsciously assume that means D/deaf people can’t do other things.

“But D/deaf people can do anything.”

According to the RNID, only 37% of people who report British Sign Language (BSL) as their main language are working – in comparison to 77% of people who are not considered disabled under the Equality Act.

John continued:

“For me, there have always been barriers with deafness, but there are ways around those barriers.

“Hearing people face challenges in whatever job they’re in too; for me it was being able to communicate with the rest of the team.”

Joining the team as a part-time cleaner 15 years ago after an 11-year stint in a fruit and veg warehouse, John was quickly promoted to the warehouse.

Working day and night shifts over the years, he was given increasing responsibilities and was eventually promoted to operations supervisor in 2021, following a new contract from DPD.

John said:

“My first couple of weeks at M&H Carriers were really challenging.

“Most people didn’t know how to communicate with me – then they realised pen and paper, and simple English, would do the trick.

“Since then, technology has moved on and we’re able to use phones and tablets much more.”

Earlier this year, John made bosses at M&H Carriers aware of Access to Work funding available from the UK Government – which has resulted in John having access to a range of tools and services that makes communication smoother.

Through partner Sign Live, John has access to tablet-based text services and live interpreters that allow him to communicate more easily with his colleagues.

However, according to a RNID survey, only a quarter of people who have heard about the Access to Work scheme are accessing it.

Fraser said:

“When we have something to discuss in detail, like contract arrangements or employment terms, using services like Sign Live allow both John and the company the peace of mind that everything is fully understood and clear.

“We have to make sure there are no grey areas.

“Sometimes we have to remind colleagues that English is John’s second language – his first is BSL, which has a very different grammar and word order.

“Even writing short notes in English can sometimes be challenging, which is again why these services are so important.

“We’ve definitely made mistakes over the years – for example, we might write a communication out to our 315 members of staff but forget that the wording might not be as clear to those with English as a second language (BSL or otherwise).

“But we always sit down with the people affected and learn from the experience.

“I think that fear of making mistakes is what puts off a lot of employers in trying to make suitable adjustments to roles for people living with hearing loss or other access needs.

“But a diverse workforce is the key to success in logistics – or in any industry – and funding and support are available from Access to Work, the British Deaf Association and other organisations to make any shift in process easier.

“John is hugely passionate about M&H Carriers.

“And when any member of staff shows that enthusiasm and wants to progress, you find a way to make that happen.

“He’s actually quite a wind-up merchant, and is always at the heart of any jokes or banter.

“We are incredibly proud of John for what he has achieved, not as someone who is profoundly Deaf but as a valued member of our team.”

Thanks to technological advances and a change in mindset from his colleagues, John now finds it far easier to communicate at work.

He said:

“Most people don’t know how to communicate with D/deaf people, so there’s a fear of getting it wrong.

“I remember, after two or three months with M&H Carriers, the manager asked me if I could work late to help the drivers with the deliveries for B&Q.

“I was assigned with a driver who didn’t make much attempt to communicate with me in the warehouse, but once we were out on the road it turned out she could sign BSL.

“She just didn’t want to be teased by the rest of the team.

“Now, though, everybody is so relaxed.

“We communicate gesturally, with notes, through Sign Live text or interpreters, or bits of BSL.

“We always find ways of understanding each other.”

Communication is not the only challenge that John has faced in the workplace, though.

He explained:

“I remember three or four years ago I was working on the night shift and put some bread in the toaster.

“When some lorries arrived, the drivers were asking what the noise was – and it turned out the fire alarm was going off and I hadn’t realised!”

Since then, M&H Carriers has introduced new visual fire alarms that can alert John to any potential risks, located in prominent positions in every room.

Fraser added:

“Making an adjustment to a fire alarm – or any integrated system – is not a cheap exercise, but it’s money well spent when looking out for your workforce.

“That we hadn’t addressed this sooner was a result of us being a bit ignorant to the fact it was needed, but as soon as it was brought to our attention we implemented a change.

“A lot of companies talk about being inclusive, but as someone who classes myself as a doer not a talker, it wasn’t enough just to make empty statements.

“We’ve made some mistakes along the way and have the scars to prove it, but for me it’s so important to make sure that everyone who wants to work at M&H Carriers has the opportunity to do so – and to grow in their role.

“John is proof of that.

“We’re a family business, and we view all of our employees as part of that family.

“If more employers viewed people as individuals then the country would give more opportunities to people living with hearing loss or other access requirements.”

M&H Carriers is one of Scotland’s leading distributors and hauliers, delivering parcels, freight, pallets and two-man products across the country.

Working with businesses, private individuals and commercial multicarrier networks like DPD, DHL, DX and Pallet Track, the firm is dedicated to supporting SMEs and providing all with affordable, reliable distribution services.

M&H Carriers’ delivery hubs are in Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee and Argyll – with satellite depots in Uist, Stornoway, Thurso, Helmsdale, Muir of Ord, Kyle of Lochalsh, Fort William, Oban, Tarbert and Elgin.

For more information, visit www.mhcarriers.co.uk or follow M&H Carriers on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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