152MC – Is Deafness A Disability?

Deafness is officially a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act. However, many deaf people do not see themselves as disabled. They give deafness as a similarly to a mental illness, as both of them are considered a disability. The Act defines a disabled person as someone who has “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. This definition includes many other people who would not consider themselves to be ‘disabled’, but who have rights under the Act. For instance, people with arthritis or a heart condition. However, I disagree with this in some ways. A deaf person is able to carry out normal day to day activities. Such as walking a dog or making dinner, but they are unable to do things such as pick up the phone. So this is very controversial.

In some ways deafness isn’t a disability. Employers must make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure that a disabled person is not at a substantial disadvantage compared to other employees. This could be an adjustment to the building, or to a work practice. Employers also have to make reasonable adjustments to their recruitment procedures, e.g. provide an interpreter for a job interview. As my Mum works in a supermarket, she does not get this treatment or luxury. So does this mean in some cases employers do not see deafness as a set back. I remember my Mum had an interpreter provided for her when my little sister had her confirmation at her church.

Fortunately, many adjustments can be quite simple and cheap. Installing a textphone/minicom, or providing staff with Communication Tactics training, would not be a burden for most businesses. There is funding available to help with the cost of some adjustments, through “Access to Work”. A Disability Employment Advisor from the local JobCentre should be able to provide information and advice. In some cases employers see deafness as a setback. So this can become as a disadvantage for the deaf people.

Unfortunately, many firms think that access for disabled people is all about wheelchairs, and forget the barriers Deaf people face. Businesses are also meant to make their services accessible before it is demanded by a customer or user, not to wait until someone asks for access.