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Industrial Health and Safety: Hearing Impaired

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department takes to (a) improve employers’ understanding of deafness and (b) ensure employers do not discriminate on grounds of health and safety against (i) deaf British Sign Language users and (ii) employees who become deafened during the course of their employment. (247571)

Through the “Employ ability” programme, we are engaging with employers to improve their understanding of disability and their attitudes towards employing disabled people.

The key aims of “Employ ability” include challenging negative assumptions about the skills and talent that disabled workers, and those with long-term health conditions, have to offer, building the confidence of employers in recruiting and retaining disabled workers. “Employ ability” activity is aimed at small to medium-sized employers and is being rolled out to Scotland, Wales and seven regions between 24 March 2008 and 27 February 2009.

To ensure that employers do not discriminate against deaf people, we support and uphold the principles of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Act provides protection from discrimination for a person who has a hearing impairment, provided that the person meets the definition of a disabled person under the Act. The Act requires an employer not to discriminate against a disabled person by treating the person less favourably for a reason related to the person’s disability, unless that treatment can be justified.

People who are deaf or who become deaf in the course of their employment, and their employers may also receive support from Access to Work. Support is tailored to the individual customer’s needs but can include funding for British Sign Language Interpreters, Lip Speakers or Palantypists; whether as support workers in the work place or for communication support at job interviews.

Access to Work could also provide indirect support to a deaf person by funding awareness training to help the person’s work colleagues, including their employer, gain a better understanding of their condition.