NatWest is one of a growing number of organisations making hearing loss a priority.
Manchester-based credit manager, John Roberts, experienced sudden hearing loss in 2001. Since then, with the support of NatWest and colleagues, he’s adjusted his work environment, improved his mental wellbeing and become active in promoting deaf awareness. John shares his experience of working for the inclusive bank.
In the early years, John had some difficult times and sometimes felt excluded and low: “Your banking career, it does change. I do miss all the banter. When I joined and up until 2001, I took part in it all. Now, it is really difficult as you lose the spontaneity, even more so when working remotely.
I was also struggling massively with meetings at work. Any deaf person will tell you that you can feel isolated and you can feel that nothing gets done. If you’re not being included in a conversation or situation, you can sometimes feel you don’t want to be there, and you’d rather just walk away.”
The turning point
Life changed for John after NatWest arranged a workplace assessment with RNID. The assessor gave practical advice on what equipment, support and reasonable adjustments would break down the barriers he was facing. The assistive technology that was recommended had a huge impact, especially the conversation listener: “I couldn’t hear the phone, take part in meetings or share in office banter.
Now that I can, my life has changed for the better, inside and outside of work. I have become a more motivated individual, and I was able to attend a course without asking the presenter to repeat anything.”
The assessor also suggested some adjustments to John’s working environment. These included moving to an alternative desk in a brighter area of the office, away from noise and potential disruption. Another useful idea was to attach mirrors to the corner of John’s monitor to allow him to see people approaching from behind.
Spreading the word
With renewed confidence and a more deaf-friendly work set-up, John and his immediate team were keen to maintain an inclusive work environment.
The workplace assessment report had recommended deaf awareness training: “With my line manager’s support, RNID arranged a half-day session for my team. According to the post-training survey, the awareness of my team has gone from two to 10 and lots of them wanted to take things further – like learn sign language. I think it shows there is a desire out there to understand more.”
The deaf awareness training had an immediate effect on the way meetings are held in John’s team. Equipped with communication hints and tips, his colleagues now:
- raise their hands before speaking
- face him so he can lipread and assess body language
- speak one at a time
- don’t cover their mouth when talking
- save a space at the front so John is nearer the speaker
- tap John on the shoulder to attract his attention rather than shouting
- make sure interviews are held in a quiet room with plenty of light
- arrange for Zoom/webinar meetings to be subtitled.
Inspired by his colleagues’ enthusiasm, John has become increasingly involved in Enable, the employee-led network that aims to promote awareness of disability at NatWest and celebrate the diversity it brings to create a better bank.
“After the training, I wanted to get out there and do more. If there’s 16 people in my team interested, let’s see how many more people we can get interested. I want to turn it round – move disability from a negative into a positive – create an ability out of disability. What I don’t want to happen is for someone joining the bank now to think ‘Oh no, I’m going to be joining as a disabled person, I’m going to be joining on the back foot.’ I want someone to join the bank knowing that they’re going to be treated fairly and equally.”
New challenges and opportunities
Remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented some new barriers for John: “Zoom was an issue. The first thing I noticed was that some people didn’t like to see themselves or didn’t want to be seen by other people. Positioning, lighting and external sounds were the main problems, and people covering their mouths or moving their heads didn’t help”.
“Overall though, Zoom is good, because I can actually see people, unlike the phone. However, I can tell if my audience isn’t interested, from their body language and facial expressions. I have to remind many people that if you meet someone face to face, you’re not looking at their feet or above their heads – it shouldn’t be any different on Zoom. You should be looking at their face. It was difficult at first, but we’re all getting used to it, and it’s great if it’s used correctly.”
Having run face-to-face awareness talks to colleagues on behalf of Enable when working in the office, John has shared a series of vlogs on the NatWest intranet site while working from home during the pandemic. He also sits on two separate Inclusion panels and is part of an inclusion steering committee, helping to shape current and future initiatives.
“The amount of feedback I’ve had is unbelievable. I didn’t expect this at all – it’s taken over my life, but in a nice way! I must admit, it’s changed me too, I’m a lot happier. It’s given me a goal – if I can help one person in this bank understand, or I can help a team, be more aware of deafness, then it’s been worth it.”
Find out more
RNID offers a range of accessibility solutions to help employers support deaf staff and those with hearing loss. Our Louder than Words services include workplace assessments, deaf awareness courses, BSL training, communication support and hearing loop installations. For more information about Louder than Words accessibility solutions, call 0333 240 5658 or fill out an enquiry form.