UK charity Action on Hearing Loss is calling on employers to end their ‘uncaring culture’ and remove the major barriers that prevent people who have hearing loss from progressing with their careers, forcing many out of work.

In a report entitled ‘Unlimited Potential?’, Action on Hearing Loss – formerly RNID – is revealing the disturbing impact that bad practice by some UK employers is having on the working experiences of people with hearing loss. According to the charity’s survey of 4,000 members, more than one in three (36%) respondents said they took early retirement and one in seven (14%) changed jobs because of their hearing loss. The survey also found that 40% of respondents said losing their hearing made them less confident, which could explain why 33% of respondents didn’t tell their employer or colleagues about their hearing loss.

Employees with hearing loss should be protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010, which requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable a disabled person to work. The Government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme supports employers by helping fund the adjustments needed to enable disabled people to work, but the charity’s research found a general lack of awareness about the legal requirements and Access to Work amongst both employees with hearing loss and their employers.

Antonia Bond, 51, from Burton-on-Trent wears two hearing aids and took part in the research. Antonia says: “I’ve only ever managed to secure agency work and, unfortunately, got appropriate support for my hearing loss in just a couple of jobs. Companies just don’t want to know when they think equipment to help me will start costing money and, when I raised the issue with my recruitment agency, they suggested that I pretend to hear ‘because there are plenty more people who want jobs!’. I’ve had some shocking experiences with one employer shutting me away in a filing room for eight hours when top management were visiting and the same company reprimanding me for not hearing a fire alarm! I’m now doing voluntary work and doubt I’ll experience paid employment again because, without proper support, it’ll be completely unbearable!”

Jackie Ballard, Chief Executive for Action on Hearing Loss, says: “There are 3.7million people of working age with hearing loss and our research shows that organisational culture has a huge impact on their experience in the workplace. It is unacceptable that people feel they cannot continue in their jobs because their employer has failed to put clear procedures in place to support staff with hearing loss. With people expected to work longer and UK unemployment at its highest level for 17 years, the Government has a vital role in raising awareness of Access to Work funding and employers’ legal responsibilities to ensure that people with hearing loss are fully supported to stay in work and gain the same opportunities as other staff to fulfil their career potential.”