Deaf awareness campaign goes viral

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Campaigner Simon Houghton urges UK businesses, including foodservice operators, to consider lipreaders' needs as national lockdown eases

A new campaign in the UK to promote awareness for those with hearing difficulties has been launched this month – and British foodservice operators should take note of how they can play their part.

Simon Houghton, whose social media post about the frustrations of lipreading during the pandemic mask restrictions went viral, has launched a national campaign to encourage organisations to become more ‘Deaf Aware’, in order to reduce isolation for people with hearing difficulties as lockdown restrictions continue to ease.

Recognising hidden disabilities

National and international organisations have already expressing an interest in supporting the#WeSupportDeafAwareness campaign. The reaction to Houghton’s post in which he shared that he was sick of having to apologise for being deaf during the pandemic – currently at more than 110,000 views – prompted him to create the campaign, which officially launched on 12 April, the day non-essential shops, hospitality and leisure services reopened in the UK.

A number of high-street retailers, charities and other organisations have already expressed an interest in the campaign, including Diageo, the global beer and spirits manufacturer, and NHS leaders.

“Deafness is a ‘hidden disability’, and people with hearing difficulties already feel isolated,” says Houghton. “For many deaf people, they rely on lipreading, and the pandemic has made communication almost impossible with the need to stay safe and wear masks. Many employees in essential services have not understood just how difficult it is to communicate without the ability to lipread, and have not had the awareness training to manage this effectively. Some simply do not seem to understand what is meant by ‘lipreading’, and many have been reluctant to take their masks off, even when maintaining social distances,” he says.

“It’s been stressful enough visiting essential services during lockdown; after April 12th we are still in danger of being isolated further, with many more businesses set to open. A lot of people who are deaf will just want to avoid the shops, but I think that’s wrong; we need to come out of our shells – and #WeSupportDeafAwareness aims to create a society in which we feel confident to do that. One which is more empathetic, kind and understanding – ultimately treating all employees and customers with the same level of respect, without judgement,” says Houghton.

Dialogue and training

“Understanding hidden disabilities needs dialogue and training,” says Nicola Reid, The Diageo Learning for Life programme manager. “#WeSupportDeafAwareness is creating awareness about the additional barriers that people with hearing impairments have faced during the pandemic and providing training for simple behavioural changes to overcome these to increase inclusion,” she says.

“Diageo’s Learning for Life Programme, powered by Springboard Charity UK and Ayrshire College, supports an inclusive hospitality sector that works for all. We therefore welcome the dialogue, empathy and practical skills training that #WeSupportDeafAwareness can bring to all sectors to improve inclusivity,” says Reid.

#WeSupportDeafAwareness, which launched at The Oracle Shopping Centre in Reading, UK, to coincide with the reopening of retail sites, consists of training and promotion. There is online deaf awareness training which is free for charities, not-for-profit and businesses with turnover of less than £2million per year. Larger businesses are being charged a small fee to cover training for all employees.

The training will teach employees to be more empathetic to the needs of customers and colleagues with a hearing impairment, provide them with greater awareness about what it is like to be deaf, as well as tips that will help them to better communicate with the deaf or hard of hearing.

In addition to the training, the campaign is raising awareness through promotion, encouraging organisations that sign up for the training to display the #WeSupportDeafAwareness signs in their reception areas, offices, shop fronts and online to show that their staff have been trained and that they understand the hidden disability.

Further details:

To learn more about the campaign, please visit here.