Improve Accessibility for Deaf Customers

Improve Accessibility for Deaf Customers

How to make your retail business accessible for deaf and hard of hearing customers.

With 9 million people around the UK having some form of hearing loss, it’s crucial that businesses accommodate those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Not only is this a legal requirement, but advertises to customers that your business is a welcoming space that’s inclusive of all people. Making your business accessible is more than just adding some extra facilities. It is an on-going process of trying to ensure your business is inclusive to more people in meaningful ways, and making amendments to the space as necessary.

In this article, we share why making your business deaf-friendly is so important and provide some ways that you can start to make your business a more welcoming and accessible environment.

Why is Accessibility Important for Your Business?

It is in the best interest of both businesses and their customers that public places are made to be accessible.

The biggest challenge deaf people often face in noisy, public environments is being able to communicate. Making your business more accessible not only makes communication easier but also makes your customers feel more comfortable and welcome. It also creates a more inclusive environment for your staff members as well as customers.

From a business perspective, making your premises accessible will improve the reputation of your company and give you access to a larger pool of customers. Most accessibility solutions are affordable and easy to implement whilst making the lives of deaf people significantly easier. As a business, customer satisfaction should be a number one priority. To ensure that you are catering to the happiness of all customers, accessibility measures are a must. It also ensures that you are compliant with any legal requirements under the 2010 Equality Act. 

Improve Accessibility for Deaf Customers

What is the Difference Between Deaf and Hard of Hearing?

The terms “deaf” and “hard of hearing” refer to different stages of hearing loss. “Hard of hearing” means someone with mild to severe hearing loss that still has some hearing capabilities present. “Deafness” on the other hand, implies profound hearing loss, where the individual has very little or no hearing at all.

12 Ways You Can Make Your Business Deaf-Friendly

There are many ways that you can make your premises more accessible to those who are deaf or hearing impaired. By taking some steps towards making your business more accessible, you will not only expand your clientele but will also create a more welcoming space for your staff and customers.

1. Provide Accessibility Training for Your Staff

One of the best ways to turn your business into an inclusive and welcoming environment is to ensure that your staff is well informed about the deaf community. Educating them on communication techniques and the challenges faced by deaf people will help to reduce the barriers between your staff and deaf customers. 

Deaf awareness training aims to provide your staff with an increased knowledge of effective communication towards people with deafness. There are a few types of deaf awareness training courses that you can invest in for your staff so it might be necessary to do some research to find the best training for your business and customer base.

You should also consider training members of staff in British Sign Language (BSL). On average, it takes seven years to become fully fluent in BSL, however, even just having an understanding of common phrases shows a willingness to engage with deaf people and creates a more welcoming environment for all different customers.

Accessibility training to help deaf and hard of hearing customers

2. Adapt Your Facilities and Accessories

Your business is probably full of accessories designed to enhance the customer experience, especially if you are a hotel or Airbnb. Any items that are available for customers to use whether that’s a telephone or doorbell need to be adapted to make them deaf-friendly. Some ways that you can make your accessories accessible include:

  • Deaf-friendly doorbell that triggers a light to flash when pressed
  • Vibrating or flashing alarm clock
  • Telephone with adjustable volume settings
  • Deaf-friendly fire alarm that flashes as well as makes noise
  • Smoke alarms that flash or vibrate

3. Free WiFi So Customers Can Use VRS

Video Relay Service (VRS) allows deaf people and those hard-of-hearing to communicate via a telephone. Through VRS, a deaf person will be connected to a fully qualified interpreter, who they can see on their smartphone or tablet. The deaf person can sign to their interpreter who can then communicate what they are saying to the hearing person they are speaking to. VRS is especially useful for booking appointments, dealing with phone inquiries, or contacting public services. WiFi is often required to use VRS, so if your business doesn’t already offer free WiFi to customers, this is something to consider.

4. Have a Designated Quiet Area

Restaurants, cafes and bars are often noisy spaces that can be difficult to communicate clearly in. For a deaf person or someone hard of hearing, this is especially challenging. To overcome this, you can create a designated space with lower noise levels. Limit the number of people allowed in this area and don’t play loud music to keep noise levels low. You can also rework the design and layout of the area to reduce echo. You should also ensure that this area is well lit so that deaf people can easily lip read. Quiet areas in your business not only provide an accessible space for those hard of hearing, but also those with sensory issues.

Quiet zone help

5. Have Clear Visual Signals 

Do not rely on announcements to communicate with your customers. Instead, have clear, visual signals throughout your business that includes illustrations, signage and color. Technology means that this is now easier to do than ever; you can have amplified sounds options for your speakers, bluetooth technology to stream sounds directly to hearing aids and video screens that display Closed Captioning. One example of how you can use visual signals to improve communication with hard of hearing and deaf customers is to display audio announcements on screens as well as playing them throughout your premises.

6. Install Induction Loops

An induction loop amplifier is a special sound system used for people who need hearing aids. It transfers a sound source directly to a hearing aid without any background noise, helping those who use a hearing aid to hear more clearly. If your business operates in a noisy environment especially in public buildings, restaurants, or cafes, induction loops can make communication far easier. Not only does it improve communication, but it is also a legal requirement for businesses and public buildings under the 2010 Equality Act. By installing induction loops in your business, you can ensure that you are legally compliant.

7. Use Subtitles for Any Video Content

Whether your business has TV screens or a waiting room with display screens, make sure that all video content is displayed with subtitles. Similarly, if you are posting social media content to promote your business or strengthen your online branding, ensure all video content that you post has subtitles.

8. Hire a BSL Interpreter for Events

If your business is used as a venue for events, consider hiring a BSL interpreter. A BSL interpreter is someone who holds a nationally recognised British Sign Language qualification and can translate the event to your audience. Advertising that your event will have a BSL interpreter will ensure that you are not excluding deaf the deaf community from attending. It will also help to increase deaf awareness, inspiring others to be more inclusive too. 

Credit: Matt Dobney, AV Installations