At Citizens Advice in West Sussex (North, South East) (CAWS), we are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion so ensure our service is accessible and relevant to everybody.  Whilst we have had sign video for over a year and access to interpreters for our clients who use BSL, we know being inclusive is more than this.

Recently, staff and volunteers from across the organisation took part in Deaf Awareness Training delivered remotely with Nathalie from the National Deaf Children’s Society who is profoundly deaf.

The aim was to increase confidence in supporting Deaf clients and awareness of the challenges deaf people experience but also the rich culture and language of the deaf community.

The Deaf Awareness training covered:

  • Different groups and their needs
  • Basic etiquette for communicating with a Deaf person
  • Lip-reading exercises
  • Different languages used  (BSL and SSE)
  • Fingerspelling
  • Best practise communicating on video calls with clients who are hearing impaired

The trainer started using sign language and after a short delay, one of the two interpreters began to speak – “Good morning and welcome. How are you? Do you wish I was speaking?”

It was a thought provoking introduction showing how much we rely on the spoken word and how uncomfortable it can feel when we don’t know how to communicate effectively.

This is one of the challenges a Deaf person would experience every day in a variety of situations. How do you call the doctor? How do you arrange a delivery? How do you catch up with friends and family?

One of the key learning points was how important it is to keep communication open no matter what someone’s disability to ensure we are truly inclusive.

It’s not good enough if someone hasn’t understood, to say “Oh, don’t worry”. We need to take the time and adapt our ways of interacting so we are including everyone.

Understanding these issues is a great importance to us at CAWS to ensure we can engage positively and sensitively to provide advice and support to deaf people.

We will use this improved awareness to reach out more actively to our deaf community so they know we are there for them, sharing preventative advice and information and continuing to share the British Sign Language (BSL) live link on our website. We will develop signed video content and hope the deaf community will join us to do this.

We look forward to taking part in more Deaf Awareness training this month to widen our awareness across CAWS, as well as to make sure that we are inclusive and accessible in all of our work.