By Helen Ferguson, Policy and Campaigns Officer at the National Deaf Children’s Society

Leaving education and moving into work is a key milestone in any young person’s life. Many won’t know what they want to do, while others will have been working towards it their whole lives. Whatever their aspirations and abilities, it’s vital that they all get the support they need to get where they want to be.

Yet we at the National Deaf Children’s Society have become increasingly concerned about the employment prospects of deaf young people entering this important phase, particularly during Covid-19.

There are almost 1,500 across Northern Ireland and when they leave education, they’ll face a competitive labour market offering fewer employment opportunities. This is on top of the barriers deaf people already face.

Deaf adults are more than twice as likely to be unemployed compared to hearing adults. Since they’re capable of doing the same jobs, it could be because they face discrimination and negative attitudes about deafness. There are also misconceptions, such as that using a telephone is crucial for doing certain jobs, coupled with low awareness of the technology that helps deaf people at work.

Government data on what deaf young people do is weak, but research suggests they’re significantly less likely to be in education, employment or training. In Northern Ireland, research from Queen’s University shows that they struggle to find information and careers advice that recognises their potential and addresses practical problems. For example, many weren’t told that they could request an interpreter at an interview as a reasonable adjustment.3

Something that should work in their favour is the Access to Work grant scheme. It pays for specialist technology or communication support so they can work to their full potential without having to constantly dip into their salary. For example, they can get a palantypist to provide live captions during meetings, or a British Sign Language translator to help communicate with colleagues. It also reassures employers worried about the cost of disability-proofing their workplace.

Yet despite the scheme’s merits, just five percent of deaf young adults are using it. Research shows that 90 percent of deaf young people don’t even know it exists.

Clearly something is going wrong in getting deaf people into work, and it begins with the advice they receive.

Deaf young people need tailored advice from the careers service, and employment coaches who both understand the barriers that they face and know the solutions that exist.

Advisors working with deaf young people also need a good understanding of deafness and most importantly, they need to instill the confidence and ambition they need to overcome the challenges they face.

As one of our young campaigners said of her Careers Advisors, “I think they were a bit taken aback from my knowledge and plans as a deaf person. I don’t think they realised that, yes, deaf people can go on to have jobs academically.”

Young people across the UK will also be able to benefit from programmes like Kickstart, designed to get them into work. Yet not only is it inaccessible for many deaf young people, it hasn’t even been introduced in Northern Ireland yet.

If we’re to stop hundreds of deaf young people facing long term unemployment, we need to help employers understand these issues because with the right support, deaf people can do almost any job.

There’s an entire generation of deaf potential out there and many of them are currently excluded from the workforce, consciously or unconsciously.

With some simple changes and more understanding, it can be unleashed.

Click this link for more information on the work of the National Deaf Children’s Society –

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