Trainee RCN steward Sammi shares her advice on making reasonable adjustments and explains how being deaf has helped her support colleagues
“Many people don’t realise I’m deaf on first meeting me” says Sammi, who works on a busy oncology ward in London. “My hearing deteriorated throughout childhood and I was diagnosed as profoundly deaf aged 15.
“I’ve had a lot of intense speech and language therapy and wear a discreet hearing aid, but I would definitely struggle without it.
“Without my hearing aid, I cannot hear at all, so it’s important that I identify as deaf at work so that if something happens to my hearing aid, I’m not just expected to carry on as it will affect my ability to do my job.”
Sammi recalls: “As a student nurse, I was given special equipment so I could hear and use a stethoscope, and I was exempt from hearing-dependent jobs such as manual blood pressures.
“Once I had qualified and got my first job as a nurse, I worked with occupational health and my manager to make sure reasonable adjustments were put in place.”
Reasonable adjustments are adaptations at work and can include changes to working patterns, job descriptions, and policies or procedures, the environment or the provision of training and additional equipment.
I worked with occupational health and my manager to make sure reasonable adjustments were put in place
Any reasonable adjustments made in the workplace should work for both the employee and employer. This is why they are referred to as “reasonable” because, in law, employers don’t have to make costly changes.
Many reasonable adjustments are simple and low-cost, such as alternating working patterns or allowing an employee a different parking space or seating arrangement.
Sammi has access to her own room for patient care and an amplified telephone. She is also not to be moved to a busier ward she’s not familiar with if they’re short staffed.
“As a deaf person, working in a new environment is really tough and it could even affect your PIN as you’re not working to the standard you could be.”
Working with her manager, Sammi has a modified sickness attendance policy in place, so if she has an illness which is related to her deafness, she doesn’t have the same sickness restrictions that would normally apply to other NHS nursing staff.
Sammi decided to disclose her disability at the recruitment stage, but not everyone applying for a job wants to do this. “You don’t have to disclose anything when applying for a job,” says Sammi. “But one advantage is that, if you meet the criteria and can show you can do the job, you are guaranteed an interview.”
Colleagues often come to me for advice as I have lived experience
Sammi also had an Access to Work interview, which is part of a government scheme to make sure people that need extra support in the workplace get it.
After being approached by other members of staff about various problems and for advice, Sammi is now training to be an RCN steward. “Colleagues often come to me for advice as I have that lived experience to give advice where disability and reasonable adjustments are concerned.”
For Sammi, having a disability is not a hindrance to her career in nursing. “I would love to see more deaf nurses,” she says. “With reasonable adjustments, and as long as you know your limitations, then it’s easy.”
*Main picture is a stock image
Sammi’s tips for reps supporting staff with a disability
- Listen to staff who want adjustments and ask them to put it in writing. “Find out what they need and go through the job description to make sure all bases are covered. I found the support of my manager to be crucial in allowing me to carry out my job.”
- Do your research. Contact charities and find out more about the person’s illness or disability. “Sometimes people don’t realise what they might need, so it’s good to do your own research. Don’t just make assumptions.”
- Contact RCN Direct or your local RCN office if you want more support. “I found they have a lot of good advice and information.”
- Read up on the Equality Act. “Staff don’t need to worry as they are protected by this legislation in the workplace.”
- Work with occupational health and, if necessary, suggest that the member has an Access to Work interview. “They don’t have to, but it might be useful and could lead to funding for reasonable adjustments.” Visit the Access to Work website.
Holly Chadd, who facilitates the RCN's peer support service, says: “Sammi exemplifies the value of peer support, using her lived experience to help other health professionals navigate disability issues at work.
“Our peer support service helps members like Sammi to shape positive messages about the value of a diverse health workforce based on their experiences.”