'A lot of employers aren’t aware of how to work with deaf people' – Inverness M&H Carriers employee inspires change in workplace inclusivity
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An Inverness deaf man has was pivotal in promoting inclusivity within his company.
John Montgomery, now operations supervisor for delivery company M&H Carriers, has been working for the company for 15 years and since then the business has adapted its way of working to allow him to thrive.
Now, the company is raising awareness for Highland businesses on vital steps to help tackle the unique complications in their employees’ day-to-day interactions and make roles more accessible.
“For me, there have always been barriers with deafness,” said John.
“But there are ways around those barriers. Hearing people face challenges in whatever job they’re in too; for me it was being able to communicate with the rest of the team.”
According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), only 37 per cent of people who report British Sign Language (BSL) as their main language are working – in comparison to 77 per cent of people who are not considered disabled under the Equality Act.
“A lot of employers aren’t aware of how to work with deaf people,” Mr Montgomery explained
“Deaf people aren’t allowed to be part of workforces offshore or join the army for health and safety reasons. I think business owners sometimes unconsciously assume that means deaf people can’t do other things. But deaf people can do anything.”
A challenging journey
Joining M&H Carriers as a part-time cleaner after an 11-year stint in a fruit and veg warehouse, John was quickly promoted to the warehouse. Working day and night shifts over the years, he was given increasing responsibilities and was eventually promoted to operations supervisor in 2021, following a new contract from DPD.
John said: “My first couple of weeks at M&H Carriers were really challenging. Most people didn’t know how to communicate with me – then they realised pen and paper, and simple English, would do the trick. Since then, technology has moved on and we’re able to use phones and tablets much more.”
Earlier this year, John made bosses at M&H Carriers aware of Access to Work funding available from the UK Government – which has resulted in John having access to a range of tools and services that makes communication smoother.
Through the BSL interpreting platform Sign Live, John has access to tablet-based text services and live interpreters that allow him to communicate more easily with his colleagues.
However, according to a 2018 RNID survey, only a quarter of people who have heard about the Access to Work scheme are accessing it.
Thanks to technological advances and a change in mindset from his colleagues, John now finds it far easier to communicate at work.
He said: “Most people don’t know how to communicate with deaf people, so there’s a fear of getting it wrong.
“I remember, after two or three months with M&H Carriers, the manager asked me if I could work late to help the drivers with the deliveries for B&Q. I was assigned with a driver who didn’t make much attempt to communicate with me in the warehouse, but once we were out on the road it turned out she could sign BSL. She just didn’t want to be teased by the rest of the team.
“Now, though, everybody is so relaxed. We communicate gesturally, with notes, through Sign Live text or interpreters, or bits of BSL. We always find ways of understanding each other.”
Communication is not the only challenge that John has faced in the workplace.
He explained: “I remember three or four years ago I was working on the night shift and put some bread in the toaster. When some lorries arrived, the drivers were asking what the noise was – and it turned out the fire alarm was going off and I hadn’t realised!”
Since then, M&H Carriers has introduced new visual fire alarms that can alert John to any potential risks, located in prominent positions in every room.
Raising awareness on routes to promote diversity and inclusion
Fraser MacLean, managing director of the leading Scottish haulier and distributor, said they are incredibly proud of John and his achievements as part of their team.
“If more employers viewed people as individuals then the country would give more opportunities to people living with hearing loss or other access requirements," he said.
“We’ve definitely made mistakes over the years – but we always sit down with the people affected and learn from the experience.
"I think that fear of making mistakes is what puts off a lot of employers in trying to make suitable adjustments to roles for people living with hearing loss or other access needs. But a diverse workforce is the key to success in logistics – or in any industry – and funding and support are available from Access to Work, the British Deaf Association and other organisations to make any shift in process easier.