For this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, I was joined by Amanda Tuite CEO and co-founder of Access Vine to talk about disability inclusion for people who are deaf and living with hearing impairments.
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Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon. Future proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hey there, thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Podcast. I am Toby Mildon and today I'm joined by Amanda Tuite. Amanda and I met online and we will be talking about disability inclusion, we'll be talking about people living with deafness and how employers can be a lot more confident around employing people with disabilities. So I myself have a disability. I was born with a rare genetic neuromuscular disability called spinal muscular atrophy and I've had my fair share of obstacles in trying to enter the workforce and get ahead in the workforce and now we work with our clients on creating inclusive work cultures and removing any barriers that disabled people might face in trying to access employment.
Toby Mildon: Now I'm gonna learn a lot on this episode as well because I haven't really explored a lot around people who are deaf, people who are living with hearing impairments and that's interesting in itself because that's a term that we often hear in the UK, but Amanda is living in the US and I know that that's not really a term that's used over there, so it'll be really interesting to have a conversation about language as well.
Toby Mildon: I know it's a question that a lot of my clients ask, they're really concerned about what language they should be using. There's a lot of fear around using the wrong language and in my experience, that can often lead to inaction which doesn't help with building an inclusive work environment. And today we are communicating through our interpreter who is called Melissa 'cause Amanda speaks with American sign language and so Melissa will be interpreting for us today. So firstly, Amanda, lovely to see you, thanks for joining me.
Amanda Tuite: Hi, lovely to be here. Thank you so much for having me be here with you and joining in this amazing podcast that you lead.
Toby Mildon: Oh, thank you.
Amanda Tuite: My name is Amanda Tuite, I'm CEO and co-founder for Access Vine. Access Vine is a company that focuses on providing access to websites in ASL and also providing training and consultation and we're really excited to be growing as we go.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant.
Amanda Tuite: And you mentioned recently about hearing impairment, that term, often that's used in the medical field. Here in the US that happens as well. And typically, it's not really culturally acceptable in the deaf community. And the reason why is because it indicates to people that maybe we're broken. But really we're not broken. [laughter] And so we prefer to use the term either deaf or hard of hearing or deaf-blind depending on each individual, their identity. And we always encourage people to ask the deaf person themselves, what would you prefer our terminology, what terminology should we use while we interact?
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. And it's really interesting 'cause over here in the UK we often refer to the medical and social model of disability. I don't know if that's something that you refer to in the US. But the medical model essentially says that you're disabled because there's something wrong with you that you need fixing, that you need some intervention. Whereas the social model says that you're disabled because of barriers that are created in society. So they could be physical barriers, in my instance having steps where there could be a lift or a ramp, they could be procedural barriers or attitudinal barriers. Is that something that you talk about over in America?
Amanda Tuite: Yes. Yes. Everything you just mentioned is a yes. Very, very similar in America. A lot of prejudices that we see especially during the interview process, the application process when a deaf person applies for a job, they face a lot of fears. Like you were mentioning, some people aren't sure where to look and they start to shut down and they usually decide to move on to the next applicant which causes more harm for the deaf community because we have a lot, we know that there are a lot of people who are still learning how to be inclusive to people with disabilities.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Amanda Tuite: And when they take trainings, deaf people are one of many different disability groups and so often they focus on more the broad umbrella of the term disability and deaf people are usually placed very low in their the priority of what's being discussed. The deaf experience and the deaf perspective is often not communicated during those trainings even though we're everywhere. [laughter] We have so many solutions too to offer and we want to work with companies, we're very well versed in how to work with deaf, deaf-blind hard of hearing communities, and how to solve any communication barriers that companies or employers are worried about.
Amanda Tuite: So if and when you hire a deaf person who signs, does that mean that they need to have a sign language interpreter with them every day? That's some of the misperceptions. It depends, right? Usually the answer is no, we don't need a sign language interpreter with us following us around every day. But there are many different accommodations that are already available besides that, that we could utilise.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Amanda Tuite: For example, Video Relay Service. I'm not sure if you're familiar with Video Relay Service. Are you?
Toby Mildon: I am. So I worked with quite a few deaf colleagues when I was at the BBC, and they often used Video Relay Services at work.
Amanda Tuite: That's amazing. I love that. Once a company finds out that there is a service that is available at no charge to them, then they start to realise, "Oh, I don't have to be afraid of this, afraid of the concept that deaf people can't use the phone." We can use the phone. We use it through VRS. And so we are so grateful to the government, government agencies, the FCC here in America, it's called the Federal Communication Commission, who actually pays for that service for the Video Relay Service platform. And it's really a life changer, a game changer for us. 'Cause as a deaf professional now, we're able to do sales, we're able to do video conferences, meetings where we have a video interpreter who joins for that meeting.
Amanda Tuite: And it's just so vital that we have more assistive technology, more tools to allow us to be able to access communication. And if more people are aware of those kinds of tools, of those options and resources that are available, then all of a sudden, those barriers to employment diminish, our options become endless.
Toby Mildon: So I do a keynote talk, which is called, Everything You Wanted To Know About Disability But Were Too Afraid To Ask. It's a bit of a mouthful. And in that talk, I talk about some of the fears that employers have about employing disabled people. So I talk about, some employers think that it costs more to employ a disabled person. Some employers think that disabled people take more time off work, sick or for therapies. And also they're concerned that disabled people are not being open about their disabilities. So they don't know what adjustments to put in place. And these concerns are from some research that Disability Rights UK here in the UK conducted a few years ago. I'm interested to know from you what some of the fears you've come across that employers have about employing deaf people.
Amanda Tuite: Sure. One of the biggest fears is how am I going to communicate with this deaf person? How am I going to... How is it hard of hearing person gonna use the phone? How can we do meetings? What does that even look like? There are so many things that are easy to solve though, with those fears, with some minor adjustments, those things can be taken care of. We're able to go in and evaluate the workplace, realise what the functions are, do some additional, maybe some equipment. And then from there on out, it's smooth sailing. For example, how can I communicate with that deaf person?
Amanda Tuite: How am I gonna do communication? Maybe through the video relay phone. Maybe I can hire a sign language interpreter, especially when you're having important meetings, trainings. There are programs that actually support companies with the cost of hiring onsite interpreters. And those resources are available. And also you just have to know what kind of resources that are available to you in that region. Becoming familiar with a deaf and hard of hearing services that are provided in your region.
Amanda Tuite: So for example, here in the US, we have approximately 38 commissions for the deaf and hard of hearing that people can reach out to. It's in America. For the UK, I'm curious if you have any commissions for the deaf and hard of hearing there, any deaf commission services?
Toby Mildon: I'm not sure. I'm not sure. Yeah, I don't know.
Amanda Tuite: So maybe that might be a resource. It's kind of fun to start to explore and compare, right? What does the UK have? What does the US do? It's fun.
Toby Mildon: What do the commissions do in the US?
Amanda Tuite: I'm happy you asked. The commissions, they provide resources. Maybe a list of interpreter agencies that are available, for example, or they might provide assistive technology options that are available, referrals to Video Relay Services. They'll have a list for those. They provide like basic training as well, some consultation. Currently, they did reach out to Access Vine as well for more formal training, website translations. Those kinds of things is what we do as a company with the employer. What I've seen is once the employers take those trainings, they learn about communication with deaf and hard of hearing folks, deaf-blind as well.
Amanda Tuite: And they do start to change maybe some of their application process to make it more accessible in ASL, they'll add ASL, American Sign Language. So it starts the ball rolling and it really starts to impact that hiring process. And so when you show any type of inclusivity, inclusive tools, for example, having sign language there on that application process, people start to feel comfortable and they also start to feel more confident in applying for the job because it shows that they're open to the idea of ASL and also making sure that the training material has captions and also sign language.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Amanda Tuite: And so... And that's just scratching the surface really. There's just so much information that's available, in order to facilitate these possibilities to help people's minds open, to help ship the attitude and also just to feel it's okay. You can't know everything in the beginning. You have to be brave enough to make mistakes and show that you're trying and work with deaf professionals.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Amanda Tuite: Include deaf professionals. Include people who have disabilities at the table. They don't have to figure this out all on their own, their support there for them.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. It's interesting. There's a phrase over here in the UK that it was coined in the '90s with the Disability Rights Movement. It was "Nothing about us without us." I have a feeling they might have taken it from somewhere else.
Amanda Tuite: Yes. I'm familiar with that quote. Yes.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Amanda Tuite: Yes. And the same quote is here, is very prevalent here in America. It actually really became coined with the Americans with Disabilities Act as well. You don't hear it during that fight. Yeah.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. 'Cause I think you had disability legislation in America before we did in UK 'cause we had the Disability Discrimination Act, but that only came out in 1995. Now, we've got the Equality Act, so that superseded the DDA in 2010.
Amanda Tuite: Ah. I'm curious how the Equality Act trumped the Disability Act that was first... What did that look like in terms of the enhancements?
Toby Mildon: So there were a number of equality legislation, including the Disability Discrimination Act, and basically they kind of merged it into one. I think there is some criticism thatwhen the Equality Act came out in 2010, that it... From a disability's perspective, it wasn't as strong as the DDA.
Amanda Tuite: Ah.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Amanda Tuite: Ah. So you feel that it kind of got watered down a little bit?
Toby Mildon: I think a lot of people feel that way. Yeah.
Amanda Tuite: If we had the power to change the future, I would love to see a stronger legislation, stronger laws that keep different entities accountable to make sure that we provide equal opportunity to all people including people with disabilities. Because my understanding is here in America, not all of the cases actually go to court. Not enough cases. [laughter] And people who are handling that, are overloaded with the things that do arise. And so I would love to see more work done, and more financial, a more heavier financial component granted to companies who are hiring people with disabilities as incentives to cover the cost of any accommodations or adjustments that might be needed.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. Yeah.
Amanda Tuite: We all have to put ourselves into this mission. We all want the same thing and I noticed... But we work separately sometimes, so it would be nice to have more collaboration.
Toby Mildon: Definitely. 'Cause you were talking about the commissions. Over here in the UK we do have various organisations. So we've got, for example, the British Deaf Association, we've got the Royal National Institute of Deaf People and various other organisations like that. But I think from an employment perspective, one of the best resources that we've got is the access to work scheme. So this is a government funding that employers can use to fund workplace adjustments.
Toby Mildon: So I've used it myself to help pay towards taxis to and from work when I wasn't able to access public transport in my wheelchair, and I know that when I worked at BBC and I worked with several colleagues who were deaf, they used the funding to pay for BSL, British Line Language Interpreters. So yeah, they use that as well. So I think that's a major resource over here in the UK.
Amanda Tuite: I'm curious to know how much the government allots funding for that. Do you know the amounts that are allowed?
Toby Mildon: Not off the top of my head, but it's really interesting that there has been some research to say that the government spending on access to work actually brings them money back into the treasury. I can't remember the number of... I think it was something like for every one pound they spent on the scheme, they got one pound 30 back into the treasury. Because that was in disabled people getting into employment, being productive, paying their taxes, spending their money in the economy and things like that. So it's... They've got a good return on investment.
Amanda Tuite: Yeah. Yeah. I would love to get that information if you have time to share with me after this podcast is over. I see a lot of benefits for supporting the action of helping employers getting prepared to hire people with disabilities through trainings, through website shifts to make it more accessible and also through Zoom. Or any other video conferencing platform.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Amanda Tuite: To have things ready, to have a video interpreter ready to join those conferences, to already have the ball rolling. There was a bill that was just proposed about all video conferencing accessibility, and that was a huge step forward. And still we have a lot of work left to do.
Toby Mildon: Definitely.
Amanda Tuite: When it comes to legislation, when it comes to trainings and also making it some adjustments as well to have disability inclusive events. I remember when I went to this one conference and we kept seeing the same workshops happening every year, and they would present on the same topics every year. And one of the challenge that I see, is there's no outcomes, there's no changes, there's no action. There's a lot of lip service, a lot of talk, but I wanna see the results, I wanna see the action being taking place. And that's why I set up Access Vine in the first place, because I was just tired of hearing the same song and dance over and over. I wanna see the results, I wanna start with the first step and keep it going. So...
Toby Mildon: Definitely, I know it's a huge frustration for a lot of the clients that I work with, the way they feel that they're not making an impact with the work that they're doing. The needle is not shifting on workplaces becoming more diverse, more representative of our society and more inclusive. So I can totally get where you're coming from.
Amanda Tuite: Yeah.
Toby Mildon: What do you think, on the subject of action, employers should be doing to be more inclusive of disabled people and deaf people?
Amanda Tuite: Well, companies do have what's called Supplier Diversity Program. Are you familiar with that program? Yeah.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. In fact, I interviewed a guy on my podcast a while ago who set up a company to connect businesses with small businesses that were set up by people from an ethnic minority background. So I do talk to clients around supply diversity, so making sure that they've got... That they're working with suppliers who are set up or run by people from minority groups.
Amanda Tuite: That, and that starts the ball rolling. However, there are also some challenges, some gaps in the process because if you have the intention to hire people with disabilities as suppliers, providers, my question is, why is the process so difficult and hard to find, to fill in those gaps between the corporations and then the suppliers? How do we connect those two different entities in order to get the type of results that we're looking for, for the improvements we're looking for. How do we connect them? Connects the company to the right people. 'Cause often, the companies or corporations hire big name companies that have no backgrounds and no understanding or lived experience for people with disabilities. And then the cycle just continues. We end up back to square one with the results not really becoming to fruition.
Amanda Tuite: And so involving deaf people or involving disabled people more would be more effective in getting the outcomes that we're looking for. And not just for the benefit of working with the supplier who is disability-owned in terms of their business, I mean really, you also get their passion for this, the passion and the drive for action. You also get because you hire that supplier results that you're looking for, and you get even more connections and more network of people with disabilities and suppliers who you can share their community and also share their struggles and their experiences of oppression and their knowledge of where to look. There's a lot of resistance when we try to make these kind of moves of providing data. They usually want proof. They want us to prove ourselves first before they let us into the next step.
Toby Mildon: And that's additional work that's put on us, and it's becomes more of a burden. And since this is kind of a newer concept, we have to be open to hiring the people who might be a little bit more new, 'cause it's a new concept. And so that mindset of you have to hire people who have the most experience, instead hiring people who might be new to this but have the lived experience and also them being able to help you navigate and network to provide the results you're looking for.
Toby Mildon: And how can employers make their technology more accessible? So I used to work in usability and accessibility at the BBC, and I talked a lot to my clients, particularly over the pandemic, when everybody suddenly started working from home and doing Zoom calls. And then they realized that, "Oh, their technology is not accessible." And I remember at the time, I don't think Zoom provided captioning, if it did, I think it was through a third party.
Amanda Tuite: No. No. No. At first they didn't. You're right.
Toby Mildon: So I used the... Me and my team used the Google Workplace platform and that definitely had closed captioning and, yeah. So what are your thoughts on how to make technology accessible and how employers should be selecting tools that are accessible?
Amanda Tuite: I think a lot has to do with what they know is available. You ask a really good question. I really believe that's a platform where you could add different kinds of assisted technology and apps, based on different disabilities and what people need is important instead of starting from scratch and each company having to find. We need a centralized platform where many companies can actually tap into that platform and can take information from there, data as well. I typically refer to a JAN website. It's a Job Assistive Network that is under the Office of Disability and Employment Policy.
Amanda Tuite: And they do have a website that has so many different kinds of accommodations that are available for different disabilities on their website. And I usually use that as a guide for companies to use in order to encourage them to look at that program at that website to find those resources. It's based in America, but I think the UK could probably look there as well.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely.
Amanda Tuite: And I've been trying my best to add the most recent information as well, what's available. The apps would be an example. So, Purple Video Relay service is one company that I use for my video phone accessibility. There's also text to voice types of calls, apps, that could be utilized. There's one called Nagish, and when I do receive a call, it shows up on my phone and it'll type in the text of what the person's saying and then I type back and it'll convert it into voice through a machine. It's really cool. I tried it on my mom and she was like, "Who is this?" [laughter]
Toby Mildon: Yeah. There's all sorts of really cool technology out there and that on my podcast, I've interviewed all sorts of founders of assistive technology. I interviewed a couple of guys who developed some technology to actually help NASA communicate with the International Space Station and get over the time relay or time delay in communicating with the space station. And they've now turned that into a communications tool, particularly aimed at how neurodivergent people might want to communicate. That was an interesting episode, but I think for me, my biggest experience is that employers need to think about accessibility right at the very beginning of an IT project or if they are procuring such technology.
Toby Mildon: I remember like when I was working for one business, I had a colleague of mine who was deaf and he was always being told off by the senior leadership team because he couldn't complete his annual compliance training because the online learning system didn't have subtitles. So, he didn't know what was going on.
Amanda Tuite: Right.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. And then the response of HR was like, well, we can just give you the words in a Word document. And I'm like, no, that's a really degrading experience, that's... Why don't we just make this online learning accessible from the get go?
Amanda Tuite: Right. Or just add our translation onto the training material. So for example, that's something we do. It's really important to recognize that there's a lot of issues because we have... But now we have these things as assistive technology and people think that'll make it better. That just by adding this and this it'll be fine. But some people have multiple disabilities or different challenges and you need to discover the right tools to accommodate that person. And that's why we really work with a lot of deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind folks in order to teach them how to ask for what they need and how to identify what kinds of accommodations work for that individual. Maybe what works for one person doesn't work for somebody else.
Amanda Tuite: And so my advice for employees, HR, is to be open, open-minded and be less defensive when employees ask for access or ask for interpreters or ask for closed captioning. If you don't know, reach out. Reach out to a subject matter expert for advice. It doesn't hurt to ask. Right?
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So the question I ask everybody when they come on the podcast is, what does inclusive growth mean for you?
Amanda Tuite: Inclusive growth for me, it means being part of society where we are valued and have access to information in order to grow. We have access to trainings, we have access to networking. That includes being able to communicate with the decision makers, being a part of society and getting the support in return. That's inclusive growth to me.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Now, the final question is, if the person listening to us today would like to connect with you, speak to you further, maybe talk to you about the services you offer, what should they do?
Amanda Tuite: You can find me on LinkedIn and/or you could always email me as well. My email is unique, [laughter] it's email@example.com. There's no M at the end of it. And you could contact me anytime if you need to make your website more accessible for deaf and hard of hearing and deaf-blind folks. And also we do provide training as well and consultation through Access Vine. And we would be thrilled to help and we're thrilled to be here with you. Thank you for having me here.
Toby Mildon: You're very welcome. And if you want to connect with Amanda on LinkedIn, her first name is spelled A-M-A-N-D-A, and then her last name is spelled T-U-I-T-E, pronounced Tuite. So Amanda, thank you ever so much for joining me today. It's been lovely to sit down with you and have a chat.
Amanda Tuite: Thank you so much. Thank you for listening. And also I just appreciate you.
Toby Mildon: Thank you for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Podcast. Hopefully, you've enjoyed my conversation today with Amanda. If you want to follow up with Amanda and talk to her about her experience, talk to her about the services that she provides, please do connect with her on LinkedIn or drop her an email with the email address that we just shared with you. Until next time, I look very much forward to seeing you on the next episode of The Inclusive Growth Podcast.
Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.