At United Response, we have particular expertise and a strong record in supporting people with sensory impairments, including those with full and partial hearing loss.

This week, to mark Deaf Awareness Week (4-10th May), one of our key deaf support services in Ipswich has instigated a complete ‘voice-off’. This means the telephone is not being used and everyone is instead communicating using sign-supported English, British Sign Language or Deaf Aware practices such as writing things down.

Four women – three who are profoundly deaf and one partially deaf – are supported by six members of staff at the service. Four support staff are deaf and two, including team leader Matt Bridges, are hearing.

Why a ‘voice-off’?

“We’ve introduced the ‘voice-off’ to raise a bit more awareness about how best to communicate with us, and other deaf people,” explains Matt.

Since he started the complete ‘voice-off’, Matt adds that it’s been an adjustment getting used to being cut off from his normal mode of communication.

“We all sign here, but nonetheless it is tricky to remember to do so at all times while on duty, rather than just when a deaf person is in eyeshot,” he says. “The ‘voice-off’ should instil best practice in the team, and it is already making us appreciate how hard it can be to maintain that level of concentration and mental agility."

How has he personally been affected? “I’m beginning to pick up on some subtle differences in the types of signs particular colleagues and people we support use,” he says, “so learning to ‘tune in’ to that is really useful. I’ve also noticed that my receptive skills are impaired when signing to fellow hearing members of staff.” 

Wide support and greater equality

The ‘voice-off’ has been well received by the team and widely supported throughout United Response – and has even raised a bit of extra cash!

“It’s been good fun,” exclaims Matt. “We have a little money tin and whenever we forget about the ‘voice-off’ and speak, we put a few pence in – a bit like a swear box. I’m not sure what we’ll do with it at the end of the week, but it’ll probably be along the lines of some cakes and biscuits for everyone.

"We also have a contingency plan in case there’s an emergency and we really must speak: if that happens, we go out to the summer house, almost like a smokers’ area."

Overall, Matt enthuses, so far it has been a really worthwhile experience. “It means there is more equality between everyone here at the service,” he states, “hearing and deaf alike.”

Matt was talking to Laura Cook, web and digital communications assistant.

If you want to learn more about our deaf support and services, please email [email protected] or click here to make an enquiry.