The Hidden World of Deaf Freelancers

The Hidden World of Deaf Freelancers

Last year saw IPSE's first event partnered with the British Deaf Association (BDA). It is part of a growing partnership hoping to strengthen the position of Deaf freelancers

It is estimated that there are about 9 million people in the UK who are Deaf or hard of hearing. It is only in recent years that research has begun to explore different aspects of Deaf relationships, communication and society. 

What we do know is most Deaf people don’t view being Deaf as a disability or as a problem that should be fixed. For many of them, it’s a natural part of a cultural experience that they share with friends, both Deaf and hearing. 

The BDA represents the Deaf community. Last year, it came to IPSE with a goal: to empower and celebrate Deaf freelancers and for them to embrace their independence, culture and identity. The result? A partnership.

A jointly organised event took place in November to celebrate Deaf freelancers, business owners and the self-employed. The event was part of the BDA’s 125th anniversary, a year-long celebration of the Deaf community, running until July 2016. 

The evening played host to an array of guest speakers who each delivered their own unique advice on how to achieve success as a Deaf freelancer. 

Deaf freelancers face the same challenges as the hearing, arguably more. This includes dealing with tax complexities, securing a mortgage and saving for a pension, to name a few. On hand was Louise Williamson of Meades Contractors, whose presentation on how to manage a self-started business addressed many of the issues the audience were not aware of, including IR35 issues.

A lack of confidence is an issue that can be especially true for some of the Deaf freelance community and can prevent them from starting up their own businesses. So Esther Stanhope, Impact Coach and regular at IPSE events, whose aim is to build the confidence of those worried about pitching their business to others, was an inspired choice to present on the evening. Her words resonated with the audience. 
 “Confidence is essential. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you can do it. Think about what you’re good at. What is good about you? Don’t compare yourself with others. If you are happy in your own skin, you’ll be so much better at networking and pitching yourself to others. Love your audience just a little bit more than you love yourself.”

Perhaps the most inspiring speaker of the evening was Linda Day, Vice Chair of the BDA and herself a Deaf freelancer. Linda is also the Director of Signworld, an online learning website teaching people sign language. 

Linda argues that being Deaf can be a unique selling point (USP) in a self-starting business, and has one narrative: being Deaf makes you different and memorable enough to stand out from the crowd, so use it. 

“As Deaf people, we’re used to people telling us we can’t do things and that being Deaf will hold us back in life. All our lives we’ve had to negotiate for access and overcome problems.”

Her story is inspiring. After being made redundant, Linda decided to leave the world of regular employment and use the cash to start her own business. She had always wanted Deaf and hearing people to have a better life together, and so she founded Signworld with the aim to do just that. Linda was able to develop the business by using the fact she is Deaf as a USP.

“I was really confident when I first started freelancing, because I felt I had a really good business idea and service to provide. Taking that first step is always the hardest, but it gets easier after that.”

True, it may seem strange at first when told to use being Deaf as a positive to help you and your business stand out. Yet Linda argued that it’s important to remember that Deaf people can do anything hearing people can, except hear. And it’s the being Deaf that is unique. As an example, she pointed towards how Deaf people are often accompanied by one or more interpreters, and how that makes them stand out, as it even looks, in some cases, as if they are some kind of VIP with a special entourage. This makes hearing people curious and intrigued. Ultimately, this is the USP, and can be used as an advantage. 

The event was a unique experience for IPSE attendees. It was a chance to get to know how it feels to be in a room where English is the second language and British Sign Language (BSL) the first. And it did a great job of illustrating the Deaf community’s cultural history and pride taken in their Deaf identity, language and heritage.

IPSE Chief Executive Chris Bryce, who introduced the event, was delighted to announce the partnership: “It’s a wonderful thing to be partnering with such a fantastic organisation as the British Deaf Association, who have campaigned for 125 years on behalf of Deaf people on issues such as equality, freedom of choice and access to services. IPSE fully supports this, and we hope to further this cause in any way we can.”

IPSE wants to help Deaf freelancers to feel more confident, supported and empowered in themselves, to achieve every possible success in their self-started businesses. Deaf people enjoy a unique culture, and are as worthy of respect as any other. Therefore, IPSE will continue working with the BDA and look to help and celebrate the Deaf freelance community – this event is just the beginning.


Jeff Brattan-Wilson, the BDA’s 125th Celebration Event Manager

 “When you’re Deaf, it can be a lonely world. When you are a Deaf freelancer, you can be very isolated. So it’s important to all come together, to share a sense of pride, and be proud to have your own company.

“Deaf freelancers are sometimes forgotten people, and tonight they were not forgotten. It was important for them to be noticed and be a part of the celebration.

“The Deaf community need to work together, and create a supportive network. Let’s build this community and celebrate the work of Deaf business owners. I want Deaf freelancers to feel appreciated and proud of what they do.”  

Claire Barrance, IPSE Events Manager, on her experience of the event

“As the event wore on, I picked up more and more tips on how to best communicate with the Deaf community. For instance, I found it’s important to look at the Deaf person while you’re talking to them and not look at the interpreter, as it is the Deaf person you are having the conversation with.

“I also learnt not to be tempted to speak slowly, loudly or to exaggerate my mouth movements, because that just makes things harder for the Deaf person trying to understand you.”

The role of interpreters

Interpreters are able to use two languages simultaneously, English and BSL. The growing need for interpreters has increased, and has led to a rapid rise in the demand for skilled and registered qualified sign language interpreters. At present, the demand for their services outstrips the number of registered qualified interpreters and other communication support workers, but with an increasing number of hearing people keen to learn BSL, this situation may improve in the future.