You can’t use that radio aid if you work here!

Many years ago I had a job interview for a technical role at a deaf organisation which  had a shop selling deafness-related products. The interviewers were L the technical department manager and M a newly appointed senior marketing manager, both hearing people. I had disclosed that I was deaf in advance and would need a few minutes to set up my radio aid (an assistive listening device) at the start of the interview.

While I was setting up the radio aid, M said “You’ll have to use OUR products if you work here“. I wasn’t sure if she was serious or joking as I can’t hear people’s tone of voice very well. L looked surprised but didn’t say anything. I decided to assume M was serious and tried to explain that I had tried the radio aids the organisation sold and had been unable or barely able to hear anything through them. The interview didn’t get any better after this, M continued to be unfriendly and increasingly aggressive towards me throughout. Her attitude towards deaf people in general was negative and it was clear she did not believe the deaf organisation should employ deaf people.

At the end of the interview M repeated her comments about my radio aid, clearly stating that if appointed to the job I would not be permitted to use it and would have to use one of their products. This time, L intervened and said that she knew from conversations with other technical colleagues that my radio aid was one of the most powerful products available and that the organisation’s products were aimed at the mild to moderately deaf area of the market. M didn’t seem impressed but as I had packed everything up to be shown out the conversation ended. As L showed me out of the building she made a vague apology for M’s comments and behaviour towards me — I think we both knew I wouldn’t be appointed as indeed I wasn’t.

I did not know at the time whether or not it was legal for an employer to dictate what assistive technology a disabled employee used. I am still not sure how one would define that legally other than harassment. I think I am too busy being confused about M suggesting I had to use a product which I had already explained simply did not work for me.

A friend said he thought I had an employment tribunal case, but I didn’t know how to find affordable legal advice as I was on a very low income. The Disability Law Service never answered their email, not even to say they couldn’t help. Most free or low cost legal advice services seemed to be telephone access only. In hindsight I wish I had made a complaint to the company (before I knew the outcome of the interview) as the organisation would then at least have known, although I suspect they would not have admitted anything.

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