The Banking sector: Reasonably accommodating persons who are deaf or hearing impaired

Background information

Globally hearing loss is the most common congenital anomaly found in new-borns and in South Africa deafness is considered to affect the most people within the group of persons with disabilities.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 15% of any population experience hearing loss, which means there are at least 7,5 million South Africans who experience hearing loss. Of these, more than 5 million use a spoken language to communicate.

Hearing loss is known as a silent or invisible disability, with the impact only being realized by society when someone is engaged in communicating with the person with hearing loss.

Who are we talking about?

  •  Hearing Impaired refers to persons with varying degrees of hearing loss not using South African Sign Language (SASL) as a primary medium of communication, who use various means of communication and assistive hearing technologies. These include speech, speech/lip reading, hearing aid systems, cochlear implants, Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) and applicable assistive listening devices etc. or a combination thereof. This group primarily aligns with terms like “impairment”, “disability” and the hearing world.

  •  deaf with a lower case “d” refers to persons with total hearing loss not using SASL as a primary medium of communication, who use various means of communication and assistive hearing technologies. These include speech, speech/lip reading, cochlear implants, BAHA and applicable assistive listening devices etc. or a combination thereof. This group primarily aligns with “impairment”, “disability” and the hearing world.

  •  Deaf with a capital letter “D” refers to a Deaf cultural group who uses SASL to communicate and who do not align with terms like “impairment” or “disability”.

  •  Hard of Hearing persons are those with different degrees of hearing loss, who are part of the Deaf culture. These individuals do not align with the terms “impairment” or “disability”.

For the purposes of this document, the focus is on persons who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Hearing loss varies greatly from individual and can be slight, mild, moderate, moderate to severe, severe, or profound to deaf.

A person who has slight to mild hearing loss may not be greatly affected in the activities of daily life, but in a bank where there is a glass partition the person with the hearing loss will not be able to hear what the teller on the other side is saying.

Please note that wearing hearing instruments like hearing aid(s), cochlear implant(s) or BAHAs does not restore hearing and therefore the use of these do not automatically position the individual to hear in all environment. The hearing instruments support the wearer in one on one communication situations where there is minimal background noise, sufficient light and positive attitudes from both parties. No matter how high tech the hearing instruments are, there are many factors that can inhibit communication.

When considering individuals who have moderate to severe, severe to profound hearing loss and those who are completely deaf, assistive technology can bridge the communication gap, but the assistance of professionals like Note Takers and Lip Speakers may be required. Some communication challenges experiences by persons who are deaf or hearing impaired, include:

  •  Difficulty in following long, complex sentences

  •  Lip reading, as mentioned below, may be difficult in poor lighting etc., and not all

individuals have acquired this skill

  •  A lack of facial expressions being used by the speaker hampers understanding of

what is being said

  •  The person speaking turns away while speaking or obscures his mouth

  •  If the topic of discussion changes without warning

  •  Insufficient light on the speakers face and

  •  Environmental or background noise e.g. other people talking or telephones ringing

These individuals are protected by the stipulations as described in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which is enforced by the South African Government, as well as legislation like the Code of Good Practice on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities. Stipulations include equal access to communication, information, services and products.

Communication challenges within banks

1. Customer Service/Enquiries Desk

There are two main areas of difficulty for the mentioned individuals when conducting business at banks and their frontline staff:

  •  The high level of background noise due to telephones ringing, conversations of persons in the queues, telephonic conversations that staff are busy with, etc.

  •  The lack of privacy. When the client indicates that they are deaf/hearing impaired, staff tend to think that raising their voices will accommodate the person, but this can cause the client embarrassment and frustration, often leading to the person ending the business at hand without doing what they came for. They often have to return with a trusted friend to help them in communicating with staff, but need to be supported by staff so that they can independently conclude their business as do other clients.

2. Tellers

The above two points also relate to interactions with Tellers, but more importantly, when there is a glass petition between the service provider/Teller and the customer, the partition makes speech reading very difficult and sound is more muffled than usual. Other factors that play into this, is the mentioned noise levels, poor lighting on the staff member behind the glass, as well as facial hair that obscures the staff member’s lips.

International bench marking

Please consider these examples of good practice abroad when it comes to serving clients who are deaf or hearing impaired:

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  •  C&G | Accessibility policy - Cheltenham & Gloucester

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  • 

  • 

  • 

Recommended solution for South African banks

Based on the information provided above, we recommend the following to the benefit of South African (and international) customers who are deaf or hearing impaired:

  1. All employees must receive the necessary training to ensure that they understand this target group, their rights and easy ways to accommodate their communication preferences in the banking environment. Training is provided by the National Council of Person with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA). Contact Sandra Maritz at

  2. All counters are to be fitted with an assistive listening device like the Cross the Counter loop system

  3. An assistive listening device?

Assistive listening devices are designed to assist the person with a hearing loss whenever their hearing instrument(s) are insufficient and/or they are not able to lip read. In many cases the only way to increase speech intelligibility is to reduce the distance between the sound source and the listener and at the same time reduce the environmental noise. This can be achieved with the use of the induction loop counter-to-counter system.

More examples of devices that banks can consider:

The Portable Cross the Counter Induction Loop can also be used at the counter and for private meetings with the client. It is perfect for one on one or small meetings and requires no installation or set-up. This table- top unit picks up voices and turns them into electro-magnetic

signals which are received clearly when the hearing aid is switched to the "T" position. Background noise is reduced for the hearing aid user, resulting in much clearer communication with someone who is deaf or hearing impaired.

  1. Board rooms and meeting rooms to be fitted with induction loops

  •  Allows clients and staff who are deaf or hearing impaired to participate in meetings and conferences

  •  A loop system helps people who are deaf or hearing impaired who may use a hearing aid, cochlear implant, bone anchored hearing aids or loop listeners to hear sounds more clearly by reducing or cutting out background noise.

How does it work?

An induction loop is a cable that circles the listening area in a room. It is fed by current from a loop amplifier. The amplifier gets its signal from a microphone placed in front of the person speaking or by means of a direct connection from another sound source, such as a sound system. The resulting electric current in the loop produces a magnetic field, which corresponds to the sound. You can then pick up this magnetic field if you are sitting within the area of the loop and your hearing aid, cochlear implant or a loop listener is switched to “T”. The listener adjusts the volume on his own hearing instrument for volume. The hearing instrument must be programmed to use “T-coil”.

More than one person can benefit from a loop installed in a room as long as they each have a hearing instrument set to “T”, or a loop listener. Induction Loop Systems are the most cost efficient assistive listening technology. They operate on a universal frequency which eliminates problems inherent in operating on multiple frequencies associated with FM systems. The Loop Amplifier (below) to be used will depend on the size of the venue or the area to be looped. Please see the attached brochure on Induction Loops.

Portable induction loops are also available, which means it can be used in more than one area. This compact portable loop system (right) is very easy to use and can operate in rooms of various sizes up to and including 150 m2.

For more guidance in seeing to it that persons who are deaf or hearing impaired are reasonably accommodated and to address the above mentioned points, get in touch with us at:

The National Council for Person with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA): Sandra Maritz at sandra.maritz@ncppdsa

The Association for Hearing Loss Accessibility and Development (AHLAD): Michele Tonks at

The South African Hearing Institute (SAHI) Fanie du Toit

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