Looking for work with a voice problem
In the next section (Adjustments in the Workplace), you will find ideas about how to manage your voice problem with your current employer as well as information on your legal rights under disability discrimination laws.
However, you may be looking for work or want to change career. If this is the case then the following links may be helpful.
To research different careers and entry routes into them, try the Connexions Jobs4U website
A number of organisations support people with disabilities (a voice problem that has or likely to last more than 12 months will often be classed as a disability (see more below).
- EmployAbility - a charity helping undergraduates and graduates with disabilities into top jobs and who have internships within lots of top banks, law firms and elsewhere that you can apply for.
- The Shaw Trust - a national charity which supports disabled and disadvantaged people to prepare for work, find jobs and live more independently.
- Leonard Chesire - providing support to people with disabilities in all aspects of their lives including finding employment.
For advice and guidance, you can speak to a career adviser free of charge through a number of services:
- Connexions Direct - offer a free webchat service where you can chat with a career adviser online between 8am-2pm. If you prefer to phone, you can also call them on 0808 001 3219 . You can also visit you local Connexions office if you prefer to talk to some face to face. Please note that Connexions is only available to people with disabilities up to the age of 25 or up to 19 for anyone.
- Next Steps - if you cannot use Connexions services (eg. are over 25 or over 19 and do not class yourself as having a disability) then Next Steps offer career guidance services to adults. You can call or email then, please see their website for more details
Adjustments in the Workplace
Working with a voice problem can be a challenge. Many jobs involve considerable use of the voice.
It is all too easy for others to underestimate the impact of a voice problem. This is particularly true when the voice sounds more or less normal. Nevertheless problems like throat pain, vocal fatigue and voice projection difficulties can present significant challenges.
However, an employee with a voice problem, their employer and their colleagues can do much to reduce the impact of many voice impairments. Appropriate adjustments and an empathetic attitude from colleagues can make all the difference.
1. Employer’s Duty
Healthy Working Environment
Employers have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to provide employees with a safe system of work and to assess any risks faced by their staff. Preventing voice problems, or a worsening of already existing ones, due to work based activities is part of this duty.
Duty not to Discriminate
The Disability Discrimination Acts require employers not to discriminate on the grounds of disability apart from where it can be justified (for example, not giving a blind person a job as a pilot on the grounds of her being blind is discrimination but it can be justified on health and safety grounds).
A voice problem will often come under the definition of a disability if it is long term (lasts or likely to last more than 12 months).
The Disability Discrimination Acts provide significant protection. For example, employers are required to make “reasonable adjustments” in order to help disabled employees in the workplace. These may include adjustments to procedures (eg. allowing an employee to do more written than spoken work, allowing an employee voice rests when needed) and purchasing equipment that can help (eg. a voice amplifier or electrolarynx).
Even if the employer cannot afford to purchase equipment themselves, the government’s Access to Work scheme may provide funding
The law protects both employees already in work as well as applicants. You can read more on your legal rights on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website here
2. Working with a Voice Problem: Helpful Ideas for the Voice Impaired Employee, Their Employer and Their Colleagues
- Reduce background noise levels. Competing against background noise is bad for the larynx – the source of the voice – even for people with healthy larynxes. It is very important the need to talk against background noise is monitored and controlled.
- Use email. A person with a voice problem may need to preserve their voice during the day so using non-verbal methods of communicating, such as email, can be important. Using these “voice saving” methods wherever possible can make the difference between being able to do the job comfortably and things being a struggle.
- Don’t interrupt! It’s easy to interrupt and speak over people in the office, particularly when things are busy. It is important for people to understand how difficult this can be for someone with a voice problem as having to restart what they are saying or strain the voice to be heard can result in voice fatigue, pain and other problems such as breathlessness. This voice abuse can also lead to further damage to the larynx. It is important therefore not to interrupt or speak over someone with a voice problem if at all possible. This becomes even more important in a place where lots of people are speaking such as a meeting.
- Presentations. Where a person with a voice disorder needs to make presentations, where possible those being presented to should be sat as close as possible to the presenter.
- Amplification. Voice amplification will assist a person with a voice problem who has to do a presentation and other activities that involve projecting one's voice. A portable voice amplifier may also be worn generally in the office and be switched on according to need (eg. in meetings, visits to noisier areas such as a factory floor). See our views on different voice amplifiers. Remember that government support exists to help employers purchase equipment to aid employees with voice disabilities.
- Spreading the strain. In a team setting, having others take-up more of the verbal aspects (presentations, telephoning) and the person with the voice problem more of the non-verbal aspects (writing, presenting only certain parts, emailing) can be helpful. However, having the person with the voice problem have a say in the division of duties is important. It should also be recognised that sometimes a person with a voice problem may be able to talk more than at other times. During these “good voice” periods, the person with the voice problem may actually WANT to do more of the talking.
- Striking the balance. Although it is important to avoid over-use of the voice, it can also be important to prevent under-use too. Exercise - provided it is of the correct type - can be just as important for the larynx as it is for other parts of the body. However, it is crucial that medical advice is obtained from voice specialists in order to strike this balance correctly, including ensuring the voice impaired person is using their voice correctly and is generally engaged in good voice care (eg. warming up and warming down voice).
- Moisture is good. People with voice problems benefit greatly from keeping their throats well hydrated. Drinking lots of water is often recommended. Chewing a non-mint based sugar free gum may also provide relief. Steaming with plain hot water is also recommended and breaks could be allowed according to need during the day to permit this.
- Friendly Schedules. People with voice disorders may need to see the doctor and others (eg. speech therapists). An understanding approach from employers regarding time off for appointments is helpful and would generally be considered a legal right under the Disability Discrimination Acts.
- Crossed-wires. A person with a voice problem can sound hoarse and their voice can tire quickly. This may mean they are quieter than some of their other colleagues. This should not be mistaken for a lack of enthusiasm or interest. It is important to realise a person with a voice problem may be very committed to the job they are doing and have lots of ideas and things to contibute but are – quite literally - not in a position to shout about it. Likewise, sometimes a person with a voice problem may end a conversation abruptly. This may not be rudeness but rather the result of a tired larynx or sore throat.
- Considerate choices. If you have to go out, say for a client lunch, choosing a place with low background noise and good acoustics is really important. A noisy restaurant or bar can be very difficult for someone with a voice problem as they may have to strain their voice to be heard. This voice abuse can cause significant pain and discomfort and can even cause further damage.
- Time for Talking. It may be possible to send calls to voicemail with a message explaining you have a voice problem and matters should in the first place be dealt with by email. If you have to use the phone, perhaps you could ask people to call when your voice is usually most reliable (eg. morning) and then after this time send calls to voicemail.
- Ensure adjustments are followed. There is no point introducing adjustments if it just a paper exercise – not something that is really implemented. For example, it is important that if a person with a voice problem does use non-verbals methods more frequently, that they can rely on being treated in the same way as a colleague who does things face to face or uses the telephone. If the voice impaired person sends an email internally, it’s important that this is as good as a telephone call. A culture of “you only ever get something done by calling or speaking in person” could be very difficult for someone with a voice problem.
- A message to employers: think positive! Studies show disabled people have lower sickness records and are often more loyal to their employer than their non-disabled counterparts. Employers should therefore feel positive about employing disabled people, including those with voice disabilities.
Remember: many of these adjustments would be considered a legal obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act and/or Disability Discrimination Acts.
3. Making a plan
It is a good idea for the employer and employee with the voice problem to sit down together and make a plan to ensure the advice above and any other adjustments that may be appropriate are followed. The plan can formally recognise the voice problem, outline the adjustments being made and indicate when/how reviews of what is being done will take place. The employee should feel “safe” to say if things are not working or if changes need to be made.
Here’s a video attendees at one of our support groups made to help others, including employers and colleagues, to understand some of the challenges of voice problems and what they can do to help:
Dim lights Embed Embed this video on your site