A world of collaboration without sound
Introducing Mo and Ali
Our names are Mohammed and Ali Osman and we are Technical/Team Leads for the Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB) programme in Leidos. We joined the company in December 2010 (Mohammed) and November 2011 (Ali) as Junior Software Developers and grew our careers over the next 10 years. Since joining, we have worked on a variety of software development programmes, which have given us opportunities to build existing and new skills including requirements gathering, development, sprint planning, and release management, as well as building collaboration skills and relationships with our customers.
Communication during COVID-19 using British Sign Language
We are both deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL) as our first language. We communicate with our colleagues through BSL, lip-reading, email, or instant messaging such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, and WebEx. For formal meetings (including project meetings, team meetings, one-to-ones, and All Hands), we work with fully qualified BSL/English interpreters (SRLPDC/NRCPD), who provide interpretation of the spoken language to BSL and vice versa. Having BSL/English interpreters in these meetings helps us communicate with hearing colleagues and understand what is said.
We have faced some challenges, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As one example, when we all went into lockdown back in March 2020, the latest updates/news began to be provided via video blogs (vlogs). Most people welcomed these vlogs but it was difficult for deaf people like us to follow them without captioning/subtitles and/or transcripts as we couldn’t hear what was said. This caused us to miss some information, which could be frustrating at times. If you can hear, imagine yourself turning off the sound on a video and watching the whole thing in silence (or alternatively listening to the video in a different language); quickly it could become difficult to understand what was being said and it could even make you want to give up watching – this is how we often felt. Having either captioning, transcripts, or a BSL/English interpreter signing on any videos helps us and everyone to understand what is being communicated and avoids us feeling left out. In Leidos, at the time of writing, most vlogs now have a transcript added to them and work is underway to make sure all videos have captioning too, which will make it much easier for us to watch the video and read the captions at the same time.
Another example of a challenge we’ve faced is the use of face masks being worn due to the pandemic. Although necessary for keeping us all safe, unfortunately face masks make it impossible for us to lip-read what the person wearing the mask is saying because their mouth is covered. In addition, BSL relies not just on signs but also on body language, facial expressions and gestures. The wearing of face masks prevents us from seeing full facial expressions, which can often create confusion or misunderstandings. Where possible, removing face masks and maintaining social distancing if needed will help to overcome this challenge; alternatively a ‘clear’ mask or clear screen would help to overcome this challenge too.
Training our colleagues for effective collaboration using British Sign Language
Since July 2021, we have provided a series of free BSL taster sessions, open to all colleagues in Leidos, covering topics like greetings, the BSL alphabet, numbers, time, tea/coffee/snacks, and common phrases.
We previously ran these sessions in-person in the Glasgow office but due to most people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to develop a brand new virtual version. As we were offering it virtually for the first time and to a bigger (UK-wide) audience too, we ran a pilot with a few colleagues before launching. The pilot went well but we quickly realised our usual 1-hour in-person session would take much longer to complete virtually, so we decided to split it into two parts. We also made some adjustments to the content, virtual meeting setup and in-session support to make sure all attendees felt comfortable and able to interact fully. Once we were ready, we went ahead and scheduled the sessions (with great help from colleagues) twice a week over a 5-week period. The sessions proved so popular, we had to extend the series for another four weeks and increase the capacity to fit in everyone who wanted to take part!
Now more than 40 colleagues have taken part in the BSL taster sessions and our average feedback score is 9.8/10. Here are some comments from attendees showing what they thought:
- “Loved the session, can't fault it. Mo and Ali were really attentive and made sure we all understood the signing fully… so interesting and took so much away from it, can’t recommend enough!”
- “I absolutely loved it. It felt a bit daunting at first for no verbal communication to take place (makes you realise how challenging it must be for deaf individuals in their everyday exchanges) but Mohammed and Ali were excellent and patient and made it feel perfectly fine to join in, try and to actually understand the flow of the session.”
- “There wasn't anything about the session that I didn't enjoy. It was an unfamiliar feeling to be in a ‘meeting’ without vocal communication but very humbling and insightful.”
- “I joined the session having been in meetings/conversations constantly from early the same day. When the session started, the absence of noise/sound was absolutely profound – it hit me unexpectedly hard and much to my surprise I was very conscious of being unprepared and unequipped to communicate at all. I felt quite vulnerable which is not something I'm used to experiencing. It was so profound that I was discussing this impact on me with my wife throughout the evening. However, from the session outset, Ali and Mohammed generated such enthusiasm, energy, and warmth that discomfort quickly turned to empowerment as I experienced my first BSL conversation! The whole session was extremely beneficial, useful, and enlightening. I strongly recommend anyone to experience this session and learn BSL.”
Along with the BSL taster sessions, we have provided informal drop-in sessions and produced a dedicated ‘BSL Zone’ on our Leidos intranet, including BSL information, refresher videos, blogs, and tips to keep the momentum going and encourage people to learn more. We are also doing a ‘BSL Sing-along’ for National Inclusion Week!
The main benefit of learning BSL is to allow people to communicate with the deaf community and/or any other people who use BSL. But it has also been great to see people challenging themselves to learn in a new way, improve their multi-tasking and memory, and have fun!
Leidos is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, where every colleague has the opportunity to contribute, share their unique ideas and talents, and be supported in their career. To find out more, visit our Inclusion and Diversity page.