Skip to main content
Civil Service

World Hearing Day - 3 March. The Rose Looks Fair

Ian Wallace reads magazine featuring Deaf trailblazer Rose Ayling Ellis

To mark World Hearing Day, Ian Wallace hails the success of Strictly Come Dancing star Rose Ayling-Ellis as a trailblazer for the deaf.

Every year on 3 March, World Hearing Day is celebrated. On this day, the World Federation of the Deaf says “Let’s Remember to Sign” because national sign languages are important for everyone.

Rose Ayling-Ellis, who won Strictly Come Dancing in 2021, is a profoundly deaf British Sign Language (BSL) user, who is singularly helping to break down barriers for people and showing us what could be possible. 

Rose's courage

My Facebook feed was full of deaf people, who wouldn’t normally watch a dance  show, spreading the word about her talent. I agreed and thought she was great. Rose is showing a new generation of deaf children just what is achievable. There were endless online platitudes splashed across social media, hailing Rose’s courage and how wonderful she is, letting everyone know they voted for her. However, why has it taken such a long time for societal attitudes to really ‘see’ these amazing people and great achievements?     

Ian Wallace, Demonstrating the communication support

Disability Discrimination Act

It wasn’t until 1995 that we saw the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 enter the statute books following a long campaign by activists. It took nine years after BSL was recognised as an official language before Rosie Cooper’s British Sign Language bill was presented to Parliament and gained government support.

However, whilst there are great strides being made, there remains a long way to go.

It’s all very well issuing platitudes but this isn’t enough. It would also be inspiring  for people to do something positive. One of the most positive aspects of Rose Ayling-Ells’ performance on Strictly was that google searches for learning sign language soared after she introduced BSL choreography into two particularly memorable routines.

It would be encouraging to hope that trend continues and that civil servants might be inspired to sign up for a course, learn about deaf culture and how it affects your friends, colleagues and families.

Breaking down barriers

Rose didn’t achieve success alone. She has significant communication barriers and did it with the help and support of people around her, working together to help break down these barriers. Rose’s dance partner Giovanni recognised that the way she hears music and feels the beat is different, and worked with that to create their routines. The BBC provided BSL interpreters at all times. Cynthia Erivo, a guest judge for musicals week, used BSL to communicate with Rose when giving her feedback.

Similarly, deaf colleagues in the Civil Service need your help and support. Be an ally and work with your colleagues who are deaf or have hearing difficulties, recognising their differences.

Supporting staff who are deaf or have a hearing loss:

◼︎You’re actively making a difference to their daily lives, including reducing hearing fatigue and being inclusive

◼︎You’re helping to build a diverse, Modern Civil Service equipped for the future - proof that representation counts

◼︎You’re investing in their skills to help deaf colleagues be their best

◼︎You’re utilising the full potential of technology to help them succeed in their roles

◼︎You’re helping them to achieve excellence in delivering of public services

In the past, deaf staff in DWP had difficulties accessing communication support, despite occupational health recommendations, due to restricted budgets in local cost centres. I am proud that following a campaign from the DWP Deaf and Hearing Loss Network, interpreters are paid from a central cost centre, and this is working well.

Improved accessibility

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a rapid turnaround in accessibility for deaf colleagues. In DWP, we saw increased use of Microsoft Teams video calls with captions and transcript facilities. These workplace adjustments have fostered a sense of inclusion. In particular, allowing lipspeakers and BSL interpreters into internal meetings providing much needed communication support.     

Ian Wallace, DWP
Author Ian Wallace, DWP

My manager Ray has been fantastic since I had my cochlear implant in September 2021. Ray’s first concern is for me as a person, and he has worked with me using sick and special leave to help manage this. Ray also allowed easements on productivity and continued communicating with me in the way I needed rather than making assumptions about my needs. Every deaf person is unique and has their own abilities.

You need to hold useful conversations and have mutual trust with your deaf colleagues. This approach is necessary as there is a strong need to prevent disillusionment and disengagement in the workplace. We need to aim to create a skilled, innovative, ambitious and, importantly, a diverse Modern Civil Service to cater for all.

The Rose looks fair, but fairer it we deem/

For that sweet odour which doth in it live

Sonnet 54, William Shakespeare

The Civil Service Deaf and Hard of Hearing Network welcomes new members with all types of hearing impairments. Visit the network's web page to find out more.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Debbie Alder posted on

    Ian - thank you so much for writing this blog and sharing your experience. There was such attention on Rose as she went through her Strictly "journey" and it was an incredible, positive platform. I really welcome the clear messaging that we can all play our part to support deaf and hard of hearing colleagues. Thank you.

    Debbie Alder
    Champion for CS Deaf and Hard of Hearing Network

    • Replies to Debbie Alder>

      Comment by Ian Wallace posted on

      Thank you so much Debbie. It been brilliant having you as the Champion for the CS Deaf and Hard of Hearing Network and it was really great to hear you speak at the event on the 9 February this year

  2. Comment by Tracey posted on

    A very thoughtful and interesting read Ian.........I too followed Rose on her incredible journey and was amazed at just what her impact was. A more inclusive place to work is a must, but it takes time to get there, will be following the Civil Service Network more closely from now on.

    • Replies to Tracey>

      Comment by Ian Wallace posted on

      Absolutely, even in the DWP, it has taken us a long time to get to this stage and even now, I do hear stories of where we can do better

  3. Comment by Catherine Taylor posted on

    Thanks so much for this blog, Ian. I wasn't aware of the Civil Service network so will join that now! Teams has made it so much easier for me with everyone on individual screens. I hope that ESD will allow us to bluetooth to our hearing aids from our laptops soon as that would be a massive help to me.

    • Replies to Catherine Taylor>

      Comment by Ian Wallace posted on

      Thank you very much. I hope you get the bluetooth connectivity sorted soon

  4. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Ian Wallace for promoting World Hearing Day 2022.

    I would agree with you that the appearance of Rose on Strictly has helped to increase awareness on the challenges faced by those with a hearing loss, but has also hopefully shown how with the right level of support and adjustments in place, that they can still realise their true potential.

    I certainly would like to commend the Civil Service Disability Network and the individual Departmental Staff Networks have been instrumental in helping to educate and to ensure that we have a more inclusive place of work, where everyone has the opportunity to achieve success.

    • Replies to Gavin Thomas>

      Comment by Ian Wallace posted on

      Thank you, and I agree totally!

  5. Comment by Lesley Weatherson posted on

    Great blog and I'm delighted to be able to support you in making a difference.

    • Replies to Lesley Weatherson>

      Comment by Ian Wallace posted on

      Thank you, it has been fantastic working with you as well. The communication support you and your team provide does enable me to follow the conversations easily and takes a lot of pressure off by providing one person to lipread rather than trying to work out who is talking and whether they have their camera on!!

  6. Comment by Lloyd Hills posted on

    Thanks Ian a really interesting article for World Hearing Day, The Civil Service Deaf and Hard of Hearing Network is certainly worth joining as it can provide support for a wide range of hearing issues..

    • Replies to Lloyd Hills>

      Comment by Ian Wallace posted on

      Thank you, and I agree the network do provide a good deal of help and support. Quite recently, a few members gave a presentation to DWP colleagues and it really helped to open up those much needed conversations around the difficulties that we all face and where to go for help and support

  7. Comment by Lisa Baldock MBE posted on

    Ian - i am so proud to have you on board in DWP - together the network and you as co chair we are a team. Ironically We have a policy of it not falling on deaf ears and our ears may be silent but my voice will be heard. Thank you for all you do and your ongoing support in DWP

    • Replies to Lisa Baldock MBE>

      Comment by Ian Wallace posted on

      Thank you!! It’s been really good working together with you, I have certainly learnt loads from your support and guidance as well

  8. Comment by Nicola Julia Speakman posted on

    A great blog thank you

    • Replies to Nicola Julia Speakman>

      Comment by Ian Wallace posted on

      Thank you for your kind comment, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did pulling it together!!