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Black Country charity receive £6,500 to boost employment opportunities for Deaf community

A Black Country based Deaf charity has received a £6,500 funding boost to help Deaf and hard of hearing people in the area seek, gain and sustain employment.

Zebra Access has received a £6,500 grant from Walsall Business Support to provide 20 Deaf awareness and Basic British Sign Language training sessions to selected Walsall businesses.

Established in 2005, Zebra Access is a registered charity dedicated to ensuring that all Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people, both adults and children, enjoy equal participation and access without communication barriers.

As Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people are four times more likely to be unemployed, the funding will allow Zebra Access to work with businesses to raise awareness, review employment policies and offer practical support to enhance the job prospects for local, unemployed Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people.

Zebra Access have pioneered effective ways of working with Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people, providing a range of specialist holistic support including advocacy, wellbeing, community development, Deaf awareness and British Sign Language training across Birmingham, West Midlands and the Black Country. The charity works with local organisations including Walsall Housing Group, Walsall Council, Walsall Manor Hospital and Barhale.

Formed by leading local business figures to distribute funds collected from the legacy of Walsall Chamber of Commerce, Walsall Business Support provides grants to applicants who want funding for projects to enhance business life in the borough.

WBS Board Member Rob Colbourne OBE said: “Our aim is to bring employment opportunities to as many people in Walsall as possible. The grant for Zebra Access is a fantastic example of how a charity can help bridge the gap between employers and the Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing community to make a positive difference. We hope the funding enables Zebra Access to engage with as many businesses as possible to raise awareness and offer long term employment opportunities.”

Zebra Access fundraising officer Bob Marsh said: “Zebra Access is truly grateful for the very kind donation received from Walsall Business Support. This will enable us to reach out to at least 20 employers in the region for them to enjoy and benefit from the Deaf awareness and basic BSL training that will also extend further to the local Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing community and their families.”

Chris Beech, Zebra Access project development manager, added: “This is a fantastic opportunity to develop awareness amongst employers as to the potential that Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing employees can offer to their organisation by making reasonable adjustments at no cost to them.

“One in six people, and rising, are currently suffering from some form of Deafness and the recent royal ascent of the new British Sign Language Act 2022 is driving the need for organisations to become more accessible to the Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people and communities.”

Walsall Business Support can provide grants and a free training needs analysis to businesses looking to generate growth, create employment or shape training opportunities for the borough of Walsall. Using an online application form on the WBS website, bids for financial support can be submitted by businesses needing investment in a new project or a company wanting to improve skills.

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Rob Colbourne OBE (left) with Chris Beech, outside Zebra Access partner Walsall Housing Group

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