On the Right Track – Unconscious Bias

October 9, 2017


What is it and how do we recognise when it is happening?

The Train Journey

So I am on the train – I’ve been to a wool festival (please don’t judge me), it’s a squash – I mean people are standing in the aisles and I am trying to get to my seat with double the luggage I came with – yarn bobbing out the top of bags as I jostle to my seat.

The Squash and The Squeeze

I come to an impasse. ‘I need to get to my seat’ I say to the man in front of me.’ He smiles and lets out a guttural shriek. I am taken by surprise. Another man does the same, more loudly and with a great deal of enthusiasm. It takes me a while to adjust to the situation. I have sat down next to another surprised passenger. I realise now that there are maybe 9 or 10 people who are deaf sitting in front of me.

The Situation

I am not used to this situation, I am really not and I am curious to see the group communicating and laughing together. I feel a little uneasy, I wonder if they are OK, are they happy? Are they frustrated? I feel ashamed that I am not well-versed to seeing people communicate without speech.

I try to remember some sign language and then tick myself off for being so silly. They don’t know me, I don’t know them – why would I barge in and try and sign… it takes hold of me that I am completely awkward here.

The Questioning

Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. It is an unusual situation. One man laughs very loudly – I realise he doesn’t know how loud his laugh is…or does he? Can he feel his laugh vibrate and does the feel of his vocal cords make him aware? Perhaps he is just loud – I mean there are loud people out there right? A passenger tuts, I worry for the group.

Unconscious Bias

According to Equality Challenge ‘Implicit or unconscious bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. We may not even be aware of these views and opinions, or be aware of their full impact and implications.’

You may meet a new client with the same manner of a loved one, you may meet someone with an accent who reminds you of someone you didn’t ever get on with – all of these things can and sometimes do influence how we behave.

The Pause

In this circumstance I stop. I try to think why I feel the way I do. Growing up I knew only one man that could not speak and used to make the same sounds. He was a tanner, and as a child I wanted to buy a bag from him. He had tongue cancer I found out years later, he was aggressive and so frustrated he could not speak anymore. I was scared, upset for him and I felt awkward I could not help him.

The situation I found myself in was unusual on the train, and my immediate reaction was one I pulled from way back in my mind, the people I saw did not have the same condition or circumstance of the one from my past.

The Situation

There were 9 or 10 people on the train who could not hear. They were having fun, playing cards and talking. Not needing my assistance, not needing my intrusion. Not needing my concern.

Stop, think…tap into your unconscious bias.

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Abi Spence

Registration and Inspection Specialist


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