I was thinking about something this week: Every deaf person that I know who possesses a good paying job ($50,000/year or more) was hired BEFORE they went completely deaf. And then there’s me – a woman with a post-graduate education, and only making about $26,000/year – and I was hired four years ago when I was still “hard of hearing” and not as deaf as I am today. I wondered…if I applied for my own job today, would I get it? Or would my deafness trump my education and experience?
Last summer, I was temporarily laid off, and I applied to over 120 jobs in two months. I made darn sure that “answering phones” was not listed in any of the job descriptions. So how many interviews was I offered? Zero. I thought to myself, “How is it possible that a person with my education and experience can’t even land a single interview?” Someone suggested to me that I take the word “deaf” off my resume. But this made me uncomfortable. First of all, if an employer didn’t want to hire me because I’m deaf, then I don’t want to work for that type of person. Secondly, what happens if I take “deaf” off my resume, and the employer wants to do an interview over the phone? I was worried about pretending to be something I’m not. But after so many unsuccessful attempts to get a job, I took “deaf” off my resume.
The very next job for which I applied, I was offered an interview.
The interview went very well, and the employer seemed really impressed with me, and even knew my current employer and commented that he trusted her judgement. At the end of the interview, I mentioned that I was deaf, just so that he wouldn’t be hiring me with false expectations. The employer seemed really surprised and said, “Then how can you understand what I’m saying to you?” I explained that I read lips. He asked more questions about how I could possibly work in an office environment without my hearing. I answered his questions as best I could, but he seemed genuinely flabbergasted. A week later, I got an email saying that they decided to hire someone “with more experience.” I resisted the temptation to write back, asking what experience the other person had that I didn’t have, because I met all their criteria. It’s frustrating that I’ll never know for sure if they didn’t hire me because I’m deaf.
What’s even more frustrating is that I’m not the only person who has experienced this. Just doing a Google search like “jobs for deaf people” yields over 50 pages of deaf people not being able to find work. Some sites suggest jobs for deaf people that don’t involve talking to others, like janitorial work, data entry, dog walking, etc. All low-income jobs.
Well here’s a news flash: Deaf people can do whatever jobs they want to do! And 100% of deaf people would rather make MORE money than less money. Crazy, isn’t it? The only reason that the majority of deaf people find themselves out of work or in a low-income job is that the majority of employers are prejudiced against hiring someone with a disability.
So for this entry, I am going to blast all those prejudices out of the water and tell employers WHY THEY SHOULD HIRE A DEAF PERSON!
Deaf people are very productive and improve productivity among their co-workers. A Study (Equal to the task II : 1990 Du Pont survey of employment of people with disabillities – Wilminton, CE : EI Du Pont de Nemours, 1991) found that employers frequently rate workers with disabilities better or about the same as co-workers in task performance. Never worse! A deaf person may work harder than others because they may feel like they have to “prove themselves.” As for increasing productivity among co-workers, that comes from barrier-free access to information. Dr. Janet Ross, my old Film Studies professor at McMaster University, has said that all students perform better on tests when films are shown with subtitles. Reading the subtitles in films better cements information in a person’s brain, including character names and important quotations. So in your business meeting, handing out a transcript of your main points, or having the words written in a power-point presentation will help not just the deaf person you’ve hired, but all the hearing people in your office as well, to better understand and remember what was said. And productivity improves!
Deaf People are experts at Communication. For some reason, employers think there will be a problem communicating with deaf employees. Have they forgotten a little something called technology? I already mentioned power point presentations and printing out transcripts for meetings. What about sending emails, faxes, text messages, and using the text option in Skype? These are all great ways to communicate with deaf people. If you are speaking to a Deafie, just follow these easy steps: Politely get their attention (ie. a tap on the arm), look them in the eyes and speak clearly, then ask if you need to repeat anything. Oh, it’s so easy! But what if the deaf person cannot read your lips or is “voice off?” You don’t necessarily have to pay for a fancy sign language interpreter. You could use hand gestures, or just grab a pen and paper and write things down. It’s so easy! Employers seem to think that they have to pay for extensive training for all their other employees to learn how to communicate with the deafie. You honestly don’t have to do that; just ask the deaf person what they need for proper communication, and they will tell you. Some employers say they don’t have TIME to write things down. Gee whiz, Complainer McGee, do you have time to gossip with your coworkers? Make a personal call? Check facebook? Take an extra-long poo in the bathroom? Have a coffee break? I’m sure you can find the time to scribble down some sentences in shorthand for the deaf employee who takes up soooo much of your time. Good grief. Perhaps hiring a deaf person will be good for improving your time management skills! Another myth employers seem to believe is that deaf people are difficult to train. Um…you don’t even know the person! Honestly, if they have the qualifications you’re looking for, why would they be difficult to train? You’ve already read how many easy, awesome ways there are to communicate with deaf people, so please dispose of your discriminatory assumptions about deaf people. Just because we can’t hear doesn’t mean we are stupid. Finally, if there is a problem with communication, will it be the end of the world? Miscommunications happen all the time among hearing people too. Just remember that communication problems can be corrected if they arise.
Hiring a Deaf Person will Not Cost you An Arm and A Leg Employers seem to worry that if they hire a deaf person, they will have to provide them with all sorts of costly equipment, like a TTY phone, or hire a sign language interpreter. Has my employer ever bought anything special for me to do my job? Nope! Not ever has my deafness cost the company any money. Other deaf people may require certain assistance, but not ALL deaf people do. And really, think about this: If you hired a person with a bad back, you’d supply them with a more comfortable office chair. And if your senior employee needs to use the bathroom more often, you’d allow them to take more bathroom breaks. How are a deaf person’s needs any different? And really, as employees age, everyone is going to have a special need that may or may not cost you money. Being a good boss means accommodating the needs of your employees, no matter what those needs are, so that they can do a good job for you and your company.
Diversity! In order for your business to be the best it can be, you have to hire a diverse group of people who will have diverse ideas, opinions, work-styles, and so on. Also, the Canadian Hearing Society website says that with a diverse and accessible workplace, “an employer will have access to a larger, more qualified pool of workers, a plus in today’s competitive business world. It will improve your company’s image in the business community and with the public.”
Deaf People are a Safe Bet There seems to be a myth that deaf people are more prone to accidents because they cannot hear what’s going on around them. That’s silly. Because we cannot hear, deaf people are usually hyper-aware of their surroundings. Sure, we may be occasionally clumsy, but Hearies can be clumsy too. If a hearing person was previously injured while working a different job, would you refuse to hire them? What if it’s a deaf person who has NEVER had a workplace accident before? Would you still assume that they’re accident-prone? Let’s look at some research studies. One study found that “deaf, deafened and hard of hearing workers have a 98% average or above average safety record, among the highest of all of the disabled workers and workers in general. ” (“Keep Deaf Workers Safe”, Menchel & Ritter, National Technical Institute of the Deaf, Rochester, New York – 1984).” What about outside the workplace? Henderson and Burg did a study in 1973 and found that “greater hearing loss was associated with fewer [driving] accidents.” Deaf people are not more accident-prone than hearing people, and that’s a fact.
Deaf People Are Adaptive To Change From day to day, our hearing abilities can change, and we must quickly adapt to the new world we find ourselves in. New technology is created frequently (upgraded hearing aids, CI’s, text-based messaging, etc.) and we master it quickly. If you need an employee who can roll with the punches and adapt to change, you should strongly consider the deaf people who have applied for the job.
Deaf People Are Experts at Problem Solving! I’m quoting this directly from the Canadian Hearing Society website: “Employees with disabilities are well known for being loyal, professional and hard working. Moreover, hiring a person with a disability means you’re hiring a specialist in problem solving – someone who has spent a great deal of time working around unique and difficult obstacles. Studies have shown that most employers who hire someone with a disability are happy with their decision.”
The message here is that employers need to focus on ABILITIES, not disabilities. Look beyond a candidate’s deafness and see if their skills match what you’re looking for in an employee. If they do, give them a chance! If you refuse to hire (or even interview) a perfectly qualified person simply because they are deaf, then not only are you breaking the law, but you’re behaving like an asshole.