HLAA Convention: Job Search and Employment for People with Hearing Loss

Editor: When during the job search process should you disclose your hearing loss? What if the company insists on a telephone interview before a face-to-face interview? This workshop provides some ideas on these and other employment issues.

July 2010

This workshop was given by John R. Macko and Mary Ellen Tait. Mr. Macko is the Director for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) Center on Employment, and Ms. Tait is the Assistant Director. The Center offers a program “Working Together with Employers.”

NTID is one of the eight colleges of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), an international leader in technical and career education for deaf and hard of hearing people. The NTID Center on Employment assists hard of hearing and deaf NTID/RIT students with job searches, offers orientation and training programs for employers, and information on the website for them. The Center also arranges for employers to recruit on-campus, post jobs, and request resumes. There will be a job fair in October open to all job seekers who are deaf and hard of hearing. Because NTID receives funding from the Dept. of Labor, this job fair is open to anyone with a hearing loss, not just NTID students. Website information can be found at www.rit.edu/ntid/coops/jobs/

Ms. Tait and Mr. Macko then opened the workshop up for discussion and comment as they focused on different points of the job search process. First they stressed the communication goal, which is to focus on skills, knowledge and experience you have to offer and clearly communicate your worth during every step of the job search process. It is important to convince the employer that you are worth the money they invest to hire quality employees and be clear about how the employer will benefit from your skills.

During this process, the question becomes when to disclose your hearing loss (or not!). A lively discussion ensued, and the opinions were varied. They include: it’s a personal choice, find out who is interviewing (the gatekeeper? the boss?), and the reminder that some employers don’t like surprises.

The first Case Study concerned a potential employer who wants to conduct an interview over the telephone, and you don’t hear well on the phone if the voice is quiet or if the person speaks too quickly or has an accent. So we are faced with unknowns! Again, opinions varied. Some thought it was important to be up front about the hearing loss as a way of showing independence and a willingness to make the employer comfortable with the situation. Others thought that might put the employer on the defensive. And still others thought these were opportunities to advocate for ourselves.

Ms. Tait outlined the pros and cons of this disclosure. If you are the applicant, it can help you describe how you will do job tasks with accommodations, and disclosure can avoid embarrassment or discomfort in the interview process. Working against you is the possibility that you will be perceived in a negative or discriminatory manner for an interview or hire. There were also pros and cons from the employer’s perspective. Interviewers are likely to pay more attention to and provide accommodation for communication. They will be more prepared when you begin work to meet the accessibility requirements. Some employers, such as IBM and of course the Federal Government, view hiring someone with a disability as a way to increase diversity. Small companies, on the other hand, might not. If a disability is hidden and disclosed later, employers may feel deceived and misinformed, and they may be reluctant to use funds to provide accommodations.

Some guiding principles for job seekers in the disclosure process include describing your qualifications, explaining and demonstrating how you can perform the essential functions of the job, being prepared to talk about possible modifications that will enable you to do the work, and be more productive, in a positive way.

Certainly if there are safety issues surrounding your hearing loss, you should disclose. And you should ask yourself if this job can be done with or without a disability.

The workshop moved on to another Case Study. This one involved an employee who has asked co-workers to face her when they speak to her, but they keep forgetting. What to do? Most of us at the workshop agreed that the best way to handle this is with patience and humor, not scolding. Continue to educate, educate, educate. Continue to ask co-workers to look directly at you, speak slowly and clearly, repeat or rephrase, spell or write down words, and clarify specific parts of the communication.

The final part of the workshop was dedicated to requesting accommodations on the job. For group communication, consider what accommodations will work best for you and the employer for the meeting. Request an agenda and visual aids, as well as notes or minutes. Ask for best seating arrangements so you can hear what is being said and see the speakers’ faces, verify questions or information, and debrief after the meeting.

In general, it’s important to make requests for accommodations as far in advance as possible, and in writing so there’s a record of it. Explain how they are to be used to make you a more effective employee. Be clear about why one accommodation is preferred over another. Remember that requests can be denied due by some employers to undue burden.

Here are accommodations that are commonly used by RIT students: email, text messaging, captioning, and the computer. Relay services used include VRS, on-line, and with voice carry over (VCO). Interpreting includes on-site interpreters, video remote interpreting (VRI), and teleconferencing.

To learn more, you can contact Mary Ellen directly at met6062@ntid.rit.edu or visit the website at www.ntid.rit.edu.

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(c)2010 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org; 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056 TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC.