Deaf people are generally underestimated. When I say “generally” you need to interpret that as “really quite often, unfortunately, even though it shouldn’t happen.”
This is true in the general population, and this is true with those who are in the position of hiring new staff for companies. We are underestimated, and as a result the job opportunities for deaf individuals are drastically reduced. This can be changed when you, the employers, start to see that we are capable of far more than you might have realized.
In the Deaf Community, we all know this. We see our abilities, we see the potential we have to become valuable employees, and so often we face discouragement. Sometimes, sadly, we give up.
I understand the fear you might have. You have a job opening and you want someone qualified to do the job, who will do well, and make your life easier in this regard. So when you have little or no direct experience with anyone from the Deaf Community, doubts sprout up everywhere in your thoughts and you see a big flashing neon sign in your head that says “CAN’T!
Oh, yes, we can.
Did you know there are deaf people in nearly every profession? Did you know that there are deaf people with college degrees, even PhDs? Did you know that a deaf person can be a devoted, hard-working employee, regardless of the profession, if only the opportunity is given? Did you know that the White House receptionist is Deaf? Did you know there are deaf doctors, lawyers, professors, scientists, clowns, mail carriers, stockpersons, restaurant owners, artists, writers, poets, and so much more?
Sadly, most people do not know these facts, or believe them if they are told. We have the burden of an unemployment rate that’s been estimated as high as 50%. Here’s one such resource showing this data. There are others.
I’m not going to pretend that every deaf person in the world would be the best employee you could ever possibly have. Some of us are hard-working, devoted, and determined to do our best. We can be on time, thorough, flexible, adapting to the tasks at hand. Some are not. Just like you’ll find in the general population full of hearing people where some are excellent and motivated and some are terrible at their jobs, and everything in between. We have the same kind of potential employees. Your best employee could be a deaf employee. Or perhaps not. Only one way to find out — hire someone deaf.
We deserve as much of a chance as anyone does at proving our worth. Know what I’ve noticed with the majority of those who are deaf and do have jobs? Loyalty is common. We usually really appreciate our jobs, knowing how difficult it is to get these jobs. Those of us who are especially aware of the importance of working will often work even harder to keep these jobs. Not as a rule, of course, because like I said there are always some who don’t put forth that effort.
If we are not given the opportunities simply due to a preconception that we’re not capable of doing the job, how are we to prove our value as employees?
Today’s technology has become so astounding that there are ways to accommodate us that you might never have expected. You can contact us through video relay services, where your words will be translated into American Sign Language through a third party interpreter, to the deaf employee who answers at home on his VP. This is a FREE service.
These are just a couple of potential scenarios that a future YOU can experience as an employer:
Scenario #1: One of your employees is out sick, and you’re stressed. You pick up the phone and call your deaf employee that you hired a year before, knowing how reliable he has proven himself to be. The numbers automatically connects with a video relay service operator, a sign language interpreter, who is calling your deaf employee.
He answers his videophone, signs ‘Hello, this is Fred.” You hear the relay operator voice for him, and you say “Hey, Karen’s out sick. Can you take her shift?”
“No problem,” your deaf employee replies through the video relay operator’s voice.
At work, you use notes to communicate with Smith. For special meetings or employee performance reviews, you always get an ASL interpreter, because you want to be sure that meeting is completely effective. You know that it’s worth the added cost to ensure Fred is kept as informed as your other employees.
Scenario #2: You have a deaf employee with a videophone set up in her workstation. Kara’s able to take phone calls and do business through the videophone. She works hard on the computer as a data analyst. Math is something she’s not only good at, but loves. She communicates with you mostly through e-mail even though she is one room away. She has taught you a few signs that you use often because you find it fun to use even a little ASL and you want to feel connected to your staff in this way.
Her skills and experience have been a blessing, because you know you can always rely on her. All you had to do was be willing to accommodate, and you did.
Scenario #3: You have a deaf employee that doesn’t sign and relies on hearing aids and lip-reading. You take the time to ask Joseph how you can make simple accommodations to ensure communication works. He gives you guidance, simple requests like a well-lit room and a willingness to repeat phrases if needed. He tells you that for all the important communication in detail, that e-mail works best. In return for your being willing to accommodate for him, you have an employee who feels valued. Joseph feels a part of the team and his work shows that he appreciates it.
A job opens at your company and you get a deaf applicant. You have come to realize that a deaf applicant deserves an opportunity to be considered on his or her own merits, just like anyone else. This is a good place to be. This is a line of thinking that is positive, encouraging, and optimistic. This is a line of thinking that will change the world for our community. Isn’t that something you want to pursue?
Instead of automatically thinking “this person can’t do the job” you can ask yourself “how can I make it possible for this person to do the job?” If you’re genuinely uncertain, ask. If you’d rather not ask the applicant, contact a local deaf services agency and ask for advice. Just don’t put that application at the bottom of the pile.
Some of us are comfortable with English and some of us are not. That alone doesn’t define whether we will be the employee you need. Clearly, you have to hire someone who is qualified for the job. Find out if the applicant is qualified before you make a decision. It’s worth putting aside any initial preconceptions you might have and giving that person a chance.
Make use of technology. Videophones, texting, e-mails, FM systems, the list of technological resources that can be used just continues to grow all the time. This summer, there is even a type of tablet to be released that will read an ASL signers’ signing and translate that into spoken English. And whatever you speak will be translated into written English. Technology is going to continue to amaze us, so make use of it where you can.
If at any point, you feel like it’s not working out and you’re second-guessing your decision to hire the deaf employee, please don’t leap ahead and think that it’s time for termination. Set up a meeting with your deaf employee and make sure that meeting is 100% accessible. What will make that meeting accessible depends on the employee, so ask. If you can’t find a solution between you and your deaf employee, you could get advice from the local deaf service agency. Just find a way. We are worth that investment of time.
You probably know that there are laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, that prevent discrimination against us. You may be aware of your obligations as an employer to your deaf employees. But I don’t want you to hire us just because you don’t want to discriminate and I don’t want you to provide accommodations just because the law gives us these rights. I want you to do it because it is the right thing to do, and because you want to make this world more welcoming to us.
We just want each person in our Deaf Community to feel opportunities are there and the willingness for employers to hire deaf is increasing. We need hope to demolish the feeling of hopelessness that often squashes dreams of employment.
We just want a job where we feel appreciated for what we do.
ATTENTION, MY FELLOW DEAF COMMUNITY MEMBERS!
I’m glad you enjoy the post, but it occurs to me that if hearing employers don’t see this post, it will not have much of an impact. You and I already know everything I’ve said in the post. So, while I really love that you’re reading what I have to say, I want to ask you to think of at least one employer that you know and either give them a copy of this article in person or share it via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter. They are the ones we need to reach, right? So help me spread this message! Not just my post, but others like it. You could also write your own, if you like. Let’s get eyes on this message where it will have the most impact. Thanks. – J.