Deafness in Employment: To disclose or not disclose?

Finding employment can be challenging but when you have a hearing loss, it can become much harder. The theme: To disclose or not disclose, was sparked by an experience of mine and discusses whether deaf people should have to reveal their deafness to potential employers.

A couple of years ago I went for two job interviews. One in the ‘hearing/mainstream’ sector, and another within a deaf organisation. Something that struck me after the interview in the deaf sector, was how differently I portrayed myself with regards to my disability, simply because the job specification listed areas which gave me an opportunity to use my deafness to its potential.

The question of whether to disclose a health condition to a potential employer shouldn’t even be a question deaf people should have to even consider, but unfortunately, is a common one. Do you tell the company from the outset that you have a hearing loss?

This is a completely personal decision. In a way, you shouldn’t have to, the same as you shouldn’t have to tell them your age or race. It shouldn’t make a difference to whether or not you can do the job compared to your hearing peers. By law, you don’t have to disclose it. Some people want to, some don’t.

Shh, don’t tell anyone!

It’s not that I’m not completely proud of who I am. I’m deaf and proud. Now and again, I like to shout it from the rooftops, but other times it’s the last thing I want to divulge as I’m worried it might jeopardise my chance against other ‘hearing’ candidates.

It’s sad isn’t it? We’ve had anti-discrimination laws for years now and it would seem that discrimination is confined to the history books, but unfortunately as most disabled people know, indirect discrimination especially, is still alive in our society.

Because of this, I never tend to mention my hearing loss on my job applications and CV. I highlight all my strengths, qualifications and experiences and try to avoid any references to the restrictions of a profound hearing loss. Usually it works out fine until they try to conduct a telephone interview with me! To which my parents have to call back and say, ‘please email as she is unavailable to call’.

I basically do anything to avoid giving a potential employer an excuse to not consider me for a job because I am deaf. Why should I have to do this?

You might argue that employers can’t refuse me on this basis and that would be discrimination, but when you know hand on heart that it’s because you’re deaf and you can almost see them considering whether a deaf candidate would be suitable for a position. Not everyone can see past the condition. Usually it’s a misconception that deaf people cost businesses money.

This is ME!

The second application I did was different. Applying for a role in the field of deafness gave me an advantage to do the whole ‘shouting from the rooftops’ and more. I did the whole; ‘This is ME’ picture. I encouraged them to buy into me and my hearing loss. All these amazing achievements I’d done despite my disability, and not letting anything stand in my way. All the more which I hope were valuable, transferrable employment skills.

The difference was, it being the ‘deaf world’. It’s different, it’s understanding, patient, embracing and inclusive. I didn’t have to pretend to be something I’m not.

Usually it’s trying to fit into the ‘hearing’ environment. Having to convince employers that I wasn’t different, that there wouldn’t be any barriers or obstacles that would hinder my role. In short, I had to put on a performance to convince them that I was like any other applicant coming through that door. Why?

Putting on a show

Yes, you have to sell yourself at interview, you have to help the interviewer see that you are exactly what their company needs, leaving the disability behind. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps they would have seen past my hearing loss, but having worked in the hearing world since leaving school, even if you are lucky enough to be offered a post, the work doesn’t stop there.

Sometimes having a disability feels as though constantly must prove yourself. Not just as an employee, but as a disabled employee. Often the emphasis is on you to prove you should be an equal.

I certainly don’t have a huge chip on my shoulder, but I do have experience and have witnessed first-hand how hard it is being deaf in the workplace. I consider myself very dedicated, hardworking, reliable, trustworthy, conscientious and proactive. I know I have given all my jobs my utmost, but in the hearing world, it’s hard to feel valued, as though I never truly fit. Being left out of conversations, not given information, having wages not reflecting my worth, but I’ve learnt to grow a thick skin and use every experience as a learning curve.

Coming home

I knew my heart was always in the deaf community. My dream job would be in this sector, working in an industry that understands. During the interview in the deaf field, I couldn’t hear one of the questions and as usual I apologised as this becomes second nature. The interviewer said simply; ‘You don’t need to apologise, here’s a list of the questions’. I felt joy and relief from this simple gesture. It showed understanding. I felt the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t have to hide or apologise, make excuses or pretend. They got it. I was accepted.

I’ve been brought up primarily in the hearing world and tried to cope and adapt as much as possible, but often, I don’t feel as though I truly feel at home. I can relax within the deaf environment. I don’t feel judged, I feel comfortable. I don’t have to pretend I’m something I’m not.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d want to work in the ‘hearing world’ again? If it changes, if people become more understanding, then maybe. It shouldn’t be like that.

Last note

I’d just like to end by saying, of course many hearing people understand, but unfortunately as deaf people know, many don’t. There’s a long way to go before deaf people are given the consideration they deserve and need. Deafness can be complex, especially concerning language development and levels of understanding, but it can also be simple. It’s one of the most disabilities, but the least understood. All we can do, is continue to raise deaf awareness…