A call to action for the advocacy of deaf people in the workplace.

By Madelyn Bigham, 04/03/21

www.signlanguagenyc.com

The deaf community faces many challenges in their day-to-day lives. In the United States alone, nearly 10,000,000 people are hard of hearing and around 1,000,000

are totally deaf. One of the biggest challenges for the deaf community is communication. Many deaf people do not speak, instead, they communicate using ASL (American Sign Language). This communication barrier is a major impediment in a person’s day-to-day life. From talking to a neighbor, ordering at a restaurant, going to the doctor, going to school, or even getting a job, everything is different for someone who is deaf. While there are many services and accommodations for children who are deaf in America, there seems to be a lack of these things for adults once they graduate and look for a job. For many deaf people in the workforce, discrimination and dismissiveness are huge issues that exist. Unfortunately, the battle for deaf rights has fallen ironically on deaf ears. Not nearly enough has been done, though many have tried to raise their voices for these voiceless heroes and help them get the things they need and deserve. Overall, the deaf community is an undervalued group in our society that deserves respect and equal opportunities in the workplace.

Before we begin, it is important to understand who and what makes up the deaf community. The deaf community is made up of those who are totally deaf as well as those who are hard of hearing. The deaf community can include family members, friends, and even interpreters for the deaf. Though many see being deaf as a disability, the deaf would disagree with that. “They see themselves as ‘normal Deaf people’ not as ‘people with impaired hearing.’” (Siple) It is an important distinction for the deaf community as they wish to be seen just like everyone else. What is more important, however, for the deaf community is that deafness is not only not a disability, it is an identity. This community shares “…common values, norms, traditions, language, and behaviors” (Deaf Culture) which make them a proud member of a particular group. According to Deaf Australia Inc., “Cultures develop around people’s self-identity, i.e., their experiences and ideas about themselves and their place in the world.” (Deaf Culture) The deaf community definitely shares a unique set of norms, traditions, language, and behaviors. Therefore, deaf people are just regular people that can’t hear.

Adults who are deaf face enormous discrimination and difficulties in the workplace. From intolerant coworkers to dismissive bosses, being deaf in the workplace can be exhausting. Some of the challenges that deaf people in the workplace face are lack of opportunities or raises, lack of representation for their work, fewer chances to make mistakes without getting fired, and of course, disrespect from customers and coworkers. Deaf people can feel out of place and left out by coworkers if they aren’t engaged in conversation or invited to join others socially. Deaf advocate author, Katie Moss, states that “The deaf person gets left out of the social circle more and more over time…” But, this only happens if you get the job. Trying to get a job while being deaf is a daunting task. Being someone who is deaf or hard of hearing in an interview can make someone’s chances of getting a job close to impossible. In some cases, companies will refuse to even interview someone who is deaf.

Jenna, a deaf vlogger on Youtube, says that it is very difficult to get a job as a deaf person. She says that once the interviewer sees that she is deaf, it is an immediate strike against her. In addition, she feels like they begin to think about all of the things she cannot do, rather than all of the things she can do no matter if she has excellent references and good experience. Her struggles as a deaf person are well documented in her vlogs and this particular episode is a candid look at the struggles deaf people face trying to get a job. It is a sad fact that deaf people face an enormous amount of discrimination in the workplace.

With all of these struggles the deaf community has faced, there has been some help for them over the years. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. In addition, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA (Deafness). In addition, there is a law against any kind of harassment in the workplace. Harassment includes, “offensive jokes, slur, epithets or name-calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.” (Deafness) Even though these laws are a good start, it is a sad reality that employers can get around many of them and they are not nearly enough.

Even though there have been some advances for the deaf in the workplace, there is still so much more that can and should be done. The first thing is to break the stigma of deaf people that they are dumb and can’t handle the job. In addition, it is important to encourage inclusion, respect, and opportunities for accommodations at work. Lastly, employers, coworkers, and managers need to be taught how to interact with a deaf person in a respectable manner.

Overall, the deaf community is an undervalued part of the American workforce. They face many struggles including discrimination, dismissiveness, and unequal opportunities for employment and advancement. There is so much we can do to help our fellow deaf workers. We must all work to advocate for deaf people by raising our voices and demanding equality and respect for our voiceless friends at work.

Works Cited Page

Callis, Lydia. “Deaf Protestors in DC Demand the Opportunity to Work.” SignNexus. September 14, 2015. https://www.signlanguagenyc.com/deaf-protestors-in-dc-demand-the-opportunity-to-work/

“Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act.” ADA, Rehabilitation Act, 29 CFR Part 1630. May 7, 2014. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/deafness-and-hearing-impairments-workplace-and-americans-disabilities-act

“Deaf Culture.” Aussie Deaf Kids. June 15, 2020. https://www.aussiedeafkids.org.au/deaf-culture.html#:~:text=Deaf%20people%20do%20not%20usually,%22people%20with%20impaired%20hearing%22.

Moss, Katie. “Employment: Oppression.” The SAGE Deaf Studies Encyclopedia, edited by Genie Gertz and Patrick Boudreault, vol. 2, SAGE Reference, 2016, pp. 393–396. Gale eBooks, https://go-gale-com.ez1.maricopa.edu/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&u=mcc_chandler&id=GALE|CX6278700140&v=2.1&it=r&sid=GVRL&asid=67d6bf00. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021.

Siple, Linda. Greer, Leslie. Holcomb, Barbra. “Deaf culture tip sheet.” wyominginstructionalnetwork. 2004 https://www.rit.edu/ntid/radscc/sites/rit.edu.ntid.radscc/files/file_attachments/deaf_culture_tip_sheet.pdf

Stew, Jenna. “Deaf Employment and Discrimination.” Youtube, uploaded May 25, 2016. https://youtu.be/zuIMoR-n92k.

“Who are the Deaf and Hard of Hearing,” nchearingloss. http://www.nchearingloss.org/article_demographics.htm