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Hearing loss and workplace discrimination

hearing loss and workplace discrimination
The opportunity to work for a living wage is a universal right that we should all have – including those who are differently-abled. Unfortunately, many situations still arise that shows we have a way to go when it comes to equal access in the workplace.

Walmart is the latest to join a growing list of private companies sued because of hearing loss and workplace discrimination. This shows that despite awareness around the subject, issues of discrimination at work, scarcity of sign language interpreters, and accessibility are familiar.

Unlike accessibility at cinemas or stadiums though (which fall under entertainment), a job is a basic human right. There are laws in place meant to protect us. Each incident, where a law is reinforced, takes us closer to achieving equal rights.

Hearing Loss and Workplace Discrimination

In Walmart’s case, the applicant, who had hearing loss, was not even allowed to get to the interview stage. As reported, he was denied an American Sign Language interpreter, which brought the application process to an abrupt end.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the agency administering laws against workplace discrimination – receives thousands of such complaints throughout the year. It also helps file lawsuits in appropriate cases. EEOC ensures that Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act is upheld. This legislation makes it clear that discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities is prohibited.

Despite these legal provisions, there have been a number of cases recently. In February, wholesale retailer Costco and Tennessee-based restaurant Cracker Barrel Old Country Store were sued by deaf employees. In November 2020, the Dollar Tree and Subway were also under EEOC’s radar. Earlier the same year, FedEx was ordered to pay $3.3 million for denying package handler positions to those with hearing loss.

These lawsuits do more than halt hearing loss and workplace discrimination. They also serve as reminders that we are entitled to equal working rights. Make the time to educate yourself on the nitty-gritty of what you are entitled to by reading EEOC’s guidelines.

Read more: U.S. Employment Rights for People with Hearing Loss

More Anti-Discrimination Legislation Needed

Cochlear implants and hearing aids have changed the lives of people with significant hearing loss. Still, it is a relief that the ADA covers anyone with any amount of hearing loss.

This, unfortunately, is not the case around the world. According to the World Federation of the Deaf, which has been working closely with the United Nations, “Although most countries recognize that deaf people have the right to work and earn a salary, few have anti-discrimination legislation at the workforce that protects deaf people against discrimination at work. Most countries also claim to provide deaf people the opportunities to work and lifelong learning…(but) the reality is far different.”

“Although most countries recognize that deaf people have the right to work and earn a salary, few have anti-discrimination legislation at the workforce that protects deaf people against discrimination at work.”

Know Your Rights

Drafting anti-discrimination labor laws is not enough. The key to their success lies in implementation on the state’s and the employer’s part. Awareness on our part is also needed, so we can raise our voice against such careless injustices.

In general, it pays to remember the following key points to avoid workplace discrimination against hearing loss:

  • You are under no obligation to disclose your medical condition, nor is the employer (the interviewer) allowed to inquire about it until there is a conditional job offer in place.
  • You are entitled to reasonable accommodations during the application process as well as on the job.
  • And no, the employer can neither withdraw a job offer nor fire you stating hearing loss as a cause, unless you are in any way a direct threat to others at the workplace.

Read more: Tips for working with an employee who has hearing loss

Not Just a Right to Livelihood

While it is reassuring to know that there are legal procedures and labor laws to address equal working rights, equality extends beyond that. It includes the kind of accessibility that can empower any pursuit you choose.

It isn’t just important that you have a job, but it’s just as important that you have a job you like. After all, a couple of decibels’ difference is no reason for anyone to decide how well you can flip burgers, how fast you are in your programming wizard’s hat, or how many high school students you attract to scientific research.

Read more: Master your hearing problems at work 

Author Details
Mineli is an India-based writer with unilateral hearing loss and multilateral appreciation for all things silent. She’s a content writer by the day and a poet by night, and whenever there’s a moment free between the two, she takes off to the nearest forest for a quiet chat with the birds.
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Mineli is an India-based writer with unilateral hearing loss and multilateral appreciation for all things silent. She’s a content writer by the day and a poet by night, and whenever there’s a moment free between the two, she takes off to the nearest forest for a quiet chat with the birds.
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