The gap between deaf and hearing employees in the United States is drastic.
According to “Deaf People and Employment in the United States: 2016“, published by the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes, in 2014, about 48 percent of deaf people were in the workforce, as compared to 72 percent of hearing people. Furthermore, nearly 47 percent of deaf people were not part of the workforce, compared to only 23 percent of hearing people.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by Cornell University in 2016 shows that an estimated 51.9 percent of non-institutionalized, male or female, with a hearing disability, ages 18-64, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States were employed. And while that number is on the slow incline from the 2014 numbers, it can and should be higher.
Deaf and hard of hearing people are less likely to be employed
Deaf and hard-of-hearing people often face discriminatory hiring practices, employers’ misconceptions, and barriers to job advancement. A study published in the New York Times in 2015 acknowledged that employers were 34 percent less likely to hire an experienced job candidate with a disability. Quite often, employers do not understand how to provide accessibility to people with different abilities, worrying that it will be arduous and costly.
“A study published in the New York Times in 2015 acknowledged that employers were 34 percent less likely to hire an experienced job candidate with a disability.”
A hard of hearing individual recently explained both positive and negative aspects of working with hearing loss.
“I’ve had good and bad experiences in the workplace with how bosses handle my hearing,” they said. “Some go above and beyond to make sure that my needs are met. Others have been less patient and understanding. I’ve had two bosses in particular who have made me feel poorly when I’ve struggled with my hearing. One actually asked, ‘How do you expect to have a career in this field if you can’t hear your patients?’ Needless to say, this was one of the more unkind things I’ve heard in my life as a hard of hearing person.”
How hiring deaf and hard of hearing people benefits companies
What many employers do not yet understand is that deaf and hard-of-hearing people are studying and working in nearly every field imaginable. They can become invaluable assets to businesses and contribute greatly to a company’s overall success.
The work ethic, above average attendance, and unique experience they can bring to the workforce are just a few benefits that can bring your company to the next level. Not to mention, employers are usually able to earn federal tax credits for hiring ‘disabled’ workers.
“Not to mention, employers are usually able to earn federal tax credits for hiring ‘disabled’ workers.”
In speaking with a few deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who are currently employed, here are their reasons for why employers should consider hiring deaf and hard-of-hearing people:
We are said to be very adaptable -We are constantly required to overcome obstacles in every aspect of our lives. This means we have the ability to tackle challenges or work assignments differently than our hearing colleagues may have thought possible. Our work ethic and determination will most likely exceed that of our co-workers.
We can offer a unique perspective – Our perspective is based on our life experiences which can contribute positively to a specific project and overall company attitude. With our input, the company has the potential to improve products and/or services to be more inclusive for all consumers.
We are very detail-oriented -This makes us prone to taking good notes. Good notes can benefit our fellow coworkers and employer. Especially after meetings with clients and suppliers and compliments what has been retained verbally by others. After all, the saying goes “have it in writing”
We rely heavily on our other senses – (i.e. visual cues) to compensate for our lack of hearing. For example, our attention to body language during meetings really helps us understand how a person feels when they are speaking. Often times their words and body language don’t match up, which can be missed by hearing people if they are just focusing on what they heard.
We can communicate well – via email and written correspondences.
Hiring deaf and hard of hearing employees boosts team chemistry and moral – communication is a must in every work environment. Thus, finding ways to make sure everyone understands means that everyone is working together.
Deaf and hard of people employees are some of the most loyal employees – we are more loyal because opportunities can be harder to come by for us.
Is there proof of these advantages?
Now let’s see how these personal declarations measure up to reasons/benefits for hiring deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals as noted in publications and statistics:
It is known that deaf and hard-of-hearing people spend nearly their whole life adapting to their surroundings. Thanks to this, deaf employees will likely exhibit patience and flexibility in the face of an obstacle. Additionally, this type of adaptability usually leads to out-of-the-box thinking and creative problem-solving skills that can be beneficial to a company looking for unique solutions.
Communication and Communication Tools
Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are consistently bridging communication and cultural barriers in daily situations. This skill has the ability to translate well into strong problem solving and interpersonal skills in the workplace. Not to mention, many deaf and hard of hearing people are quick to pick up on digital communication tools as it only makes their lives and jobs easier.
Companies are striving to add diversity to their staff. Not only does hiring deaf and hard of hearing people contribute to a diverse workforce, but it also provides the opportunity to develop the culture of your company. Diversity requires all employees to work on effective and efficient communication while pushing people to examine new perspectives. Staff members have the opportunity to learn to be more compassionate and open-minded, thus likely enhancing customer service through increased accessibility.
“Diversity requires all employees to work on effective and efficient communication while pushing people to examine new perspectives.”
Deaf and hard of hearing employees have the ability to bring your whole company a new perspective in serving others. With their background and life experiences likely being much different than their hearing counterparts’, someone who is deaf or hard of hearing might suggest services, features, or marketing ideas that other employees may never have considered.
Tax incentives for employers can include the Work Opportunity Credit, the Disabled Access Credit, and the Architectural Barrier Removal Credit. If you are a small-business owner, you have the possibility to receive a tax credit up to $5000 for having deaf and hard-of-hearing people working at your company!
What are companies saying?
Many of the reasons are similar to each other. Benefits aside, let’s look at some testimonies from companies who’ve employed deaf and hard of hearing people.
“Unfortunately, too many companies worry that the benefits will be offset by the costs to accommodate those employees – not true, by the way,” said Sean Belanger, CEO of CSDVRS, the parent company of Stratus Video told EHS today. His company provides On-Demand Interpreting to hospitals and ZVRS video phone service for the deaf.
“At Stratus Video, 68 percent of our employees who don’t work as interpreters are deaf or hard of hearing,” Belanger continued. “All of our 250-plus contractors across the country are deaf, and three of our eight company vice presidents are deaf. We’ve grown to more than $50 million in revenue and we were recently named to the Inc. 5000 list of top Tampa-metro area businesses. Thanks in large part to our diverse workforce!”
Belanger goes on to say that his deaf employees are dedicated, committed and come up with solutions to problems based on insights pertaining to their personal experience. A U.S. Department of Education study supported this conclusion when it found that disabled employees, in general, are average or above average in attendance, flexibility, performance, and quality and quantity of work.
“…disabled employees, in general, are average or above average in attendance, flexibility, performance, and quality and quantity of work.”
Similarly, Ron Kozberg, the executive vice president of Lift Inc., a New York based company, believes the deaf/HoH are an often-misunderstood group, though they are just as skilled and qualified as their co-workers who can hear.
“They seem to have the ability to focus in on a job and not let outside distractions influence them,” he says to the hiring website, Monster. “They are dedicated and determined, almost more so, because they have had to overcome more than the average worker.”
Accommodation resources for current and potential employers
Thinking about hiring a deaf or hard-of-hearing employee? Here are some fantastic resources for current and potential employers.
The NTID (National Technical Institute for the Deaf) Center on Employment from Rochester Institute of Technology offers many online and in-person resources for employers looking to hire deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
Their free online course provides you with insight on the topics they discuss during their in-person workshops. It is designed to help employers develop the sensitivity and skills to communicate effectively with deaf and hard-of-hearing employees. Additionally, it enables deaf and hearing colleagues to work together more productively and assist in fostering a workplace culture of diversity and inclusion.
“It is designed to help employers develop the sensitivity and skills to communicate effectively with deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.”
The five self-paced modules in the course covers topics on: 1. Myths and Definitions 2. Hearing Loss 3. Deaf Culture 4. Communication 5. Accommodation and Inclusion in the Workplace
This information can benefit employers, co-workers, HR business leaders, and other inclusion/diversity professionals.
Though not directly related to the workforce, this resource from the University of Georgia lists tips for teaching students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing that can easily be applied to the workplace.
For those employers who may be worried about hiring deaf or hard-of-hearing due to accommodation costs should reference the Job Accommodation Network which provides examples of affordable accommodations that allow organizations to hire and keep valuable deaf and hard of hearing employees. The best part? As mentioned previously, there are tax benefits available to help companies comply with ADA.
If you or your company have questions about integrating a deaf or hard of hearing individual into the workplace, there are plenty of resources available. But ultimately, the best way to figure out what accommodations a deaf or hard of hearing person needs and/or prefers is to ask him or her!
In short, deaf and hard of hearing employees can be just as competent at their jobs as the next (hearing) person. Really, there are more advantages in hiring deaf and hard-of-hearing employees than disadvantages. They can benefit those around them and help supply a more diverse, engaged, and equal-opportunity work community!
Does your company know about the benefits of hiring deaf and hard of hearing people? Let us know in the comments.
Ashley is a 29-year-old who loves to travel and try new things. She has bi-lateral, severe hearing loss, and wears a Phonak Naída V-SP hearing aid in one ear and has an Esteem implant in the other. She plays soccer for the USA Women’s National Deaf Team. She’s currently traveling the world in pursuit of adventure and perspective while also learning about the deaf and hard of hearing communities in various countries. Her travels can be followed on instagram @ashley5chanel or on her blog deaftattooedandemployed.com.
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