There’s one thing that company needs to have to enable a person with hearing loss in the workplace to thrive. That is a work culture that includes everyone’s differences and captures and understands the value of every hire.
Stigma and biases make it difficult for people with hearing loss to even begin to get a job. These days hiring decisions are made with hiring managers’ assumptions on their definition of a competent, capable and skilled individual, not necessarily on what the organization collectively thinks.
While we expect people should be accepting of people with hearing loss, the reality is that many people still show bias and stigma toward us. The data doesn’t lie. That’s why many people with hearing loss are not revealing their disability until much later when they have nothing to lose.
Disclosure: When is it right?
Many people with hearing loss often question if they should disclose their hearing loss during the interview or after receiving the job. Multiple arguments come up when this question is asked. Some people will agree that one should disclose because if the company rejects you based on your hearing loss, then at least you know in advance they are not a good fit. Others say to wait until after you accept the job, and it is harder for them to fire you. Each person is neither right nor wrong but what is missing is other factors to consider for you.
Diversity and Inclusion practices
Companies with diversity and inclusion programs indicate that you have a runway to fully disclose your disability. However, not all companies have disability inclusion initiatives when building programs and practices around diversity, inclusion and equity. They may believe diversity only applies to gender and race differences. These types of organizations are early in their diversity initiatives. So, in these circumstances, you may not want to risk the job if you disclose your hearing loss.
Accessibility and disability focus roles
If your organization has positions to improve the accessibility of their product or services, you will notice that they have hired teams or individuals to take leadership on disability. It’s a good sign that they value people with disability. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be committed to investing capital if they didn’t care. Be wary that this isn’t done to avoid compliance and lawsuits or just for marketing purposes to make them look good.
The industry you work in
Some industries are just not as inclusive of people with disabilities. For some reason, it could be that it is a health requirement to be able to hear to do the job, such as pilots flying commercial airlines, or you need to pass a medical test to get or keep the job. Don’t waste your time fighting this uphill battle, or at least don’t fit it alone.
The number of available jobs
You may work in a field or a position where the job doesn’t have plenty of vacancies, and if there isn’t any indication from the company culture of inclusivity, it will be a risk to disclose. Either because you live in an area where the number of companies in your area that need your skills is limited or because of the seniority of the role, like a VP of finance, you are limited to the number of potential interviews as well as the number of jobs you can go for. In these circumstances, you may risk your chances.
Communicating with colleagues
One of the most common challenges people with hearing loss face is building relationships with others at work. Work is a social environment, and some company culture reward people based on popularity, not on work results When you enter a culture where the environment is not easy for one to converse and engage with others, you are limited to being seen and valued as an employee. Sometimes awareness of opportunities comes up in conversations that you were not part of, only to find out at the next team meeting someone else got assigned a chance that you would have liked to have gotten yourself.
Large cafeterias, kitchen spaces, or bars for after-work drinks are often where relationships are formed outside of the duties and responsibilities of the team. These are the chances to talk about life outside work and establish common ground between employees. When that’s broken, a deeper bond is missing. Furthermore, further isolation can occur when we choose to work from home. The digital remote space has not caught up with real-time in-person social interactions, and one could be missing out on getting closer to others on the team.
Work meeting culture
Some work meetings are authoritative, and others are like a rowdy family at a dinner table. Authoritative meetings are great because one person is speaking at a time. It’s controlled and routine, making it easy to hear what everyone is saying. In other cultures, opt for freestyle; in those spaces, you’ll tune out or struggle to follow along. You may be judged for not appearing competent when you’re expected to contribute to the conversation, or others might think you don’t care and appear aloof.
Accommodations don’t make you needy, they make you productive. Many tools and software companies use accommodations to tell you the truth. We use Slack to communicate better. We use Zoom to meet no matter where we are. Yet, we don’t see these as accommodations requests, but when it is associated with a person with disabilities, it is considered one. My theory is that requesting accommodation shouldn’t be stigmatized but one where you can be the most productive employee that you can be.
Every work environment is different. You might have someone in the human resources team that can assist you, or you may not have anyone to request because the organization is small. This shouldn’t stop you from being able to reach out to someone to start the conversation. Ask if there’s a budget to purchase tech solutions to help you on the job, and share a few ideas that you had in mind and why you think they will help you get the job done much faster, easier or more efficiently.
You may not know what’s holding you back from being productive, and that’s okay. We aim to highlight all the tools that you need that could help you on the job. It’s tough when the burden is on you to figure out what is required. By associating yourself with a community like ours, you can be open to solutions to help you.
Promotions and advancements
This is part of the toughest part of disability inclusion in the workplace. So few people with a disability, let alone people with hearing loss, are in higher roles in major Fortune 500 companies. There isn’t much support for helping people with disabilities get promoted within. But what does work is having sponsors and people talking about you and the value you bring to the organization. If you don’t have anyone speaking about you in conversations when you are not around, it is harder to gain trust and opportunities to take on more responsibilities.
You’ll need to work extra hard to show up at places to be seen and develop a leadership profile outside of work if there aren’t any opportunities. It’s more about appearing attractive to senior managers and less about the hard work that you’re doing in the role.
Workplace hazards and reassignments
When I often see people with hearing loss talk about their jobs on social media, they tend to talk about their service roles. Many of them would talk about their role in companies that are in the warehouse, retail or industrial roles. These types of roles are mostly about managing your health and safety.
Some companies would fire or reassign you to certain roles because the cost to cover any injury is higher in their mind and one they don’t want to cross. Many employers don’t even know where to get information on challenging their assumptions about your capabilities. Don’t leave it to their mind to make all the decisions. Come up with solutions but know that you don’t have to figure it out alone with the support of our community.
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