Finding a company that appreciates you and values your work is a daunting task, regardless of hearing capacity. But for those in the deaf and hard of hearing community, entering the workforce can be an even more difficult but sometimes necessary decision. Unfortunately, over 47% of hard of hearing Americans are out of the labor force and only 19.1% of disabled Americans are employed, highlighting a serious problem for many in the disabled community. For those who may need it most, or communities who are looking to improve their quality of life, entering the workforce can be hindered by barriers such as capability, but even worse: discrimination. Discrimination is still a very valid concern for many with disabilities, even with the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act in 1972 and its subsequent updates, and the American’s with Disabilities Act.
Disability discrimination can manifest in many different forms and settings and can affect everyone differently depending on their disability. The workplace is the most likely place where discrimination occurs and can happen during termination, hiring, wages, promotions, and even job duties. Employers can offer lower wages or less important job duties to those who are disabled due to incorrect assumptions about their capability or forgo hiring altogether. This act illegally violates the Equal Opportunity Act and is discrimination.
Unfortunately, this occurs to many in the disabled community looking to enter the workforce. Holding a master’s degree in public administration, Amanda Koller of Washington D.C. is profoundly deaf and looking for work. However, when Koller told hiring managers she was deaf and preferred to interview in person so that she could lip-read, she would either not receive a call or was told that a phone screening was mandatory. This story is all too common, raising serious concerns about equal accessibility in the workforce.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), disabilities have “three dimensions,” impairment, activity limitation, and participation restrictions.
A disability can affect a person’s:
This means that profound hearing loss, blindness, social anxiety, and even pregnancy can fall under the category of disability.
With the passing of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), protection for qualified employees with disabilities from discrimination from employers was enshrined in law. This protects workers from harassment, unfair treatment, certain interview or employment questions, or pre-employment medical exams. It also gives employees the right to reasonable accommodations.
Harassment can take on many forms but all forms are still illegal. An employer cannot harass an employee using derogatory language because of a disability or if they believe a disability will not go away within six months or less. This can create a hostile work environment for the disabled employee.
Reasonable accommodations must also be given to a disabled employee at the cost of the employer. For example, a reader or interpreter for blind or deaf employees. Employers are not required to provide reasonable accommodations only if it would create a severe financial hardship to the employer.
Whether it be hearing loss or another type of disability, understanding your rights is the first step to becoming your strongest advocate in the workplace. The disabled community deserves the ability to work, earn a living, and live healthy, productive lives. If you are struggling with a disability, speak to a healthcare professional who can describe what accommodations you may need to enter the workforce and how to keep an eye out for discrimination.