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Trying to land a job isn’t an easy task for anyone. And trying to land a job as a Deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH) individual is even harder. Compound that with the invisible discriminatory hiring practices of employers — and being a member of an ethnic minority group — and you’ve landed yourself a full-time job just looking for the full-time job. It shouldn’t be this difficult.

Landing a full-time job shouldn’t be this difficult.

Individuals who are part of both Black and Deaf communities are continuously fighting battles because of their deafness, disability, and race. The interview and application processes alone can create huge hurdles.

Once someone actually gets past the hiring process, the challenges don’t end there. More often than not, employers are unprepared for the numerous bottlenecks in order to implement accessible practices.

Unfortunately, corporate America still fails to integrate Deaf and hard-of-hearing job seekers into the labor force, let alone Black Deaf and hard-of-hearing job seekers.

Consequently, Black Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are looking for ways to work for themselves or start their own businesses in an effort to alleviate the need to constantly advocate for better accommodations and further inclusion.

Image Source: NDF Publication, Postsecondary Outcomes of Deaf Black People

It is imperative that we challenge the alarming phenomenon of racial inequity and exclusion of Deaf people in the workplace and find new approaches to close the erosive gaps in the Deaf employment sector.

Unfair and unnecessary barriers in the workplace

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are severely disadvantaged compared to the experiences of hearing people. In the office, the difficulties of being Deaf are amplified. While working in an office can be a minefield for anyone, it’s at least twofold for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people with the added possibility of missing out when it comes to communication.

While working in an office can be a minefield for anyone, it’s at least twofold for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people with the added possibility of missing out when it comes to communication.

When conversations spring up more informally, it’s harder for Deaf people to visually follow them, sometimes preventing them from joining in office banter and humor, leaving them feeling socially alienated from office life.

What’s worse is trying to follow along and decipher what coworkers are saying during a team meeting, potentially making them feel insecure or incapable of fulfilling their job role. It’s no wonder why Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals need to work twice as hard to prove themselves professionally.

A lack of Deaf awareness amongst employers, their coworkers, and society at large is creating unfair and unnecessary barriers for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people trying to make a footprint in the labor force. The majority of companies and HR departments lack proper training and also fail to ensure appropriate communication etiquette is in place.

The majority of companies and HR departments lack proper training and also fail to ensure appropriate communication etiquette is in place.

As if it wasn’t already hard enough for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people to jump through hoops to secure a job in the first place, Black Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees have to work harder to prove their worth as a result of experiencing even more barriers to entry and being disproportionately impacted.

Image Source: NDF Publication, Postsecondary Outcomes of Deaf Black People

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people with disabilities are more likely to be at the poverty level, due to the impact of inaccessible work environments and job discrimination. Add racial discrimination into the mix, and it’s a double whammy.

Rather than deal with this misfortune, some Black Deaf and hard-of-hearing people find it easier to branch out on their own in order to secure a sustainable income and reach maximum earnings which would otherwise be impossible while working for an employer other than themselves.

Empowering managers and employers to address challenges and inaccessibility

Here are some of the reported challenges in the workplace and what managers and employers can do to cultivate a better, more inclusive work environment.

1. Communication Barriers

Deafness in the workplace often leads to communication barriers and can create a constant struggle for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees to understand everyone around them and vice versa.

Sign language interpreters are almost always relied upon to bridge the gap and to better facilitate communication between them and the people with whom they are interacting.

In many instances, Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks have to bear the burden of advocating for themselves to understand what’s happening in conversations. This can be daunting for some to extend themselves in this way and exhausting for those that do stand up for themselves.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks have to bear the burden of advocating for themselves to understanding what’s happening in conversations.

How can employers and team managers ensure that team communication is inclusive? Implement proper communication etiquette. Set some rules and guidelines to make sure everyone on the team is doing their part to create an inclusive environment. Don’t worry, we’ve outlined some starting points here!

2. Hiring Practices

While ADA laws are designed to prevent discrimination against someone solely based on their disability, recruiters and employers are still falling short on their responsibilities and obligations towards a more inclusive work environment.

Since ADA and anti-racist policies are hard to enforce, discrimination in the hiring process is still a crushing reality. As a result, Black Deaf and hard-of-hearing people continue to face audism every day, plus a whole series of other communication barriers, discrimination, and hostile attitudes.

Since ADA laws are hard to enforce, discrimination in the hiring process is still a crushing reality.

In an effort to rectify this, recruiters need to be more mindful in their hiring process, and employers need to be more intentional when prescribing solutions in order to employ Black Deaf and hard-of-hearing people and create a welcoming work environment.

Recruiters’ and employers’ unconscious biases are more deep-rooted than ADA and anti-discrimination laws and they must begin to peel the layers of oppression back, so Deaf and hard-of-hearing people can achieve their true potential.

Image Source: https://www.medicaleconomics.com/

3. Fear of Incurred Costs by Hiring an Interpreter

For the employer, the thought of hiring an interpreter poses another step and expense. Many HR recruiters believe that hiring a Deaf or hard-of-hearing individual will mean greater financial costs for their company and that could otherwise be avoided if they hire a hearing employee instead.

Image Source: HRexecutive.com

HR leaders need to begin improving their DEI recruiting efforts to increase retention and discourage Deaf and hard-of-hearing people from leaving the workplace. Race, gender, and equity may be uncomfortable territory for employers. Nevertheless, reframing is necessary so that Deaf and hard-of-hearing people of color are afforded the same promising career opportunities as those who are hearing.

Where to start? Learn about inclusive hiring. Then, create and implement new approaches to the recruiting process to ensure that diversity is at the forefront and not an afterthought.

4. General awareness and sensitivity

Black Deaf and hard-of-hearing workers may become discouraged in the workplace because the people around them do not know how best to communicate with them.

Many coworkers may feel unsure about how to interact with Black Deaf or hard-of-hearing people, especially if they have never been exposed to other Black Deaf or hard-of-hearing folks before — which is more common than not.

While awkward communication can play a big factor, for Black Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks constant acts of implicit bias and microaggressions can be detrimental to their work satisfaction. How do you feel comfortable, productive, and authentic when those around you aren’t sensitive?

Sensitivity training should be instituted across the board to create a more comfortable environment for employees who need extra support to meet the demands of their job role, but also so they don’t feel excluded or discouraged from participating or socializing in the workplace culture.

In addition, HR departments should make an effort to incorporate forms of accessibility into their onboarding process to ensure Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees have everything they need to guarantee a smooth transition.

5. Career Success

There is a common misconception that people believe a person may be incapable of doing their job successfully if they are Deaf or hard-of-hearing, which is highly problematic. While this is far from the truth, Deaf or hard-of-hearing people of all backgrounds, unfortunately, still feel the need to justify their worth in the workplace.

To state the obvious, Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees of all backgrounds have a lot to bring to the table. Companies that employ people of different life experiences benefit from a more diverse and inclusive work environment. Not to mention — they are just as good at their jobs, if not better than their hearing counterparts.

Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear. - I. King Jordan, first Deaf Gallaudet president

Corporations must work to dismantle the bias that Deaf people are not as intelligent, or capable of doing their job, as their hearing counterparts. Until that bias is reduced significantly, it is imperative that Deaf and hard-of-hearing people approach the workforce with resilience and pride and demand better work environments and greater accessibility regardless of disability or race.

Image Source: HRexecutive.com

6. Pandemic Struggles

Living in a pandemic world has made it impossible for some Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks working in an office setting to capture facial expressions and lipread when people with masks attempt to communicate.

Working remotely, on the other hand, has become a beacon for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees since screens make it easier to see faces, and captioning tools can be used to fully participate in remote meetings.

At Ava, we work to empower Deaf and hard-of-hearing people and inclusive organizations with the best live captioning solution for any situation, whether it be in-person or remote.

While humans can’t lipread through facemasks, the Ava App certainly can. Thousands of people used Ava during the pandemic to capture speech through the facemask. Talk about a game-changer!

For those remote situations, Ava Closed Captions, aka Ava CC, offers real-time captions for Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, as well as RingCentral Meetings, GoToMeeting, and other platforms and can work across any and all video conferencing apps.

A Call to Make It Right

Unemployment rates among the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community are staggering, and they are even more staggering for the Black Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

Regardless of ethnicity and ability to hear, ALL people deserve equitable treatment and representation. Recruiters and employers alike must recognize the value of diversity and inclusion in the workplace (see our article “5 Things HR Professionals Should Know Before Hiring Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Employees”).

Accessibility is a right, not a choice — and the overlooked blindspot within the Deaf employment sector must no longer be ignored.

Jordana Schulman
Post by Jordana Schulman
May 18, 2022

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