Employment Opportunities for Individuals With Hearing Impairments

FT Contributor  | 

Job seekers and employees with deafness or hearing impairments have to contend with challenges in various aspects of their professional life. These challenges often require unique solutions, but if you know how to confront them, they are rarely barriers to finding a job or pursuing a particular career.

According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, as many as 28 million Americans have some level of hearing impairment, and more than 800,000 are functionally deaf. Those who have severe hearing impairments are not alone in confronting these issues.

Furthermore, you can find some careers and jobs for hearing-impaired workers that are ideal because they present few or no challenges related to hearing. Also, regulations are in place to ensure the rights of individuals with disabilities of any type, both during their job search and while on the job. These laws extend to the education and training that you need to gain the skills and qualifications to start a career.

Requesting Accommodations at Work

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities in the United States. The ADA covers all public aspects of a person’s life with disabilities. The first section of the act, known as Title 1, focuses on employment. In basic terms, Title 1 states that employers cannot discriminate against a person because of a disability. The law applies to many different disabilities, including hearing impairment.

Title 1 says that companies who have more than 15 employees need to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. In other words, employers need to give any assistance or support that a person needs to perform their basic job functions.

Reasonable accommodations could include new equipment, changes to the facility, or alterations to business operations or processes. For example, a worker with impaired hearing may need special voice-to-text software to communicate with co-workers, or the office may need to install alarms or timers with lights to alert an employee who cannot hear an audible alarm.

Title 1 covers hearing loss and employment, but it also protects the rights of people with hearing impairments people during the interview and hiring process. For example, an applicant who is deaf can request reasonable accommodations for an interview, such as having a sign language interpreter present or receiving interview questions in writing. 

When Do You Need to Disclose a Hearing Impairment?

By law, you do not need to disclose your hearing impairment to your employer or during a job search. However, if you need a reasonable accommodation, you must request it beforehand. For example, if you need accommodations for an interview, you need to let the employer know when they contact you to set up the meeting. Some job seekers might be nervous about doing this, but the ADA says that the employer cannot cancel the interview after learning of your disability.

If you can get through the interview process without additional accommodations, you can let your employer’s human resources department know about your disability and associated needs during onboarding or on your first day.

Reasonable Work Accommodations for People With Deafness

If they wish to meet ADA requirements, employers need to provide workers with the equipment, support, or process changes that they need to complete the essential tasks of their job. Under the law, the employer needs to prove that they provided an employee with disabilities with this level of support.

They do not, however, need to meet specific requests. For example, a company may change procedures to allow an employee who is deaf to communicate via text or email, but they may deny a specific request for voice-to-text software or a specialized device. Occasionally, an employee has to negotiate with an employer to convince them that a piece of equipment or a policy change constitutes a reasonable accommodation.

Also, the ADA does not guarantee jobs for people who are deaf. The law focuses on providing people with disabilities a level playing field. Ultimately, companies use information about qualifications, skills, and experience to choose who to hire.

If you feel that an employer has discriminated against you because of your hearing impairment, you can file a claim with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

Best Jobs for Individuals Who Are Deaf/Hearing Impaired

Thanks to the ADA and policies that make education and employment accessible to people with hearing impairment, people who are deaf can pursue any career that they wish. Here are some examples of jobs that are ideal employment opportunities for job seekers with hearing impairments.

American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter

Benefits: Those who are deaf and severely hearing impaired learn sign language to communicate with others, so many are already qualified (or can easily qualify) for interpretation jobs. These positions also provide the opportunity to assist other people with similar disabilities.

Average Salary: $49,930.

Education and Skills Required: Requirements vary. You can obtain a certificate or associate degree in ASL. Medical and legal translators need to pass a licensing exam that tests their knowledge of relevant vocabulary.

Outlook: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for sign language interpretation should increase in the coming years because of advances in virtual (video relay) software and its use for sign language translation. 

Social Worker

Benefits: Social workers with hearing impairments can specialize in working with deaf clients. In these positions, you can communicate with clients via sign language and also coordinate with service providers and other social service workers who also specialize in assisting people with hearing disabilities.

Average Salary: $49,470.

Education and Skills Required: You need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. If you provide clinical services, such as counseling, you need a master’s degree and a state license.

Outlook: The demand for social workers should increase by 16% in the coming years. That is twice as much as the average for all occupations.

Speech-Language Pathologist

Benefits: A speech-language pathologist (SLP) helps people develop communication skills. Those with a hearing impairment often already have abilities that other clients with deafness need to learn. An SLP can help with using sign language and other methods for communicating. This can include lip reading and learning to speak correctly.

Average Salary: $77,150.

Education and Skills Required: Speech-language pathologists need a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. Most states also require licensure.

Outlook: Overall, the demand for SLPs will rise by 28% over the next decade. There is also a steady demand for SLPs who can work with clients with hearing impairments.

Audiologist

Benefits: Audiologists work with patients with hearing impairments. Audiologists who are deaf can aid other people with a similar disability and use their own experiences to inform their education of others.

Average Salary: $75,920.

Education and Skills Required: Audiologists need a doctorate in audiology (Au.D), which requires four years of study in graduate school.

Outlook: The need for audiologists should rise by 16% over the next decade. Audiology degree programs are competitive because the subject is not widely taught.

Computer Programmer

Benefits: This career requires working with computers and computer code, so there is little need to complete hearing-related tasks. You can sometimes work from a remote location in this career.

Average Salary: $84,280.

Education and Skills Required: You will need a bachelor’s degree in computer science or equivalent programming experience. Training is also available through a coding school or vocational college.

Outlook: Overall demand for programmers will increase worldwide, but could decrease in the U.S. as more companies contract work to overseas firms.

Job Search Tips for Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hearing Impaired

The ADA can help professionals who are deaf get the support that they need to succeed in any career. Unfortunately, discrimination and isolation can sometimes be issues for such workers. You can take steps during the job search process to find employers who have a track record of creating a welcoming and diverse workplace.

Research Online

Job sites have reviews written by previous and current employees. You can read these to get a feel for the company culture and whether or not they value inclusiveness and diversity. You can also interact with employees or the company on social media. While doing this, you can also reach out to previous or current employees with hearing impairments via social media to ask about their own employment experiences.

Network With Other People Who Have Hearing Impairments

You can communicate with other people who have experience with hearing loss and employment. Ask about their time working with a specific company or in a particular industry. If you connect with others who have hearing impairments in this way, it could even lead to a job interview or an introduction at their current or former place of employment.

Interview and Resume Tips for Individuals With Hearing Impairments

You can improve your chances of getting hired if you tailor your resume to the type of jobs that you are seeking and prepare for your interview. Here are some tips to help:

Focus on Your Qualifications and Skills

If you need reasonable accommodations, you have to disclose your disability during the application process. However, you do not need to concentrate on your hearing impairment on your resume or during the interview. Instead, focus on your qualifications, your unique skills, and experience. Focusing on your strengths can also help you build self-confidence for the interview process.

Be the Type of Employee the Company is Seeking

You can also perform research about the company to make sure that the way you present yourself and your experience matches with the company’s values, mission, and culture. You should be able to get an idea of the company from its website, social media feeds, or reviews from other employees.

Do a Practice Interview Beforehand

If you feel nervous, you can practice answering interview questions with a friend or family member. Answer the inquiries just as you would in an interview. You might not be sure what questions the interviewer will ask, but you may have a couple of chances during the process to make statements. For example, interviewers typically ask for an introduction and closing statement. You can practice how you will introduce yourself and come up with a closing statement that leaves a positive impression.

Be Ready to Discuss Your Disability

Though you should focus on your assets and qualifications, you should also practice communicating about your disability. An employer may ask about what reasonable accommodations you need. You can frame this discussion in a positive way by highlighting past times in your education or in other jobs where you overcame your disability with the help of simple accommodations.

Find Jobs Where Your Hearing Impairment Is an Asset

In some jobs, such as working as a sign language interpreter or speech language pathologist, your hearing disability can be a distinct asset. It will allow you to communicate with clients or patients, and you will be able to identify with them in a way a person without hearing disabilities never could.

Organizations for Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hearing Impaired

These organizations offer information about employment opportunities for people with hearing impairments or general support for members of the deaf and hearing impaired community.

 If you understand your rights and approach your job search and career planning in the correct way, you can overcome any challenges associated with your disability.


Image Source: Deposit Photos

This post was updated September 16, 2019. It was originally published September 18, 2019.