After being invited to be a part of a job fair planning committee for deaf and hard of hearing job seekers, my eyes have been opened to the many challenges facing this close-knit community. I’m glad to be representing Workforce Solutions in this group; it gives me an opportunity to learn and to dispel some myths of Workforce Solutions services in the deaf community. But, more importantly, I have been able to discuss issues with true advocates to the deaf community. Two main challenges I’ll be talking about are accommodations and the attitudinal challenges. These are challenges faced whether individuals are deaf or hard of hearing.
First of all, I experienced a tiny bit of the communication challenges. It was a different experience sitting in a meeting room and being one of the few hearing individuals. Anyone that has sat in a meeting with me knows that I like to share resources and what Workforce Solutions’ approach is to assisting all customers; focusing on the job seekers’ skills and matching them to the right job, regardless of disability status. Several times during the meeting I said, “Let’s just focus on the job seekers’ abilities and we can help them find jobs.” Some individuals in the room did not agree with me, and I could tell by facial expressions that some were a bit skeptical. Others shared with me examples of the challenges they have faced. Here are the top two challenges discussed during one of the meetings:
Some employers and/or temporary agencies might not offer them the job because of the “perceived expense” of hiring a sign language interpreter. An employer might think that the only way a deaf or hard of hearing individual can communicate is via a sign language interpreter. Not true! I know an individual that works for a big store chain as an overnight stocker and communicates via text with his supervisor. The only times they’ve hired a sign language interpreter is when they have company meetings that involve paperwork.
Have you ever heard someone use the term “deaf and dumb?” Where did this come from? Though offensive now, was it less of an insult at one time? A look at the etymology (word history) of “dumb” could help in understanding. The word “dumb” came for Old English (pre 1000 AD) meaning speechless. As German gained more and more influence the word “dumb” being similar to the German word “dumm,” took on the Germanic definition of stupid. (Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dumb-accessed: June 17, 2011.)
Even if you use the original definition some may infer that if a person is “speechless” they may be unable to communicate. There are many ways a deaf person can communicate; sign language, lip-reading, and vocalizations to name a few. Since it is the later definition which is most often associated with the word, one can well imagine that no one likes to be labeled, “deaf and stupid.” It takes but a simple Google search of “accomplished deaf people” to find quit an extensive list of men and women who have excelled in many fields. Therefore, the phrase “deaf and dumb” is another negative label that needs to be retired along with the implications.
This is a great start to understanding some of the challenges that others face while searching for employment. It’s all about your perspective, but it’s always a good thing to be aware of others as we move forward in today’s workforce. Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments. Part II – coming soon!
Claudia Magallan is the Disability Navigator for Workforce Solutions Workforce Solutions- Gulf Coast ensuring that customers with disabilities utilize all the services offered by Workforce Solutions. She has over six years of experience building relationships in the Houston Community and working with job seekers with barriers to employment.