This week is International Week of the Deaf People. Let’s celebrate it by spreading awareness about accessibility for deaf employees. Audism is a term used to describe the descrimination deaf people face in their everyday lives.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 28 million Americans, or 10% of the population, have some degree of hearing loss and about 2 million people are classified as deaf; only 53.3% of deaf people were employed in 2017, compared to 75.8% of hearing people. Wage disparities are worse among the intersection of multiple identities. For each dollar a white deaf man earns, a Black American deaf man earns 81 cents, while a Black American deaf woman earns 63 cents and a Latinx deaf woman earns 58 cents. While deaf people are more likely to be looking for work than hearing people, 42.9% of deaf people are not in the labor force, meaning they are not currently employed and are not looking for work, compared to 20.8% of hearing people. This demonstrates that there aren’t enough positions in the workforce that offer appropriate accommodations to deaf people.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for their deaf employees as well as job candidates, which means that companies are supposed to hire interpreters when necessary for communication, even at the job interview. Between the anticipated cost to provide accommodations for a disabled candidate and implicit bias, most employers would choose a hearing candidate over an equally qualified deaf candidate. “Unconscious biases with recruiters and hiring managers are far more deep-rooted than an ADA declaration” says Dana Manciagli, who is also disabled and works with people of all abilities to find jobs.
Deaf people are more likely to be self-employed or own their own business than hearing people, which “may be an effective strategy to bypass challenges and biases that deaf people are deeply familiar with.” 11.6% of deaf people are self-employed compared to 9.8% of hearing people while 4.1% of deaf people own businesses compared to 3.8% of hearing people. Individuals with other disabilities are more likely to be self-employed as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with disabilities in general were more likely to be self-employed than those with no disability, despite being more likely to be unemployed. 10.3% of workers with a disability were self-employed in 2020, versus 6.1% of able-bodied workers.
I myself am disabled and self-employed. Though I’m not deaf or hard of hearing, self-employment has given me flexibility to work around my disability that exceeds the accommodations most workplaces would make for me. Frankly, it was easier for me to be self-employed than work for someone else because of my disability. I don’t know if this rings true for able-bodied people, but the data suggests that others with disabilities have had similar experiences with work.
Want to make your workplace more inclusive of present and future deaf employees in honor of International Week of the Deaf People? Consider what reasonable accommodations look like in your workplace. “Reasonable accommodation is very ‘fact specific,’ which means it is evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” says Andrew Rozynski, a deaf discrimination litigation attorney. “It really depends on many factors, however, two important factors that are utilized are: (1) What are the deaf person’s needs to facilitate effective communication, and (2) The length and complexity of the communication.”
One option is Video Relay Services (VRS), which provides a professional interpreter through a video connection and is funded by the Federal Communications Commision. While this might be good for one on one discussion, for times where more than one person is speaking—like group meetings—and it’s your company’s obligation to the deaf employees to provide an interpreter. One company setting an example for accessibility is Amazon, which became the first major tech company to hire full-time ASL Interpreters and has a deaf art director who has access to a full-time ASL interpreter.
Bianca Gonzalez is a queer, disabled, Latina B2B writer and social change advocate. She became a brain cancer survivor at the age of 20. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @ourstellarwords and on her website, b2binclusive.com.