Deaf discrimination at work

Deaf discrimination at work
I was asked recently whether there is discrimination at work if you are deaf. Does it exist? Is it a problem? Unfortunately the answer to that in many cases is yes. While I think the situation has improved in recent years, I do find people still mention being discriminated against at work because they are deaf.
Discrimination takes many forms. It can be outright and blatant and this is where anti-discrimination laws come in. There is recourse for this kind of discrimination. However it is the more subtle discriminations which are the hardest to take and deal with.

Some people report they are treated as ‘dumb’ and given the lowliest tasks, often below their ability, experience, skills or education(1). It is a bullying tactic but it is hard to pin down and stop and harder to prosecute. Stand up for yourself, explain you don’t mind doing these tasks but you would be better used in other areas. If need be talk to your boss and explain the situation and demonstrate your skills.

Discrimination by omission
One lady told me that as she loses her hearing she is left more and more out of the loop. Her colleagues talk among themselves often from a distance. Other hearing colleagues around her can hear but she can’t. She can hear sound and tell they are talking but has no idea what is being said. She misses out on the camaraderie of her colleagues as well as information about what is needed on the job. Some colleagues make the effort to come and talk to her – but it is just that – an effort. And after a while the effort becomes too hard and so she gets left out more and more. This is difficult to overcome and possibly the only way is to ask for information about what is needed on the job to be put in writing. Form a buddy system with another colleague and ask them to keep you filled in.

Another lady told me she didn’t have to attend work meetings because she couldn’t hear. Great. She found meetings very boring because she couldn’t participate and not attending meetings made her very productive, but it also meant she wasn’t kept up to date with planning, new clients and so on and she couldn’t contribute. She felt left out and often unappreciated. Days became lonely at work as well as at home because she didn’t have the interaction with her work mates. Often when client meetings turned into client lunches, even though she was often a major contributor to the work for that client, she would not be invited and so once more there was subtle discrimination. She found it hurtful but felt she could do nothing about it.

What if your job requires hearing?
Take the case of Danny. He is an Aircrewman on a rescue helicopter. When he lost his hearing suddenly due to an assault through no fault of his own he found his job in jeopardy. Being able to hear and communicate with the people on the winch, the rescuers at the rescue scene and the pilot were essential to his role. Without his hearing he could be putting a number of lives at risk. Danny was able to return to work and meet the stringent safety requirements because he had bi-lateral Cochlear Implants.

Get help
A recent article in a local newspaper(2) states that “on average people who have difficulty hearing earn up to $12,000 a year less than for their peers who use hearing aids”. So wearing a hearing aid, baha or Cochlear Implant improves your changes of getting and keeping work. Most people who have a hearing problem take on average up to 6 years to get a hearing aid once they need it so people are being discriminated against in remuneration. Heed the warning signs and get help with an aid.

Believe in yourself
Employers find it hard to believe that someone who cannot hear properly and who cannot use a phone could be a good employee. This is particularly hard for the late deafened adult. They may find they lose their job because they can no longer perform in the same way they had before. It takes a very understanding employer to help in this kind of situation. Obvious discrimination can be prosecuted but you do need a strong case and have to be strong to hold up against opposition.

Some solutions
For the hearing impaired who work in an office, the biggest issue is not being able to use a phone. Using a phone has become a mainstay of the way work how we communicate with other companies and our customers.
• The internet is great. These days much phone work can be done via the internet and it provides a written record of what has been done.
• Video phones are also entering the market and allow deaf people to use a phone and lip read.
• SMS is another way of getting around phone use and
• if necessary ask for a TTY and an interpreting service.
• For those with the equipment Skype can be an excellent way to establish contact computer to computer contact again with video link making it easier to understand the speaker.

Some of these technologies aren’t ‘perfect’ yet because the video doesn’t synchronise with the sound but it will only get better.

Research your options and ask your employer to provide you with the equipment you need. He is actually under an obligation to do so.

(1) Discrimination at the workplace; Accessed 23/7/08
(2) Hills and Valley Messenger, July 23, 2008 p10
(3) then choose stories and Danny

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