Prior to the pandemic, Deaf and hard of hearing employees and job seekers already faced significant barriers. But what will that look like in a post-pandemic world?
After more than a year of pandemic life, vaccination rates continue to ramp up in many parts of the world and a post-COVID-19 reality is setting in.
Many high-profile executives and business-minded institutions believe a future trending toward more remote-based work has the potential to democratize opportunity and benefit society dramatically. The hybrid work model that blends in-office office and remote work is likely here to stay.
The Harvard Business Review predicts more work-life balance, better employee productivity, and the added benefit of cutting carbon emissions with less commuting. VP of Facebook Reality Labs Andrew tweeted that his company envisions “infinite virtual workspaces that will unlock social and economic opportunities for people regardless of barriers like physical location.”
But will post-COVID-19 work plans break down certain barriers while leaving others firmly in place? What does the future of employment look like for Deaf and hard-of-hearing job seekers?
We know what the present looks like. In the United States today, only 53.3% of Deaf people ages 25–64 are employed, compared to 75.8% of hearing people — an employment gap of 22.5%. Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), told Ava that current employment figures in the Deaf and hard of hearing community are unacceptable. The silver lining, he added, is that the only way to go is up.
“Employment rates for Deaf and hard of hearing people have always been dismal, so stagnation is not possible and anything would be an improvement,” Rosenblum said. “The additional availability of remote captioning and remote interpreting on many video conferencing platforms and systems represent a more accessible workplace, so that’s a positive. However, more employers need to be willing to hire Deaf and hard of hearing people.”
And they should be more than willing to, argue experts like Carrie Lou Garberoglio, PhD, Associate Director of the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes (NDC).
“Deaf people are already prepared to be adaptable under difficult circumstances,” Garberoglio said on a #DeafatWork panel hosted by NDC last summer. “The pandemic is adding another dimension of ‘Deaf gain,’ which emphasizes the strengths of the Deaf community to think creatively, find solutions, and embrace new technology to connect and communicate.”
Closing the Gap
Thought leaders are hard at work to make sure Deaf and hard of hearing candidates close the aforementioned employment gap in a post-COVID-19 world.
John Macko, Director of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s (NTID) Center on Employment, helps employers — who are looking for a competitive advantage through diversifying ranks — connect with NTID graduates in a variety of technical fields, including engineering, precision manufacturing, and mobile applications development.
His first piece of advice to Deaf and hard of hearing job seekers: Identify what you want in an employer and who you are as an employee.
“First, you need to know if you want to work for a big company, a small company, a nonprofit organization, federal agency or a state government. That’s number one, “ he said. “But then, ask yourself this — who are you as a job seeker?
It is so important to have a clear job service plan, meaning that you know and understand your technical skill. Finally, you should be able to communicate and sell your, what I call, soft skills. Are you motivated easily? Are you easy to get along with? Are you a hard worker?”
The Network Effect
At NTID, one of Rochester Institute of Technology’s nine colleges, Macko works with hundreds of job-seeking students annually at the world’s first and largest technological college for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. He identified one factor which accounts for the vast majority of his students securing jobs.
“Between 75 to 80 percent of job seekers will say they found work through networking, through the people they know,” Macko said. “And that’s the matching that not only myself, and my team do, but that job seekers do on their own. So you need to know who your network is, where your network is, and when your peers are networking.”
Jamie Perlman, 35, who is Deaf, lost her job as a marketing manager at a fine arts gallery in Southern California during the pandemic. She has been pulling out all the stops over the last several months to secure work. Perlman, who lives in Los Angeles, has used Ava to optimize captioning during job interviews and hangouts with Deaf and hard of hearing friends on Zoom. She just began courses with SV Academy to possibly begin a career as a Sales Development Representative. But she’s still waiting to hear if they’ll approve her accommodation requests for upcoming virtual training sessions.
“Look, I know how to be a team player, but why do I have to be the one who is always asking? That’s part of ableism,” Perlman said. “ It’s not on employers’ minds to ask how they can be a team player with me. Unless I scream it to them.”
Will Employers Get It?
Back in 2018, Hannah Olson, 25, also found herself seemingly screaming into a void. Olson, who battles chronic Lyme disease, realized her illness and suitable accommodations might be something wholly unfamiliar to employers. She couldn’t find a network connecting other disenfranchised job seekers to flexible employers. So she built one. In 2019, Olsen founded Chronically Capable, a recruiting startup that connects marginalized job seekers with meaningful work and inclusive employers.
“I like to tell everyone that it’s so important knowing you’re not alone,” Olson said. “I think job hunting is one of the most isolating experiences. So I think finding community is key.”
Deaf and hard of hearing job seekers can find community in places like Olson’s platform. There, employers Chronically Capable partners with, including Postmates, Mayv, Organized Q, and many more, undergo exhaustive diversity audits and comprehensive training to implement inclusive messaging, hiring practices and team building.
“Remote work is creating a ton more opportunities,” Olson said. “We’re trying to create a space where people feel comfortable talking to one another and sharing resources and support to capitalize. I think the first question for job seekers is pretty obvious. Is this employer actually going to get it?
We wanted to create a space where you would have this tacit understanding that if I’m a job seeker on the platform, I trust that this employer is going to be supportive and wants me. By doing that, we eliminate much of the stigma and fear that’s involved in the hiring process — so our job seekers feel more comfortable.”