Why I No Longer Mention My Disability In Job Interviews

My severe hearing loss has certainly not helped my career.

May 13, 2013 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

I didn’t get my first job until I was a sophomore in college, but since then I think I’ve held a pretty wide range of positions. I’ve worked at a daycare, at a local newspaper, at a Gap outlet, at a self-publishing literary journal, at two different college libraries, and as a writing tutor for both of those colleges. I would never say that this is "in spite" of my disability -- just as I don’t consider myself “an inspiration” for “overcoming obstacles” -- but I will admit that my severe hearing loss has certainly not helped my career. 
 
My hearing loss has been plummeting for unknown reasons since I was diagnosed in kindergarten. It is a mild to profound loss in both ears, meaning that while I can hear loud, low sounds like thunderstorms almost normally, I cannot hear some sounds (especially anything high pitched, like a tea kettle) at all.
 
I cannot hear birds twittering. I do not go to movies if they aren’t captioned, and they usually aren’t. Comprehending speech can be so difficult for me that I tend to avoid any conversation that isn’t one-on-one. Although I love music, there are some parts of songs, as well as entire instruments, that I will never hear.
 
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 Back in middle school, when hearing aids still helped me.

 
I no longer wear hearing aids, I do not have a cochlear implant, I do not sign, and I do not know any deaf/Deaf people. As skilled as I am at lipreading and compensating and occasionally pretending, I am essentially a person with very little hearing struggling to succeed in a hearing world. Thus I have been forced to find strategies that help me to adapt. My newest strategy? Stop mentioning my hearing loss in job interviews. 
 
The Americans with Disabilities Act (not to be confused with this one) was signed into law on July 26, 1990 -- the day before I was born. Obviously America decided they’d better get their shit together before I arrived. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been enough. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified employees/potential employees with disabilities, and also requires that reasonable accommodations are made for disabled employees. This would be a great law if more people would abide by it, or were even more aware of it. Hell, I wish I had been more aware of it back in 2011 when I was graduating from college. 
 
During my search for post-graduate work, I sent my resume out to several publishing houses in New York. Keep in mind that these weren’t even actual jobs that I was applying for; they were unpaid internships. I ended up being invited for three interviews. One was a phone interview, and after I asked for an in-person interview because I can’t hear on the phone, they emailed me back a big, fat NEVERMIND.
 
“Sorry, but the internship mainly involves answering phones,” they explained. 
 
Like the idiot that I was, I was disappointed but reasoned that it made sense. They can’t hire someone to answer their phones (even if it’s for free) if the person can’t answer phones! Now I want to go back in time, shake myself, and instead let that company know that it would be a very reasonable accommodation for them to allow me to use a captioning phone for the job. They would have at least been obligated to let me come in for an interview, because I was qualified. 
 
Sure, they could have just blown me off in the end with a fake reason, but there’s a chance that I could have been hired. I would be climbing the corporate ladder in NYC right now. Or maybe they would have blown me off with a blatantly discriminatory reason and I could have sued them for millions and be sitting on a beach right now. Regrets: We all have them.
 
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I wasn’t feeling the sting of regrets and unemployment yet; I was just happy to have graduated.

 
I learned my lesson, though. I no longer mention my hearing loss before or during an interview. Legally, I do not have to disclose my disability at all and in some jobs, I never did. If a job specifically entails answering phones, then only after I am hired do I bring up my CaptionCall phone. I don’t feel like I am inconveniencing the employer this way (an easy feeling for a people pleaser like me to have) because it is my own phone that I provide and entails no extra work for them outside of giving me five minutes to set it up. 
 
This phone was a lifesaver for me. My old audiologist and friend Susan told me about it right before I was hired for a job that required a lot of phone work, and without it I’m not sure I would have gone for that job. If I’d had it in college, I might have even had a chance at one of those competitive internships. 
 
So yes, I wish I had my CaptionCall phone back then and that I knew all this self-advocacy stuff (my parents and teachers tried to educate me in high school but shitty teenage me tuned them out by turning off her hearing aids). At least I know better now.
 
If you have a disability and you’re sweating about whether to mention it in your upcoming job interview, remember: You don’t have to share that shit! If they ask you point blank whether you can answer phones and you’re deaf as a post, then you kind of have to own up to that BUT while telling them how they can accommodate you to do those things because you’re WORTH IT. 
 
Have you ever been discriminated against for a job because of your disability, or your ethnicity/age/gender/sexual orientation? Let’s commiserate in the comments, which is also where you can tell me that this is a dumb plan because any future employer can Google me and... see this article. Whatever, no regrets!