Eyra Abraham,  this week’s guest writer, has fought against several ‘hidden’ hiring stigmas, including hearing loss. Eyra works in marketing and technology and  is an avid traveler who has explored the outdoors and culture of 10 countries in four continents. Eyra lives in Toronto, Ontario.

 

By Eyra Abraham

 

I have been ticking off more than one box on the self-identification questions of a job application form.

I am black, hard of hearing and a female.

Self-identification forms remind me that I am not a first choice candidate and that I am somehow “lacking” for being who I am. Belonging to a minority and being female has its challenges but having a hearing loss is equally, if not more, challenging. As a minority woman, there are challenges with promotions, a career dive after having children, lack of equal pay, or simply no calls for interviews because you don’t have a western-sounding name.

However, when you are talking about your disability, you are challenged by the immediate assumptions about lack of ability. Employers have a negative perception that a person with a hearing loss is a burden to an organization. That hurts, especially when you are willing and eager to work and contribute to the society.

Studies shows that these negative biases towards deaf and hard of hearing individuals have created high unemployment rates within our demographic. StatsCan states that the employment rate is under 50% for those with a hearing loss, compared to 73.6% for people without a disability. I am not a stranger to these statistics. I too have lingered back and forth between the 42% of the hearing loss population that are underemployed and the 38% that are unemployed. It has never been easy.

I grew up wearing hearing aids after being diagnosed with a sensorineural hearing loss at three years old. I lived in a household of hearing parents and sisters. There was no sign language in this hearing world. Growing up with highly academic parents, I had to achieve an education and get a good job. This didn’t come naturally to me. My childhood was about trying to keep up with my peers and finding my rhythm for learning. And most of the time, I was also dealing with self-esteem issues. My hearing loss was often a subject for jokes, which made me quickly realize that my hearing loss was a bad trait to have. I developed a habit of covering my hearing aids with my hair to hide my truth and to stop from being teased.

I have spent most of my life hiding my hearing loss to avoid being seen negatively.

The truth would come out sometimes, particularly in job interviews where I would disclose my hearing loss as a test to see if I would be hired – and valued. For an entry-level job with a high turnaround, the disclosure of my hearing loss was never an issue. When I interviewed for competitive professional roles, the calls never came. Therefore, I started to believe that my hearing loss was holding me back from being accepted and building a good career.

In a world where there are few deaf or hard of hearing role models taking an executive level, senior management roles or CEO positions, you can start to see how a strong negative bias has been formed about those with a hearing loss by the majority of the population. When you are not seen, you are not known. Traditional job-hunting tactics are all about being seen, making it harder for deaf and hard of hearing people to excel at finding promising careers. Networking, for example, is one task you are encouraged to do, in looking for a job. However, for a hard of hearing person like me, it’s something we dread doing. Most of us are looking for someone in the loud room at a networking event who will do all the talking so we can nod our head pretending to understand every word they say.

But one thing I also know for sure is that my hearing loss has given me an ambition. I have not given up on finding a career that I love and I have learned to build my own business. It is a place where many deaf and hard of hearing individuals land after trying very hard to find meaningful work. The rate of deaf and hard of hearing individuals seeking entrepreneurship has increased by 16% from 1998 to 2015, and I suspect it continues to grow. A majority are finding success in building businesses to serve other deaf and the hard of hearing community. I have followed suit by starting my business, Lisnen. I, along with many other deaf and hard of hearing people, believe we have talent and skills to bring to the table. Rather than waiting for opportunities to land our way, we are taking control.

So now, self-disclosure has less to do with “lacking” and more about empowerment and appreciation for the abilities that I have developed through the challenges that life has given me. I am empowered by my challenges and no longer need to seek the approval from of others to get a pass to do what I want in this world.

I choose my life and make choices with truth, respect, and love.

 

 

 

World Hearing Day is coming up on March 3rd.  I think the goal is to remind people to take care of their hearing – reduce exposure to loud noise, get a hearing checkup, buy a hearing aid, and whatnot.

But for those of us who already can’t stand loud noise, own a fine selection of hearing aids and/or CI sound processors, and visit our hearing care professionals more often than we would like – maybe we should pause for a few moments on March 3rd (or today, even) and be grateful for any progress we’ve made with our hearing loss.

I’d like to celebrate by comparing what I hear when I’m wearing technology – I’m bimodal with a right ear sound processor and left ear hearing aid – and when I’m not.

Without technology:  Nada, zilch, zero.

With technology:  Kaboom! With increasingly better devices my world has exploded with sounds I didn’t know existed! (To be truthful, I could do with a little less noise from some of them.)

I can now hear, especially with my cochlear implant, either for the first time ever, the first time in a long time, or just better. Some examples:

Bare feet sliding across a carpet.

Water left running in the sink. (The memory of our flooded camper is still painful. Especially when you’re mopping up at 4am.)

The hissy sounds of speech:  ch/sh’s and the “t” at the end of words. Speech is so much easier to understand when you hear the consonants.

Birds: the flapping of wings, the rustling about in bushes, birdsong. To be honest, at this point in my CI progress, the flapping, rustling and singing often sound the same. But, strangely, I can clearly hear the birds with the really high frequency birdsong.

Cars on the road when I’m not in the car, a drone I don’t particularly care for. And the drone while I’m in the car is just an extra sound on top of my tinnitus I don’t need.

People talking – not to me, but when I can’t see them or they’re too far away to make it out. But I do recognize there is conversation happening; it’s a low, honky hum sound.

Dog nails on hardwood floors. I don’t need both ears for this because these dogs are Lulu the pit bull and Duke, the Great Dane. Their nails are substantial.

Coffee maker – are all pots so noisy and gurgly?

Charlie and Nickie, our cats, doing their business in the cat litter – a unique sound I can hear from almost anywhere in the house. To clarify: what I hear are their paws moving about in the wood pellet litter, not their actual, uh, movements.

With many high frequency sounds, I can’t yet tell what they are. The Hearing Husband still answers this question at least two or three times a day: “What’s that sound?” When he can’t make anything out, I know it’s my tinnitus.

What sounds would I like to turn off? The crinkling of plastic bags is torture and when someone is eating chips out of a bag…gahh!! The first new sound I heard after activation of my CI was the ticking of the wall clock. Does anyone know how to turn that sound down? Do digital clocks also make a tick-tick-tick-tick-tick….?

So, happy World Hearing Day! Get your hearing checked, move forward on hearing aids if you need them, and then take a moment to be grateful. The miracle of technology opens us up to the miracles of nature.