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.