By David Baldridge
I have been researching the workplace experiences of people with hearing loss for nearly two decades. During that time, I’ve been fortunate to learn from the experiences of hundreds of amazing people. Every story is different and there are rarely easy or permanent fixes. Career success is rather a lifelong journey that hearing loss impacts every step of the way.
The strategies below are the result of the broad themes rooted in my research.
Know yourself. First, think about your core values as well as your goals in life. It’s valuable to clearly define what is most important to you so that you can prioritize your time and energy accordingly. How much time and energy do you want to spend on work and non-work activities such as hobbies, friends and family?
Know what you want from work. Think about what you want from work and create your own personal definition of career success (e.g. meaningful work, recognition, promotions, salary, etc.). It can be emotionally depleting to stress about aspects of work that don’t truly contribute to feelings of fulfillment. Given the challenges tied to being Deaf/hard of hearing in the workplace, it is particularly important to have a clear picture of what you want from your work.
Take an unflinching look at how hearing loss impacts your work. Be honest with yourself and evaluate how hearing loss may impact your contributions in the workplace. Friends, family and coworkers are a great source of feedback. How does being Deaf/hard of hearing positively and negatively impact your work? What parts of your job are most/least enjoyable or stressful? Once you identify areas of your work that may be impacted, find ways to maximize positives and minimize negatives.
Find your highest and best use. Find work that you enjoy and that allows you to make important contributions to your employer. How can you add the most value? Perhaps this means requesting accommodation or job crafting or changing jobs or even changing careers.
Maximize your human and social capital. Employers hire for the value that you can add. Stay abreast of your work, and continually add to your skills, knowledge and abilities. You can also increase your value by building relationships that are helpful to your employer. Many successful individuals who are Deaf/hard of hearing develop strong areas of technical expertise and build strong relationships serving others who are Deaf/hard of hearing.
Choose a positive mindset. What are you grateful for? Focus your time and energy on aspects of work and home that make you feel happy and fulfilled. Research suggests that those who look inward rather than outward to gauge their success are more satisfied with their careers.
Build strong individual relationships. Just because deafness and hearing loss can be isolating doesn’t mean that it has to be. Take time to build positive relationships with your coworkers while practicing positive self-advocacy. Building positive relationships at work will not only enhance your career, it will enhance your life.
Practice positive self-advocacy. Take charge of your (dis)ability by speaking up about your communication needs in a positive manner. Be a patient, and positive educator and offer to help others at least as often as you ask for help.
Stay abreast of assistive technology. One way to overcome barriers and siege opportunities is to stay abreast of technology. Minimize communication issues by maximizing your knowledge and use of such technology.
No single set of strategies is universally applicable as we are all either growing or declining, but constantly challenging oneself to grow by practicing communication and positive self advocacy skills is important. This can range from striking up a conversation with a complete stranger to reaching out to an old friend. The key is to reach out in small ongoing, everyday efforts that are generally enjoyable but that also allow us to grow. Organizations like HLAA and ALDA provide safe havens to gather strength and skills.
My own research is ongoing, and if you would like to participate in my research and share your personal experiences, I would love to hear from you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
David Baldridge’s research focuses on the workplace experiences of people who are Deaf/hard-of hearing (DHH). His goal is to conduct rigorous research that sheds new light on what individuals and organizations can do to maximize the inclusion of people who are DHH. It is about tapping into abilities. David is an Associate Professor at Oregon State University, Newcomb Fellow and Research Associate for NTID. He has authored numerous articles and book chapters including two recent articles in Hearing Loss Magazine (follow links below) and for Oxford University Press.
- Career Success after Hearing Loss: Finding and Refining Your Path: http://www.hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/docs/BaldridgeJF2014.pdf
- Workplace Behavioral Responses to the Law: http://www.hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/docs/BaldridgeArticle2-JF-2014.pdf