Unfortunate Workplace Reality – No Interpreter Involved

As part of my job, I follow several blogs related to Deaf Employment. Many posts either talk about a bleak job market for deaf job seekers, or they focus on how difficult career advancement is for those deaf who are already employed. Several blogs discuss problems stemming from a simple request for an interpreter for a job interview – oftentimes the employer backs out from interviews.
I read another that told of applicants calling through relay services alerting the potential employer that applicant is a deaf, thus scaring them off and cancelling the call. And lastly, there were a few that were more optimistic, going as far as suggesting a list of ideal jobs for the deaf people. This flurry of postings got my attention. Actually, they raised a red flag in my mind. How can this simple but good idea – an “ideal jobs” list – be cause for alarm? If you think about it, it can be a very dangerous proposition. What would happen if we shared a list of “ideal jobs for the deaf” with companies who aren’t knowledgeable about the deaf population and about what we can offer to the working world? We would have employers who would: Cancel all potential opportunities for deaf people, offering only menial positions Offer jobs to deaf people where communication accommodations aren’t considered important This “ideal job” list overlooks the fact that many deaf people can do almost any kind of job. What we need to be doing is educating prospective employers and expanding our opportunities instead of narrowing our options. We don’t want to give ideas to ignorant employers, those who would act on this misinformation, and make the situation worse for the deaf and hard of hearing. We must be cautious with how we approach this employment problem and keep from painting ourselves into a corner – a place where none of us wants to be. To start, let’s step back and take a broader look at the employment problem facing the deaf and hard-of-hearing applicants. It’s actually becoming a seriously unfortunate workplace reality. Providing an interpreter may be the main issue. It could be what is fueling an ever-growing fear among employers, a fear that has significantly prevent many qualified job candidates – those who are deaf and/or hard of hearing – from being hired. Are the interpreters the main reason deaf people are not getting jobs? I don’t think so! That being said, providing interpreters is often an afterthought. So, what comes before that thought? I would offer that the employer starts out concerned about whether or not a deaf person could interact, face- to-face, with customers. They wonder if a deaf employee can communicate, because they (the employer) know nothing anything about communication accommodation. Then, the employer wonders if the deaf candidate can interact and work with other employees within the workplace. These scenarios seem scary, especially when the employer doesn’t know what options are available. Because most employers are usually ignorant about deaf people, they make their decisions based on making accommodations instead of the deaf candidate’s qualifications. Employers would then determine, based on the most common internet searches, that they would need to provide an interpreter. And if the employer doesn’t understand the different communication options, again, they forget about the deaf candidate’s skillset and expertise. A simple discussion with the deaf prospect would reveal other options as well as the candidate’s preference – which may not even be an interpreter. I know a lot of you agree with me. You know what usually happens with employers when they consider deaf candidates for a position. Is it because we have already painted ourselves in that limited picture? Think about this for a moment. We are expecting employers to be responsible, providing adequate accommodations, but have we clarified how often, or when, a communication accommodation is necessary? We are often afraid to say that sometimes we don’t need an interpreter, primarily because we are afraid of winding up without an interpreter entirely. And because of that, we give the impression that communication accommodation is always required. Employers usually don’t know any better, and probably assume the worst. What has happened to this discussion? Something has gone wrong. We, the deaf community and the employers, got bogged down with legislation surrounding communication accommodations. We forgot the main point for any job, and that is the employee’s ability to do the job. The ADA language describes it as “with and without reasonable accommodation”. I am not talking about our ability to participate in meetings or training. I am talking about the daily grind of the job. Every job has its own daily grind – the day-to-day tasks. It usually involves doing the real work and interfacing with customers. Let’s face it; that is the bottom line for most employers. The most unfortunate fact is that deaf people have been very unsuccessful within the business sector, which is why many deaf people flock to Federal jobs, Video Relay Service (VRS) industry, and many exclusive deaf-related organizations. I find it interesting that most Federal jobs don’t really require deaf workers to interact with customers. On the other hand, VRS industry and other deaf-related organizations do require deaf employees to interact with customers; however, there are usually no interpreters involved in the daily grind of these jobs! The unfortunate reality is that no employer, other than Federal Government, would stand in an interpreter to accommodate anyone’s daily job duties 24/7. It isn’t reasonable. It’s pretty clear to see that deaf employees must have to have the ability to do the job both ways, with or without accommodation of any kind! Back in the old days, long before ADA became law, there were hardly any interpreters involved. Any exceptions would revolve around very large meetings or extensive licensing training; but even then, it wouldn’t happen without help from state’s Vocational Rehabilitation service. Yet, there were millions of deaf people employed! The times are changing. Today, we are seeing more deaf employees interacting with the customers and coworkers achieving workplace efficiency and keeping up with the increased productivity expectations. Let’s take a look back to my banking days, starting about ten years. Yes, I used to work as a banker at a major institution for six years. Let me remind you, I am Capital “D” Deaf. AND, I cannot speak nor lip read. I started with an interpreter assigned to me for the first 90 days. Half of this cost was paid for Vocational Rehabilitation; otherwise, this job would have never happened. Anyway, I didn’t last with interpreters for 90 days; I couldn’t. By my second day into job, I had to move interpreter away from my workstation, so I could do the real job efficiently. I would then call the interpreter to me to facilitate the communication. Customers would get confused by my having an interpreter sitting in my cubicle or standing beside me at counter. I was constantly having to explain, or ask the customers to come to me. The same was true for my coworkers. I thought that moving interpreter away from me would help, but my coworkers would start chatting with my interpreter – the same one who was sitting in lobby waiting to be called by me. So, I changed the whole communication arrangement. For the next few months, I would only schedule an interpreter for some of my client appointments, staff meetings, and training. It became very reasonable for the employer to cover the expense. It was all I needed to achieve my daily tasks. No interpreter involved! So then, guess what happened at the bank? I was able to succeed. Not only was I able to interact with all of my customers, but I was also able to develop relationships with my coworkers. No interpreter was involved! Please understand, I am not taking about employee meetings or training. I am talking about my day-to-day stuff. How did I communicate? I had two keyboards affixed to my workstation, an idea I copied from another deaf banker in another part of the country some years before. I realized it was more important to show my independence and capabilities, so I took this route and became successful at my job. As a result of my success, the Bank gave me the complete authority to schedule an interpreter anytime I deemed necessary, no questions asked. I felt so empowered and in complete control of my own job! So, that brings us to the wonderful stories from within UbiDuo community. Many UbiDuo users are able to show their independence and capabilities on their job, simply by using the UbiDuo. In fact, they are able to more easily request an interpreter, from time to time, with a lot less of resistance from their employers. They have face-to-face encounters with customers and coworkers throughout their workdays. Now, none of these people would go anywhere without UbiDuo, and most would admit they wouldn’t have the same experiences relying on an interpreter. That is exactly what happened when I worked at the bank – having no interpreter involved made a huge difference for me. There are many of these stories are available on the sComm website and/or YouTube page. For example, there’s Peter Downey, who got several promotions within months after using UbiDuo despite 12 prior years of doing same menial job without UbiDuo. Scott Walker was able to work at front line at the Post Office. What do they have in common? The ability to interact with customers, having unlimited face-to-face encounters, and doing their daily tasks. These kinds of things usually happen when no interpreter is involved! No, I am not talking about every deaf person. However, most deaf people can have this kind of opportunity. It can be your reality in the workplace, if you want to succeed. Having this opportunity available to you doesn’t mean you have to give up the interpreter. You may even find it will increase your ability to have interpreter when you really need one. So, maybe we need to change our mindset. We are way too dependent on interpreters, even during times when we are applying for jobs or going to job fairs. We are giving bad impressions to marketplace of employers who are generally ignorant about deaf people. First, we need to first demonstrate our capabilities and marketable skills; then, we can discuss our need communication accommodations. Employers must see us as independent and flexible before they will even consider hiring us. Employers need to see our ability to interact with coworkers. Employers will also need to see that we are able to interact with their customers. We may still need an interpreter for some interviews; but unfortunately, not all interviews. Most employers still need to know you, personally! I am not suggesting that we move away from using interpreters – which we still need them for training in classroom settings and most group meetings. We just need to think differently about the day-to-day – our daily grind.
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