Deaf Awareness Month: Addressing Deaf Discrimination in the Workplace

Woman in work blouse smiling and signing the word "help" in ASL.

September is Deaf Awareness Month. Since the World Federation of the Deaf met at their first World Congress in September of 1951, Deaf people and their allies have used the month to advocate on behalf of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people.

In 1990, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for his Deaf brother, which became a watershed moment for disability visibility, advocacy, and civil rights. The ADA transformed the United States in a lot of different, crucial ways, particularly with regard to the increased level of accessibility for those who need it; laying the groundwork for equity. However, on a societal, cultural, and legislative level, there is still much work to be done to ensure people with disabilities live in a more just environment.

For the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing (HoH) community, one area in desperate need of improvement is workplace discrimination and barriers. In this blog, we explore ways that employers can improve their hiring practices and language accessibility to be more inclusive of Deaf/HOH employees and help prevent Deaf discrimination in the workplace.

Preventing Audist Hiring Practices

Cornell University’s Yang-Tan Institute uncovered, through analyzing American Community Survey data, that 58.3% of “non-institutionalized persons aged 21 to 64 years with a hearing disability in the United States” had full-time employment. Often those in the Deaf/HoH community have to put more work into their educational background to get the same recognition as their hearing counterparts, with some prospective employees unable to get an interview with thousands of employers despite holding advanced degrees. Part of the reason that this occurs is due to audism.

Audism is the bias against those in the Deaf/HoH community. Historically, the United States has promoted the idea of the “deaf and dumb”. While “dumb” was a word attributed to the phrase to convey an inability to speak, many at the time and today still fixate on the incorrect stereotype that those with deafness are less intelligent. The presumption that a prospective Deaf/HoH employee is incapable of fulfilling the fundamental elements of a position solely based on their hearing loss is inaccurate, insulting, and illegal if proven to be the rationale behind not hiring them.

It’s important that Deaf/HoH employees are given equal hiring opportunities. Employers and their human resources departments should never turn down a candidate because they are Deaf/HoH. Instead, employers should first learn about the full capabilities of an applicant without prejudicial judgment as well discuss any access needs with them.

Increasing Deaf Awareness Training and Greater Language Accessibility

Vital to any workplace is the ability for employees, their colleagues, and their bosses to communicate with one another. For Deaf/HoH individuals, language barriers are chief amongst the factors that prevent them from providing timely and accurate work output, bonding with co-workers, and attaining upward mobility.

Since the pandemic started in 2020, many employers have shifted their workplaces to a hybrid or fully remote status. This has presented increased challenges for employees with hearing loss, as the commitment by technology platforms and employers to provide reasonable language access accommodation can vary. TDI For Access Chief Executive Officer Eric Kaika remarked to DigiDay that an employer’s not fully-informed commitment to an online conferencing platform can be detrimental as “few of them allow third-party captioners to join and provide transcript services, while others may have an ASR-only [automatic speech recognition] captioning feature, which isn’t always accurate.” He further noted that, “some of them actually block these services due to security reasons.” More information about how to better advance your workplace’s accessibility for Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing employees can be found on TDI For Access’ website.

Within in-office environments, as is often the case with people with disabilities, Deaf/HoH employees are often made responsible for their own accommodation. If an employee works in a specialized field, these employees often have to work to find an interpreter familiar enough with their specialization to give accurate interpreting. On a social level, because hearing people have a lack of exposure to the Deaf community and Deaf culture, many do not engage in conversation with their Deaf coworkers. This leads to feelings of isolation and lack of support. It would highly benefit all workplaces for employers to provide Deaf awareness training to ensure every employee feels comfortable using an interpreter or other means of communication to properly bond with their Deaf co-workers.

In 2022, it is crucial that every step we make with regard to disability in the workplace is a step forward. We have the tools to create spaces that promote equity and inclusion, now we just need the education and commitment from all parties to do so.

As Haben Girma, the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law, wrote in her memoir: “Most people will need to seek accessibility solutions at some point, whether for a family member, a colleague, or for oneself. Disability is part of the human experience. We all need to engage in the work to make our world accessible to everyone. Inclusion is a choice.”

RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit

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