Should Your Resume Reveal You’re Deaf?

Employment Matters column,

Years ago, Gallaudet University offered a course on professional development, taught by a team of two teachers associated with the Experiential Program Off Campus (EPOC). I took that course, which dealt with the sort of things one might expect when making the transition from the sheltered world of a college campus to the “real world”, the one our parents warned us about.

We spent some of the course time discussing our resumes. Being college students, we didn’t really have one – some of us had a few summer jobs to list, a few held real jobs while saving money for college.

One of the students brought up a question many of us were thinking – would mentioning we are deaf on our resumes affect our chances of getting a job? The teachers looked at each other sadly, then to us. They knew very well all of us in the classroom were proud of being Deaf, that it wasn’t something we felt we should hide.

Then they told us we needed to do exactly that. And they should know – they had a lot of “real world” experience in helping deaf students find work. They delivered this news without enthusiasm, and the class took it with mixed feelings.

In our hearts we wanted to stand tall and be who we are. But we also recognized a cold truth – most hearing employers, faced with a choice between two equally qualified job applicants, will choose a hearing worker over a deaf worker.

If you submit a resume that doesn’t include any obvious references to being deaf, this creates an interesting situation when you are contacted by the employer for an interview. In some cases, you can respond by e-mail and still not reveal that you’re deaf.

If you take it one step further and hire your own interpreter for the interview, the employer doesn’t know you’re deaf until you actually show up for the interview.

If you’ve gotten that far, then obviously the employer considers you qualified enough to invite you to interview for the job. That’s an important point to establish. If you request an interpreter for an interview, then there’s always the possibility that the job will suddenly be filled by another candidate, and you are left with the strong suspicion, but not certainty, of discrimination.

If your potential employer learns in advance of an interview that you’re deaf, then you have no way of knowing what decisions are made behind closed doors. There are, of course, enlightened employers who will go forward with an interview and consider your application seriously.

There are others who will go through the motions of an interview with no intention of hiring you, but do the interview to give themselves legal protection. I’ve been in both situations, and only their attitude during the interview may give you a sense of what’s happening.

Is it deceptive when you make no mention of being deaf?

Some employers may see it that way, but it really shouldn’t matter if you’re qualified. If the question comes up during an interview, you can point out that you should be able to approach an interview on a level playing field with hearing applicants, and being deaf doesn’t enter into it. If the employer disagrees, that’s bald discrimination.

Of course none of this applies when you are seeking deaf-related work. In that situation, your experience in the deaf community becomes an advantage. Now the roles are reversed – given a choice between equally qualified hearing and deaf applicants, the deaf applicant has an edge.

If, like me, your work experience is deeply rooted in the deaf community, then there’s no way to avoid it – it will be clear on your resume. In my case, that’s fine. I’ve worked for hearing employers and in workplaces with many deaf employees, and I prefer deaf-related work. This sometimes means fewer opportunities and less pay, but a more satisfying work experience.

But every one seeking work has to choose for himself/herself, and think about what strategies will get them from where they are to where they want to be. Regardless of what you choose to do before the interview, go into it with confidence. Stand tall and be proud of who you are – that attitude is the secret sauce to winning the job.