The Ambassador Effect

Employment Matters column,

For deaf and hard of hearing people who are involved with the deaf community every day, it can be easy to forget just how rare it is for a hearing person to meet someone who is deaf. Many hearing people go their entire lives without meeting anyone who is profoundly deaf; when it happens, they’re often nervous and unsure what to do.

They’re not sure what a deaf person can do, they’re not sure what is the best way to communicate, they’re not sure what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

So those of us who are familiar with or part of the deaf community spend a lot of time and energy on education. This demands patience, too, because the education process can be a rough ride, filled with confusion, misunderstanding and ignorance. Replacing ignorance with understanding is our goal, and nowhere is it more important than the workplace.

While some deaf workers are fortunate enough to find jobs where they have deaf co-workers, not everyone is so lucky. More often, deaf and hard of hearing workers are surrounded by an all-hearing staff.

If this is your situation, remember; to many of those hearing people, you are the only deaf person in the world they know, or the only one they meet up close and personal. Their ideas about deaf people will be based on their experience with you. You have become, in effect, a deaf community ambassador to your hearing co-workers.

If you are lazy, then they’ll presume most or all deaf people are lazy. If you are a fast learner, they’ll have a more positive view of deaf people. If you are consistently dependable or chronically late, a person who gets the job done or makes excuses – whatever you are, your personality and ability will color the attitudes of all the hearing people you work with and affect how they deal with every deaf person they meet afterward.

Fair? Of course not. But it’s human nature, and we have to deal with it as it is. The way to deal with it is to rise to the challenge and become the best ambassadors we can be. If you have a job, remember those who are unable to get a job because the hearing employers they’ve met didn’t believe they could do it.

Think about other deaf and hard of hearing workers who can’t move up to a more advanced position because their employers aren’t sure they can handle it. Show them you can. Consider your own self-interest too; when you move on to another job, how will your boss describe you to another employer? Will they express disappointment or surprise and awe?

You are proof that deaf people can. Make the most of it.