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The World’s Largest Private Deaf Employer

Employment Matters column,

Do you know who is the largest private employer of deaf staff anywhere?

Yes, anywhere. There are other places – deaf schools, mostly – with many deaf staff, but they’re publicly funded. We’re talking about a private business here, with well over 100 deaf staff. We’re talking about full time workers earning $28,000 to $32,000 a year, and often more with overtime. There are deaf people in management – some have worked there since the business opened over 6 years ago. And what does this band of deaf professionals do for a living?

They work with deaf customers. The customers, in this case, are psychiatric patients living at the National Deaf Academy (NDA). And full disclosure – I work at NDA. So this is an inside view.

Psychiatric care is not easy work. The patients who arrive at NDA have often been abused, misunderstood, neglected. Some have wonderfully supportive families, and others have no family at all, or have been abandoned by their families. Many of them need all the support and guidance they can get – and that’s what NDA does.

The support includes a team of deaf and hearing therapists, teachers, doctors, nurses and Mental Health Technicians, all who watch over the patients from day to day. They teach them, care for them, encourage them when they grow frustrated, intervene when they become upset, praise them when they progress.

The work requires extraordinary patience. The customers arrive with serious issues, and it takes time to sort though the problems and develop a program that will match the patient’s needs. The key to making it happen is being able to communicate effectively with the patient, and NDA has more collective experience doing this than any other place in the world.

Because NDA is a residential facility, there is staff on duty 24 hours a day, in three shifts. The morning team begins bright and early at 7 a.m. and hands over responsibility to the afternoon shift at 3 p.m. At 11 p.m the night crew arrives and works until daybreak, when the morning staff returns and the cycle begins again.

The customers span a wide age range, from young children to adolescents and adults. Most of the MHT staff is younger, in their 20’s, with a few 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings sprinkled through. They’ve all worked long, hard hours, through holidays, weekends, on-call and standby shifts, dealing with autism, severe mood swings, bipolar behavior, aggression, low functioning, bickering between the residents and much more. There’s never any shortage of drama.

It’s a very human environment – the philosophy of care at NDA rejects straightjackets and locked rooms. Patients enter a scheduled, structured program with strict rules, and the staff begins with five days of intense training on how to handle everyday business and emergencies. People who have been at NDA for several years have developed a special bond that comes from working together through tough situations.

What makes NDA stand out for the patients is the ability to talk to nearly everyone. Some of them have been placed in hearing psychiatric care before, where the communication abilities of the staff are limited. This often leads to endless frustration.

At NDA, it’s a different story – there are plenty of people they can talk to, work with, vent their angst, and learn to trust. This is a big deal for people who have been insulted and treated poorly in other places. Still, building that trust takes time – sometimes years.

It’s also a big deal for deaf staff to earn a living working with many other deaf employees. There are not many such places. NDA is just north of Orlando, Florida, so it attracts people with good climate, an easy drive to the beach and a lower cost of living than much of the nation.

This summer will bring growth, with a new 46-bed building opening for adults. NDA is preparing now by hiring more staff.

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 4:18 pm

To Sue or Not to Sue?

Employment Matters column,

One day during the early 90s at a large Washington, DC courthouse, I was suddenly seized without warning by three burly policemen.

My first reaction was astonishment, and the second was fury. I had been minding my own business, doing nothing wrong – who were these people to grab me? – and began fighting to break free. Not a good idea.

As we struggled, I screamed “I’M HEARING IMPAIRED, DAMNIT!” I would have said I’M DEAF, but I remember thinking they wouldn’t believe me if I was screaming it. And ‘hearing impaired’ was the fashionable phrase among hearing people at the time, so I said what I thought they would understand.

They slapped me in handcuffs and left me standing alone in the lobby, angry and humiliated. Eventually they walked me outside, and a lawyer who witnessed the whole spectacle stuffed his card in my shirt pocket and urged me to contact him later. I was taken away in a squad car and driven to a nearby police station. They emptied my pockets – wallet, lawyer’s card, keys – and locked me in an empty cell. I remained there for 45 minutes before someone came around to interview me. I had plenty of time to think about that lawyer’s card.

The interviewer took down basic identification info, then I explained what happened from my point of view. The interviewer went away for another half hour, returned, opened the cell, gave me my belongings and said, “You’re free to go.”

Huh? I started asking questions. Why had I been seized and taken to jail?

Here’s what happened. I’d gone into the courthouse because I was having trouble locating a building nearby, and the courthouse has an information desk. I wrote a note to the clerk asking for directions to the building, and she very kindly wrote out detailed instructions and drew a small map. I thanked her, turned to leave the building, and glanced up to locate the exit. I spotted it, then returned my attention to the note she gave me as I continued walking. I was nearing the exit when I was grabbed.

Turns out, the police had asked me to stop before I reached the door, but of course I didn’t hear them. They asked again, more insistently, and I kept going. They were working security at a major courthouse, and part of their job is to make sure that none of the assorted criminals there for trial slip away. When they asked me to stop, I – from their point of view – ignored them. So they assumed I was trying to sneak out.

As you might expect, they deal with a lot of people who will lie from sunup to sundown, so nothing I said to them was to be believed. They had to check me out. That’s why I was taken to the police station and held there while they gathered facts and checked out my story. When they discovered I was who I said I was and was doing what I said I was doing, they released me, with no record of arrest.

So I was free again. But I had another question that remained unanswered. I had the lawyer’s card. Should I sue or not? Wrongly arrested, held in handcuffs, imprisoned – all this just for seeking directions?

I mulled it over for a while. I knew there might be money in it, and that was tempting, but in the end I recognized that a lawsuit made no sense – the police were just doing their jobs.

They didn’t, and couldn’t know at that moment that I was deaf. They didn’t, and couldn’t know that I was honest. As soon as they did, they explained what happened and I was free. I took it as a lesson – where police are around, keep your eyes open and pay attention. It also gave me a new appreciation for how easy it is for encounters between deaf citizens and police to go badly. These misunderstandings can be, and sometimes are, deadly.

Conflict between deaf employees and hearing employers is seldom deadly, but it does frequently raise the same question I considered – to sue, or not to sue? There is no simple answer, because every situation is different.

Whatever business they are in, the first priority of private employers is earning a profit. If they don’t, of course, they’re out of business – and so are their employees. Their focus is on increasing income and avoiding costs. When they see deaf applicants and workers, their fear is that the worker will become more of a cost than a source of income. The costs come in the form of accommodations – interpreters, fire signaling gear, TTYs or videoconferencing equipment.

These fears are fed by headlines of lawsuits by deaf workers against their employers. Just last year, there was a jury trial in Baltimore that ended with a $108,000 award to a deaf employee of FedEx, following their refusal to provide him with an interpreter. That case was pursued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the government went to bat for the employee.

Then there’s the huge ten million dollar settlement of a class action lawsuit by over 1,000 current and former employees of United Parcel Service four years ago. This case was also about interpreters, and UPS agreed to provide them going forward.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court considered Tennessee vs. Lane, a case that determined whether disabled people should even be allowed to sue a state government. They decided yes, they should – but the decision was very narrow, with 5 justices in favor and 4 opposed. Just one person, and one vote – by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – marked the difference between our being locked out of court or having a day in it.

Some employers see these stories and many more like them, and see deaf applicants as lawsuits waiting to happen. This, of course, just makes it harder for deaf people to find good jobs.

On the other hand, we know that with reasonable and affordable accommodations, deaf workers can be effective and productive employees. It falls on us to make this clear to employers. There will always be some situations where it will take a lawsuit to convince. But before we get to that point, the responsible approach is to work through alternatives first. The National Association of the Deaf recognizes this, and has published a clear guide for employers.

It lays out what is needed, and notes that employers can deduct the cost of accommodations, and maybe qualify for special tax credits to help reduce the cost of reasonable accommodations. This makes the whole cost issue much easier to deal with, and if employers openly worry about a lawsuit, it’s worth pointing out that providing reasonable accommodations in the beginning is the best defense against a lawsuit ever happening.

When we are faced with a stubborn employer who balks at providing interpreters and other essential accommodations, it’s reasonable and natural to get upset. It’s also human nature to be tempted by the prospect of a big score through a lawsuit. But we need to keep in mind the job prospects for other deaf workers. We are all in this together – how we deal with the accommodations issue will affect everyone in the deaf community.

Yes, the UPS settlement created better conditions at UPS for deaf employees, and that’s an important win. It also undoubtedly created a ripple effect that scared other employers. You may meet some of them someday. When you do, tread carefully. Professionally request accommodations, discuss, negotiate. If all responsible approaches fail, then fight, but more in sorrow than in anger. Lawsuits are an important tool, but they should be a last resort.

Our final goal is to treated as equal and work as equal – because we are equal.

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 4:01 pm

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Employment Matters column,

There was a time when deaf employment thundered. Literally – it vibrated and shook, rattled the walls and drove away the timid. And the deaf employees? They were a mob of ink-stained wretches, in the fond phrase of the era. They ran the printing presses, some of which were a big as a small house. In a time before the Net, forests fell and their trees were fed into the maw of enormous machines that required careful, skilled attention.

They were an elite, the men who worked these mechanical beasts. They understood the clanking monsters, knew their temperamental ways. They maintained the subtle balance of tension and pressure needed to apply ink to vast sheets of paper hour after hour, day after day, year after year. They were an essential part of what made every American newspaper a “daily miracle”.

The San Francisco Chronicle had as many as 60 deaf printers producing the paper.

Gary Hendrix and his brother Richard worked there and at the SF Examiner for 37 years, as their father did. Many of their hearing colleagues learned sign language to communicate. One of their co-workers, Doug Floyd, said of 38 years in the pressroom: “It was a total brotherhood.”

In a time when deaf people didn’t get much respect, deaf printers did. In a time when many deaf workers earned meager wages, if any wages at all, deaf printers walked tall with satisfying, regular paychecks.

Many were International Typographical Union members and earned more than teachers. They were living proof of a can-do ethic, of intelligence, ability, and professional reliability.

Some, like Edwin Hodgson, worked hard to share their knowledge and good fortune – he became a printing instructor, making it possible for more deaf printers to earn a living wage, and went on to become a president at the National Association of the Deaf.

That era is gone. The rolling roar of giant mechanical printing presses has muted, and the work is now highly automated. Collections of metal type have been replaced by the mouse and keyboard.

We are no longer slaves to the machines. We are now masters of the Net.

Deaf employment no longer relies on a few narrow professions where hearing workers are at a disadvantage. We are no longer tied down to a single work location. With our pagers, computers, cars and commercial airline service, we have grown wings. We can choose to go where the work is or have the work come to us. Our eyes extend as far as our VRS videophones can take us – which is to say, nearly anywhere.

Where our grandfathers worked in the service of publishers, we ourselves are publishers, with our thoughts available online instantly, for all the world to see. Not only that – we can choose to publish in print, or in sign. The age of the video blog is upon us.

The visibility of ASL is greater now, the appreciation of its grace and expression more widespread. This is opening doors everywhere.

Deaf children today see deaf adults working far beyond the old, limited vocations. We have spread into every area – law, education, insurance, real estate, health care, entertainment, travel and much, much more. For decades, the deaf community has moved forward and upward, gaining speed on the twin engines of education and technology.

Our progress has not always been obvious on a daily basis, so we might not realize just how far we’ve traveled without a brief look back.

We still grump – justifiably – about underemployment. We still lament the quality of deaf education, and there’s plenty of room for improvement. But we have not been shy about protesting when we demand better. Discrimination, confusion, ignorance, even hostility – all these familiar demons remain with us. But deaf professionals are no longer a small, proud pool of ink-stained wretches. They are you and me, breaking new ground as we go about our working lives, preparing a path for the next generation.

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Working With a Dog

Employment Matters column,

Most deaf and hard of hearing people don’t have a hearing ear dog. Never had one myself, never felt I needed one. Then I got accustomed to living with my fiancee’s dog. Her dog was never formally trained as a hearing ear dog, but he just sort of took on the job anyway – and does it very well. It’s really nice to know when someone’s at the door and I’m away in another room, Poppy will tell me about it.

But getting a formally trained hearing ear dog can be long, expensive wait. Many training centers have a variety of conditions, fees, waiting times, and even annual recertification requirements. Some places won’t even let you own the dog – they own it, you merely borrow it. Many of these conditions are created with the best of intentions – they want to ensure the safety of the owner and the good health of the dog. But it also unfortunately means fewer service dogs for people who want them.

If you’ve thought about getting a hearing ear dog, or already have a dog and want to train it, good news – you can do it yourself. It’s not terribly difficult, but it does require a serious investment of time and energy on your part. Be sure you can commit to that before you begin. Think of it this way – your dog is going to school, and you are the teacher!

It’s not all work – treat it as a game you play with the dog. Your dog will enjoy the attention, the training will stretch the dog’s mind, and you’ll develop a much deeper bond with your dog than most people have.

There’s one condition that can be a deal-breaker – your dog’s temperament. Not all dogs are a good fit with the job of alerting you to sounds. Some just don’t have the attention span, or maybe too high-strung to train, or maybe too aggressive to have around the house. If you’ve already got a dog you want to train, you’ll have to use your own judgment here. If you’re not sure your pooch is up to the job, give it a try anyway – you might be surprised.

The most popular way to train a dog, or any other animal, nowadays is through clicker training. To get an idea of what it involves, check out this video of a cat being trained to flip a light switch: There’s about 30 seconds of voice introduction, but the rest of the video is subtitled and the action is clear. This method is used successfully with many different animals – dolphins, horses, chickens, parrots, even fish. It works great with dogs. This system is entirely reward-based – no punishments needed.

You can see that training can go surprisingly fast with some patience, and it’s very simple. You don’t need any fancy or expensive equipment. Just a bag of cheap treats and simple clicker – you can get those here for less than a dollar:

Don’t expect to teach new skills in a single training session. Your pet’s stamina and attention span will likely grow as it becomes accustomed to these strange new games you’re playing. Just take a break once in a while. Once you’ve trained a dog using the clicker, you can lose the clicker and switch to your own commands – signs, voice, whatever works for you. Practice once in a while until the dog understands the routine and knows what is expected. Training like this sticks, even for years afterward.

Start by training the dog to recognize a particular sound, ideally a sound that is always the same. Door knocks are not the best choice to begin with, because people knock doors in different ways. But fire alarms are a good pick – they make the same sound each time they go off. First train the dog to come to you when you click on the clicker. Then train the dog to go to you when the fire alarm sounds off. Start with you and the dog in the same room, then gradually train at greater distances and in different rooms. It becomes fun when the dog “gets it” and understands how the game works.

The big advantage of doing it yourself is clear – once you’ve trained the dog to react to sounds for you, you can take it further and train it for other useful tasks – fetching it’s own leach, bringing in the newspaper, staying off the furniture, or general obedience training. Once you’ve taught the dog some skills, you’ve also learned how to train, so you both benefit. There’s an amazing amount of helpful tips and guides for training available online, on websites, in videos and books. It’s not at all complicated – if you have kids, they can learn how to do this too. You can put your dog to work and have fun at the same time!

Related Links:

Training Standards

DIY Training

Paws to Freedom

Lend Me An Ear

Living with a Hearing Ear Dog

Life with a Hearing Ear Dog

DIY Basic Sound Training

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Summer & the Single Working Parent

Employment Matters column,

“Summer’s here…
Well, I’m for that
Got my rubber sandals
Got my straw hat
Got my cold beer
Man, I’m glad that it’s here
It’s my favorite time of the year
And I’m glad that it’s here…Yeah!”

– James Taylor, Summer’s Here

The lazy days of summer are the favorite of millions, especially schoolchildren. For the single working parent, however, summer isn’t always the stress reliever it is for others. It can be a scary time for parents with young children who are caught between a limited budget and the necessity of working while the kids are out of school. Someone has to earn money, and someone has to watch the kids, and few single parents can do both at the same time.

Parents naturally want to ensure their children’s safety and well-being, but this is tough to do while away at a job. It’s a lot easier when help is available from trusted family and friends. But when that’s not an option, where can the single working parent turn?

There’s an old saying – “an idle mind is the devil’s playground”. The idea behind this idiom is that when people are bored and have plenty of time, there are more opportunities to get into some sort of trouble. This is especially true with kids. There’s another saying – “when the cat’s away, the mice will play” – and when Mom or Dad are away, kids can be tempted to experiment with ideas they know their parents wouldn’t approve.

Keeping young minds focused on something positive and interesting is vital to keeping them out of trouble. Doing that on the kind of tight budget common among single working parents is a real challenge. What to do?

One fix is to network with other single parents, ideally someone who has a different work schedule than your own. You trade off watching the kids while the other works. That’s not enough, by itself- you also need assurance you’re dealing with someone who is dependable and trustworthy. You could trust your gut, or you could ask for referrals from their co-workers or supervisor.

Another possibility – check out This is a good starting point for finding established local child care services – and possibly some useful resources to help pay for it.

While you’re thinking about the expense, think about tax breaks, too – in America, there’s a good chance you qualify for the child-care tax credit. This deal can net you up to $3,000 to help cover day-care costs for one child, and up to $6,000 for two or more children. You can find out more about it here.

Could you use a guide on how to interview a babysitter?

Children mature at different speeds. You’ve probably met a few kids who seem surprisingly wise and mature beyond their years, and some older kids you wouldn’t trust alone more than 5 minutes. If you’re one of the lucky parents who have Yoda children and you’re wondering if leaving them home alone is an option, a good rule of thumb is that no child should be home alone if they are under 12.

Give some thought to activities for the kids beyond the classic choices of videogames and movies. TV is like visual crack – once addicted, it’s hard to wean the kids off it and get them interested in something else.

Get them outside if you can. Gardening is a good bet if you have some yard space, especially if you let on that there are all sorts of creepy (but generally harmless to people) crawlies that are drawn to gardens. (This will repel some kids and attract others.) You can also point out the fun of growing watermelon, strawberries and other summer foods right at home. Living in an apartment? You can still do flowers on the porch and in the windows.

Another idea – astronomy. You don’t even need a telescope. With a few library books and their eyes, a kid can learn their way around the night sky, and if they really get into it, binoculars are a low-cost addition to the hobby.

And another – biking. This is a good habit to encourage early – bikes can become a tool for healthy living for the rest of a child’s life, as well as a source of great fun and a way to get around without driving up your gas expenses.

The problem of keeping children happy, engaged and safe during the summer months affects all single parents – hearing, deaf and hard of hearing. This is one area where we’re all in it together.

More Resources

National Child Care Information Center

The Afterschool Alliance

The Administration for Children & Families

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 12:16 pm

A Smart Way to Learn

Employment Matters column,

I always have trouble remembering three things: faces, names, and – I can’t remember what the third thing is.

– Fred Allen

Memory is a mysterious thing. You’ve probably had the experience where you can easily remember something that’s not important, like the score of a ballgame you saw 5 years ago. But you’ll forget things that are very important, like where you left your car keys, or the name of someone you’ve known for years. It’s maddening sometimes.

Why does this happen? Your mind must sort through a lot of information every day, and some things just aren’t worth remembering. For example, if you walk your dog around the block every day, you’ve probably seen every crack on the sidewalks – but you don’t need to remember the exact location of each one. It’s not that important. Your mind must forget, or you will drown in useless details. Sometimes the important stuff isn’t reinforced often enough for you to remember it well.

Scientists who study memory know there is a pattern to human memory and forgetting. One man from Poland – Piotr Wozniak – wanted to develop a way to predict the pattern of forgetting. This pattern is not exactly the same for everyone, of course. Some people have better memories than others. If it’s possible to know when you will forget something, then remind you just before you forget, you will remember. Piotr found a way to do it.

His solution is a computer program that works like smart flashcards. Ever used flashcards to learn something? Someone holds up a card with a question on it, and the answer is on the other side. You work together through a stack of cards, and try to remember the answer on each card. Do it again, and again, and again, and it helps you remember.

But remembering this way eats up a lot of time. Suppose you could score each card. Let’s say there’s one card you don’t need anymore because it’s easy – the answer comes to you immediately every time you see it. You score that card 5. Then there’s another card – you can never remember the answer. You score that card 0. And so it goes – you work through the cards and score each one on a scale of 0 to 5, according to how hard it is for you.

This is how smart flashcards work. You use a simple computer program that keeps track of how you score the cards. Stuff you’ve already memorized is shown less often. Stuff you can’t remember is shown to you repeatedly until you start scoring it higher. The higher you score a card, the less often you need to see it.

This speeds up your ability to remember. Smart flashcards know what you haven’t memorized yet, and they know what you already know, so they don’t waste your time showing it again.

Piotr’s program for creating smart flashcards is called SmartMemo, and it’s very popular among students learning foreign languages. SuperMemo has inspired an whole new category of similar programs called spaced repetition software. Some of them support the use of photos and video, so it’s possible to develop one for learning ASL.

Smart flashcards are very powerful – the real beauty of this kind of memorization aid is that you can customize it, make it work for you. It can remind you about anything you want to learn. It’s not the best tool for reminding you to pick up more milk and bread the next time you’re out shopping – write yourself a reminder for that – but the uses for students are obvious. I wish I’d had a tool like this when I was learning algebra. You can demolish exam anxiety with smart flashcards.

You want to memorize great jokes? Smart flashcards can make it happen. Do you want to remember certain birthdays and – pay attention, guys – anniversaries? Smart flashcards can make you smarter. Do you want to memorize the recipe for that incredible spaghetti sauce? Smart flashcards can make you look like a genius in the kitchen.

You’re in the driver’s seat – you decide what you want to learn, and smart flashcard programs will work with you until you’ve memorized what you need to know. It’s not a teacher – it can’t explain things you don’t understand – but with a little investment of time, it can help you remember what you do understand. That can make your work and everyday life a lot smoother.

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 12:15 pm

A Generation of Pioneers

Employment Matters column,

There’s an interesting pattern among minority groups. Whether the minority is a cultural, racial, sexual, or other group, they all share a constant tension with the majority culture. Living in the minority and dealing with majority culture is never easy, and that pressure often prompts minority groups to be more creative. Minority groups, with fewer people and less money, must come up with ways to do more with less.

That’s certainly true within the deaf community. In the political area, we must compete with other groups to get funding for services like captioning and videophones. That effort has clearly been successful in the U.S., and the American model is now being copied in other countries, notably Canada.

Deaf political activism in national politics has never been greater, with deaf bloggers attending the Democratic convention this year and Deaf Republicans maintaining their own blog. Deaf environmental activism? Check out EcoDeaf.

We have seen amazing innovations in deaf-related media. You’re enjoying one of them now, as you watch this videoblog. Want more? Discussion forums like DeafRead and DeafVideo.TV didn’t even exist 3 years ago.

Deaf filmmakers like D-Pan, Mosdeux and their upcoming Deaf Family show, Julia Dameron and Ann Marie “Jade” Bryan are producing professional work, showcased at deaf film festivals all over the country. Jed and Joel Barrish at DeafNation are touring the world and taking their deaf audience along with them.

There’s innovation in deaf education too – this fall the Las Vegas charter school opens for deaf and hard of hearing students from kindergarten through 3rd grade. The school supports the “bi-bi” approach – bilingual, bicultural – to promote excellence in both ASL and English.

These things don’t just happen by themselves. Each creative effort has a driving force – sometimes it’s a single person and sometimes it’s a team, but what is clear is the deaf community is pulling together creative energies and making things happen.

Deaf leaders have always been with us, and their numbers are growing. Deaf professionals are working at NASA, buying and selling real estate, providing financial services, serving as doctors and nurses. Every Deaf Expo is filled with deaf-owned and operated businesses.

This growth of exciting new ideas demonstrates the vitality of the deaf and hard of hearing community. We are moving forward, experimenting with new technologies and new solutions.

We’ve done this before. An earlier generation seized on surplus TTY machines to build a communication network that served deaf and hard of hearing people in a world dominated by voice phones.

This generation’s pioneers are building on the foundations of past pioneers, and creating new ground for the next generation. The technologies we enjoy are tools, but we in the community are more important than the tools. It’s what we do with them that counts. We are building.

While our progress so far has been amazing, there’s still work to be done. But there are deaf and hard of hearing people ready to answer the call of challenge with impressive, can-do accomplishments.

Related Links:



DNC 2008 – The Deaf Perspective

Deaf Republicans

Deaf Video TV

Julia Dameron

Jade Films



Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 1:20 am

Major Decisions

Employment Matters column,

If you’re thinking about college or already there, then you know that choosing your major is a big deal. This is one of those choices that can affect the rest of your life.

If you haven’t already thought long and deep about this, start now. You need to think about what you want, what you enjoy, and what you do well. Those are things worth thinking about even if you’re not choosing a major.

Money? Yeah, you’ll need to think about that too. College isn’t cheap, and if you’re borrowing to pay for it, you’ll be paying for those loans years after graduation. But don’t let money become the main driver for your decision. It’s a critical factor, but doing something you enjoy is a critical factor too. It’s been said many times, and remains true – when you do something you really love, you’ll never work another day in your life.

You’ll likely be working at something, so the question is – will you be happier doing something genuinely fun 8 hours every weekday, or will you trade that pleasure for something less enjoyable but pays better?

Many people opt to compromise, because they have or acquire responsibilities that demand more money – things like buying a house, getting married, raising children.

Keep in mind that when you work at something you like so much, you’d do it for free, it’s a reasonable bet you’ll become very good at it – and being the best can lead to better income. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who just happen to like doing something that pays well.

You can gather all the information and advice in the world – from your family, your academic advisor, mentors, friends, your own research – but in the end, the decision is yours to make. It’s your life, your path, your future. Where to start?

Start by gathering experience. One of the life’s little surprises is that there are times when something you thought you liked isn’t quite as much fun as you imagined. It works the other way, too – work you never thought would interest you unexpectedly rocks your world. The only way to find out whether your expectations and reality match is to get out in the field and actually do some of the work.

So how do you make that happen? You take an entry-level job in the field(s) you’re thinking about and get to know people who are doing the kind of work you want. Ask questions. Ask for opportunities to help. Get your hands dirty – there is no substitute for real-world experience, actually doing the work.

You won’t be able to actually do some things you might do in a career. If you aspire to become a dentist, nobody is going to just hand you a drill, point you to a patient and invite you to do a root canal. But you might train as a dental assistant, see how it’s done, and get a sense of whether that works for you before getting a full degree

Or find a friendly dentist and pick his or her brain to learn more about the work, get a feel for what the job is like – the good and the bad. Hands-on experience and inside information is worth a year of classes.

You can get this experience through internships or by seeking out part-time work on your own. If the extra work helps pay for college, that’s even better – you get training, experience, and less debt all at once.

Choosing a major mixes expectations, personal interests, personal abilities, budget, and that little extra detail – the rest of your life. No pressure. Just give it a lot of thought.

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 1:08 am

Major Considerations

Employment Matters column,

A recent column discussed the importance of getting hands-on experience when choosing your major. There’s no better guide than real-world experience when you’re trying to sort out what to do with your life.

But there are other questions to consider too – How much will your choice of degree cost? Can you afford it? Will your post-education income be enough to pay back your student loans?

Which industries are thriving or dying? Which majors are popular – and why? What about average pay, benefits, working locations, and working conditions? There are many different factors involved, and the only person who knows what’s most important to you is… you.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has a few things to say about degree choices. Their numbers for 2008 show that business degrees are by far one of the most popular degrees, with about 325,000 business degrees awarded. Clearly, most graduates are following the money. Business degrees have topped the list for at least 15 years, and have seen significant growth over that time.

Next up are degrees in social science and history. These degrees are favorites among people interested in government work and personal service jobs. Approximately 160,000 were awarded last year – not quite half the number of business degrees. But the popularity of this field has jumped over the last 3 years.

Another people-oriented field, education, comes in third at about 115,000 degrees provided. It has seen very little growth, remaining close to that number since 1995.

Then there are several fields that all attract about the same number of degree awards; psychology, health, engineering, communications, biology.

At the bottom, we have performing arts, communications and computers. Fewer degrees for the performing arts field is understandable – it’s an area demanding talents that not everyone has, and some of those skills are as much a matter of temperament as training.

The lack of popularity for communications and computer degrees is puzzling. You’d expect that the explosion of communications technology and computers tied to the development of the Internet would create much more interest. But this sector was burned by the crash in 2000, and hasn’t fully recovered since.

Here’s another interesting fact – many more bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women than men.

In 2008, men collected 630,600 four-year degrees, while women took home 854,642. Women are outhustling men by 26% in the four-year degree game. Better pick up your feet, guys.

What about Master’s degrees? Women are on top there, too, with 356,169. Men lag with 237,896. That’s a 33% difference, fellas. You’re looking like slackers.

Doctoral degrees are more evenly matched, with 28,634 for men, 27,433 for women.

Then there are costs. The most recent numbers the NCES has for annual tuition are from 2006-2007, and here’s how they average.

For public colleges and universities, you save big – like $8,000 a year big – if you’re a resident in the state of the school you attend.

If you live on campus as a state resident, the average annual tuition is $15,147. If you multiply that number by 4, you’ll get a rough estimate of your total cost to earn a degree. In this case, it adds up to $60,588.

That stunned feeling you’re experiencing now is called sticker shock. But it gets worse. Average tuition costs rose 5.3 percent over the previous year. That trend is expected to continue and could easily accelerate.

Just for fun, let’s suppose your average annual tuition cost rises only 5% each year. Say your first year costs $15,147. Year two will cost $15,904. Year 3 costs $16,700. Your senior year will be $17,535. Add it all up: $65,286.

That’s called inflation. It hurts. Keep in mind, these numbers do not include transportation. If you want to have a car during your college years, that’s extra.

If you’re an out of state student, your average annual tuition begins at $22,928. Big difference!

Let’s go back to your in-state public school. If you live off campus, your average annual tuition begins at $16,708, basically because your housing costs will be higher. But what if you live at home with your family? Your savings are huge – average cost falls to $9,427 a year.

If you’re thinking private college, you’ll need more – over 28K a year living on campus, 27K (actually lower) off campus, and about 20K if you live at home with family while attending college.

Remember too that these are averages, and they’re nearly 3 years old. Current annual tuitions may be higher or lower depending on the school you choose.

These are intimidating numbers for anyone who doesn’t have a fat inheritance. If you have no choice but to finance this with an 8% student loan, you’ve got a lot to think about.

Now you know why most graduates are following the money and pursuing business degrees.

Related Links:

Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary

National Center for Education Statistics Fast Facts

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 1:06 am

The ASL Renaissance

Employment Matters column,

About 10,000 years ago, there was a radical change in the way people lived. Before then, we had to chase down our food or gather local wild plants wherever we happened to be. When animals migrated, people followed – they stayed close to the food.

But eventually we learned to grow our own food, and do it on a scale large enough to support settled communities. People began to gather in villages, towns and cities instead of moving around constantly. This meant more people living together and communicating with each other.

The earliest forms of writing appeared in the Middle East, and focused mostly on food – counting it, trading it, keeping track of who owned it. For centuries, all writing was done by hand, and of course we still teach children how to write in our schools today. Reading and writing was once a skill reserved for kings, church leaders and the rich. Today, any schoolchild can learn how to do it.

The Chinese were the first to develop ways of printing. 500 years ago a German man created a machine for printing books. It was a crude machine by today’s standards, but it was a major revolution at the time – it was technology that would truly change the world.

The ability to print books and distribute them far and wide led to an explosion of new ideas and the exchange of ideas. This explosion was called the Renaissance in Europe, and the effects of that explosion are still felt today. It did a lot to promote an idea we’re still exploring – we call it democracy.

We are, right now, in the middle of another explosion. It seems to be happening in slow motion to us, but from a historical perspective, the last 10 years have done what took centuries before.

When the technology of printed books became available it was still several hundred years before enough people could read and write to support a thriving market for books.

When the Internet opened to the general public, most users were already literate, and thus ready to instantly take advantage of the Net’s power. Today we take it for granted that a blog published on the other side of the world just minutes ago is available to us immediately. We forget what an amazing achievement that is.

There is still another, smaller explosion, but one closer to our personal experience – the growth of ASL’s “written” form, recorded and live ASL. It’s been available in video for years through videocameras and televisions, but the quality has gone up as cost has come downand the Net has made sharing video easier than printing. We are now floating in an ocean of ASL on video, and this new ocean is growing wider and deeper by the day.

For the Deaf community, this change is every bit as powerful as the development of printed books was for medieval Europe. The success of ASL discussion forums and the vigorous debates we see there echo the vibrant discussions sparked by expanding access to books hundreds of years ago.

We are lucky to be alive at this time, witness to the birth of videophones and ASL online. It is changing our present, it is changing our future, and it is changing us.

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 1:00 am