We’re often tempted to put people into categories based on our presumptions. Not only can this be wrong from an ethical sense, it can also sometimes just make us look silly. This is because human nature is such that people are bound to surprise us.
While deafness is legally defined in the US as a disability, one quick riffle through the history books will show you that it’s often anything but.
Thomas Edison considered his partial deafness to be a blessing, as it gave him an excuse to talk less and work more. Ludwig van Beethoven is famous for literally being a completely deaf music composer. I know—it sounds impossible.
So, as we take a look at the jobs that deaf people are usually unable to perform (and the reasons why), one theme should begin to shine through clearly: there are surprisingly few of them.
What Actually Prevents Deaf People From Working?
On the surface, this may seem like a stupid question—if you have a job where you need to hear, and you can’t hear, you can’t do the job. Simple, right?
Yes, but it turns out that hearing-related job disqualifications fall into two main categories, which we’ll cover individually: safety issues, and competence issues.
As they say, “safety first”—so we’ll begin by tackling the problem of job safety for deaf workers.
It’s just a fact that there are certain jobs where a lack of total sensory awareness could get someone seriously injured, or even killed.
- Construction workers who can hear perfectly often have close calls when cranes are swinging around multi-ton metal beams and excavator drivers glance down at an incoming text. Ask anyone who’s been a laborer for long enough, and chances are they’ll have a story (or two, or five, or 10) to tell you. So while it’s not unheard of for deaf people to be hired for some select construction jobs, their applications can be somewhat limited, and hiring deaf general laborers for major construction sites would pose a significant hazard.
- Any job that deals directly with people or environments that are inherently dangerous usually cannot be performed by deaf people. For example: police officers, firefighters, and FBI field agents simply must be able to hear. All of these professions come with immense responsibility and ample life-threatening situations. To employ a deaf person in one of these jobs would result in unnecessary danger both to the deaf person and to the people they would have a duty to protect.
- Seafaring is an industry similar to construction, in that there’s often a lot of heavy equipment being moved around very quickly. Working on a ship or a boat as a deaf person would be tough, as full sensory awareness (and sometimes especially hearing!) could be the difference between getting home safely and being knocked over the side and into the ocean.
As mentioned earlier, people are always bound to surprise us. Here are a number of exceptions to the points raised above:
- Within the wider construction industry, deaf people are often unable to perform the many menial jobs, but easily able to excel in some more lucrative areas, like architecture, engineering, electrical work, and plumbing.
- While it’s nearly unheard of (emphasis on nearly) for a deaf person to become a bona fide police officer or FBI agent, there are some roles within these general fields that are open to deaf people, such as accounting or volunteering.
Suppose we take safety out of the equation. If you’re working at a desk, you’re not going to get hit by a forklift or mugged by a thug, right? Right—but there’s more to it than that.
Jobs that involve significant customer or employee communication can pose substantial problems for deaf people.
- Clerks, receptionists, and customer service reps almost always need to be able to hear. For all of these jobs, a lack of effective communication won’t just decrease company efficiency—it will actually negatively affect the company’s image. As a result, deaf people can rarely land jobs that involve dealing with customers.
- Air and rail traffic controllers don’t deal with customers, but communication is an integral part of their work. Unfortunately, much of that communication is still relatively old fashioned; think walkie-talkies. For these jobs, inability to hear could result in some serious safety concerns for others.
- While this could arguably be placed under the “Safety Issues” section above, pilots cannot be deaf. The reason here should be quite obvious: just like air and rail traffic controllers, pilots rely heavily on audio-only communication. And when you’re hurtling through the sky in a 400,000 lb steel tube, communication is key.
Just like we saw in the “Safety Issues” section, deaf people are always able to find ways around restrictions:
- With the continual enhancing of technology, customer service jobs are becoming increasingly text-based, via live chats and email. As long as phone conversations are off the table, deaf people are easily able to provide top-notch customer service.
- The FAA allows partially deaf people to become commercial pilots. It’s highly unlikely for completely deaf people to be hired by major commercial airlines, but they can still obtain their pilot’s licenses and fly on special occasions.
Laws for Hiring Deaf People
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) set in motion some revolutionary requirements for hiring employers, to the great benefit of deaf or otherwise disabled people.
Put simply, it’s illegal for an employer to reject a job application simply because the applicant is deaf or hard of hearing. Imagine you’re going through a stack of resumes, and you see one from a deaf person. You immediately put it at the bottom of the pile, for no safety-related or competence-related reason. This is not okay.
On the other hand, the ADA can’t force you to hire someone who will be a safety hazard or who will truly be unable to perform the job for which they’re applying.
Problems in the Workplace for Deaf People
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it’s easy sometimes to put people into categories based on our presumptions. In case you’ve done that with deaf people, you may be surprised to learn that it’s often more than possible to converse with them, even if you don’t know sign language. Many of them can speak perfectly well and read lips.
That said, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. Many deaf people struggle to “blend in” with their coworkers, and even though communication is possible, it’s not always the easiest or most natural.
Of course, the best solution is having coworkers who understand the difficulties associated with deafness and who really care to remedy those difficulties. Aside from that, managers should actively seek to promote healthy workplace environments where all employees, regardless of disabilities or backgrounds, feel safe and included.
What Jobs Can Deaf People Do?
Now that we’ve touched on the jobs that deaf people can’t do, let’s take a look at the opposite. If you’re a deaf person, you really are spoilt for choice here!
Jobs Where Hearing Isn’t Required
For all of the roles below, being deaf or hard of hearing simply makes little or no difference:
• Software developer
• Doctor (certain specialties)
• Data entry clerk
• Online chat support agent
• Many, many more!
Jobs Related to Deafness
Sometimes, being deaf can open up new, exciting opportunities that wouldn’t be available otherwise. Below are roles where deafness or hearing impairment can actually become assets:
• Sign language tutor
• Deaf education teacher
While deafness is legally considered a disability, don’t let that fool you into thinking deaf people can’t pull their own weight.
It’s true that some roles are impossible for deaf people, such as construction worker, law enforcement officer, seafarer, receptionist, traffic controller, and commercial pilot.
But with the exception of potentially dangerous or hearing-based roles like these, deaf people worldwide are able to do much more than just perform the basic functions of most jobs—
They can excel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can deaf people do any job?
Deaf people cannot do any job. Safety and competence concerns make it very difficult for deaf people to become construction laborers, law enforcement officers, receptionists, traffic controllers, and more.
Can you be a doctor or nurse if you’re deaf?
You can absolutely become a doctor or nurse if you’re deaf, though the process comes with some pretty significant challenges. Graduating medical school will be much more difficult for a deaf person, and special equipment may be required to remedy hearing difficulties (such as visual stethoscopes).
Can a deaf person be denied a job?
A deaf person can be denied a job, but not on the basis of deafness alone—that’s illegal. On the other hand, if the applicant’s deafness poses any serious safety or competence issues, an employer is legally allowed to deny them a job.
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