Wouter Thielen: How to improve your position in the job market as a deaf professional

Posted on March 9, 2015

I have a profile on LinkedIn, and from time to time I get approached by recruiters, who sometimes have a pretty interesting offer I’d like to know more about.

As it is a profile to show the best of you, positivity is an important factor, and that is the reason I do not write that I am deaf – which unfortunately has the negative connotation that you can not hear.

However, I add under Languages the fact that I know several sign languages, with “native or bilingual proficiency”. This is one of the examples I’d like to share with you on what to do to improve your position in the job market as a deaf professional.

Wouter Thielen

Wouter Thielen

When a recruiter or a company e-mails you with a request to have a short phone call regarding the job description, try to reply in a positive way.

Do not use words like “can not” or “impossible” as that is a sign to the other side that you have a negative mindset about yourself, even though it is just a factual statement about you. Instead, try to use positive words like “challenge”, e.g.:

As much as I’d like to have a phone call with you, I am deaf, so that would be quite a challenge.

Note that there is no negation in this sentence at all.

You are not Batman. Do not slap your recruiter.

You are not Batman. Do not slap your recruiter.

When the recruiter or company comes back and still shows interest in you, that is a positive sign.

They will probably ask you how to communicate with you in the event that there is a face-to-face meeting and interview.

In this case you should offer them options that would work for you, and certainly do add the most obvious, even though you think they probably don’t know it: sign language.

Assuming that they don’t know sign language is a sign of shortsightedness, and best avoided.

By doing the simple task of offering sign language as an option, you put signing in a positive light, and you will also in fact be helping spread awareness about sign language. And by all means, avoid saying “but you probably don’t know sign language” at the end.

Here is an example of my answer in response to the communication question, which was like: “Apologies for asking a silly question – in the event of a meeting, will we be communicating via typing or speaking, or a combination of these?”:

It is not a silly question, deaf (culture) awareness is unfortunately not a top priority for the majority, but I hope it will be an interesting experience for you. For the meeting, we have a couple of options:

  1. Use sign language. I am fluent in Dutch and Japanese sign language, and a bit of International Sign.
  2. Hire a sign language interpreter. (…)
  3. I can speak and lipread. However, this requires both parties to be familiar with each others speech and lip patterns.
  4. In the case of unfamiliarity, we can try, and write down the parts of communication that didn’t come across.
  5. We type in on a laptop or tablet just to be sure each of us is fully informed.

In most cases it is options 4 and 5, but after a while (e.g. working together) 3 becomes an option, and with the willingness of the other party to learn a sign language, we get to option 1.

Option 2 may require some more explanation as to how to book a sign language interpreter, and discussion about who pays for this service. This depends on the disability law and welfare services offered in your country. However, if you feel confident enough, you are free to skip option 2.

So whenever you are invited for a job interview:

Keep calm and stay positive

… and good luck!

If you have any questions or experiences to share, you can email Wouter at: wouter@morannon.org. He says: “if there is any advice I can give you, I will reply to you personally.”

Wouter Thielen is a trilingual software engineer from the Netherlands, and currently resides in Tokyo, Japan. He mostly writes about software and web development, and from time to time shares some experiences or expresses an opinion as a deaf individual.

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