Olivier Jeannel: My three tips on how deaf people can become independent in their careers

Posted on October 7, 2016

We have a problem. Deaf people have a problem with the job market.

The problem is that we’re trying to fit into a mould that’s not been designed for us.

At most jobs, you’re expected to attend meetings, hold conference calls, take notes, catch up on office politics at the coffee machine, and other impossible stuff for people who don’t rely on hearing to communicate.

The statistics are frightening. Across different political and social systems, whether it’s the counter-productive welfare handouts model such as we see in France, or the more developed inclusive accessibility model that we see in the US, the figures are roughly the same. Unemployment is two to three times higher for people with severe to total hearing loss.

There isn’t a magic wand that will solve that. But I can share my 3 tips to unleashing your superpowers.

The job market doesn’t think you’re any good? Let’s show them what we’re capable of. Entrepreneurship is the #underdog path towards success.

  1. Be yourself

Changing mentalities is probably the single most powerful tool that we have. As I explained once during a TED talk, sometimes all it takes to change mentalities is to start changing words.

In my close circle I still have people who mention that I “suffer from hearing loss” or that I have “an auditory impairment”. I make sure I tell people that I’m feeling great, and yes I’m deaf. Period.

Communication often defines identity and belonging, and many persons I know with severe to total hearing loss have often felt “in limbo” in defining their place in the world.

If you can accept that there is no such thing as “normal” in the world, and accept that we’re all “different”, you’ll be much more comfortable in your own skin. And once you accept yourself, and how you prefer to communicate — be it sign language, cued speech, or lip-reading — then it will be easier for you to find your place, and for others to accept you.

2. Develop your skills

I recently read a story shared by my favorite blog The Limping Chicken. Grace is a 24-year-old deaf person living in rural Uganda. In Uganda, deafness is seen as a curse or a shame. She had no job, no skills, and no confidence in herself. When the United Deaf Women’s Organisation visited her village, they decided to train her. She’s now an accomplished tailor, a confident entrepreneur, and the breadwinner of her family.

Any misconceptions her neighbours had about deafness went flying out the window.

Stop looking for acceptance or trying to conform. You’re not them. Start being who you are and doing what you love. And in doing so, you will meet people who accept you.

The 21st century and the Internet have ushered in a fantastic opportunity for deaf people. The screen has become ubiquitous. Communication is done online. The most sought-after jobs are coding and design.

Learn something new. Take up coding class with CodeAcademy like my founding associate did. In France, the first employee I hired took web design courses at Simplon.co. The next employee I hired learnt all about growth hacking at TheFamily. All of these courses and more are FREE.

So now you have no excuse. But only if your work environment fits, that is…

3. Work on your own terms

As a deaf person who is launching a startup in France, I’ve got to say, it’s not easy. But quitting my job is probably the best thing that I could have done.

Communication can be a challenge at the workplace, and deaf people can have a particularly hard time “fitting in”.

First you deal with figuring out if your employer hired you to fill in their disability quotas and cash in on some government compensation.

Then you educate everyone around you that you’re deaf. And no, I don’t communicate the same way as your deaf uncle Albert does. I personally like this part. It’s an opportunity each time to teach something new, learn about each other, and even get a few laughs in. Some organisations such as GoodsToKnow and ADAPT make it their full-time mission to raise awareness about disability at the workplace.

Some deaf people are lucky enough to land a job at a dream company, with super cool coworkers, no boring meetings, and most of the communication taking place face-to-face or online… (if this is you, do you mind sharing your employer’s contact info?)

But after a few years of reminding people at every meeting, or nodding your head cluelessly, and excusing yourself from conference calls, and not catching in on the hallway gossip… it can get tiring to keep up the pretence of “fitting in”.

Or like Grace you can choose to be part of a new work dynamic, on your own terms. As a freelance or an entrepreneur.

“Ok, you convinced me, but I got bills to pay and stuff, man.”

Quit your job.

Seriously. Your government allocates money to you (such as Access to Work and benefits such as DLA/PIP) for being deaf, and employers are desperate to hire qualified people with disabilities to fill their disability quotas.

So give your independence a try, and boost your skills and your confidence. What have you got to lose?

Make a difference. Make yourself proud.

Olivier Jeannel is taking a crack at life as a deaf entrepreneur, is the founder of www.RogerVoice.com, and can be followed on Twitter as: @iwantroger

The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

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