Deafness as a possible discrimination?

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Deafness as a possible discrimination?

Postby Shawn » Fri Nov 12, 2004 9:34 am


I currently am a first year PhD student in the field of Molecular Biology. I am also deaf and rely on speech-reading to communicate. My language skills are more than adequate; I can have a 2-way communication with most people. However, if the person I am speaking to has a heavy accent or moves their lips in such a way that makes it hard for me to understand, then I have a difficult time engaging in a conversation. Secondly, I have a very difficult time following discussions, as I cannot follow what person A is saying, then focusing across the room to person B, who is then interrupted by person C, and back to person A, etc. I frequently miss the first couple of sentences, and thus, usually the whole dialogue. I do use the services of a person who takes computerized notes of what is happening so that I can be abreast of what is going on. However, that has limitations such as a delay of what is happening (typist hears then types), the typists frequently cannot follow the whole discussion, and that they are expensive. For these reason, I am apprehensive about applying for possible jobs within industry once I finish my PhD studies (or even after a postdoc position). I am quite energetic and am very upfront about my disability, and have a track record to prove that I can function within the research field. However, I am worried about possible discrimination when applying for jobs. What recommendations would you have to improve my chances of obtaining a job within industry and academia?

Thanks very much, Shawn.

Deafness as a possible discrimination?

Postby John Fetzer » Fri Nov 12, 2004 1:03 pm

You may run into bias and prejudice in industry, even in the hiring process. It is illegal, generally, but people are people. As you have learned in your everyday life, some people have stereotypes and react in certain ways. Those in industry are people and you will run into some of that sort. Generally you will not. People may be uncomfortable, at first, with your deafness, but you have learned how to surmount that much of the time.

You may be so adept at this that people do not realize or know of your lack of hearing. This may happen as you ajdust to your workplace and colleagues. They will underestimate ir forget that you cannot hear.

The only legitamate issue is safety. In certain tasks you may not be able to hear something important that happens. Those types of tasks are rare.

I have limited vision and encountered lots of times where this happened, but the little incidents and small people who could not deal with that were minor in my overall career.

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Deafness as a possible discrimination?

Postby Bill L. & Naledi S. » Fri Nov 12, 2004 9:09 pm

Hi Shawn - I contacted someone who has some expertise in this area and will post their advice here when I get that feedback.

And there's a helpful book out there called "Job Hunting for the So-Called Handicapped" by Richard Bolles that deals with how to present yourself in interviews, ADA issues, what to expect the employer to do to accommodate you, how to deal with discrimination, etc.

But along with John's excellent comments, I would add that the best way for you to improve your chances of obtaining a job within industry would be the same advice given so often on this Forum...networking networking networking. If you get involved in a local biotech industry group, or if you pick a lab (for PhD or postdoc or both) where you will get to interact with industry scientists as much as possible, then industry folks will get to know you and your skills and abilities before you're a job applicant, and therefore may reduce the potential for the kind of ignorance that often results in discrimination.

Best wishes --
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Deafness as a possible discrimination?

Postby Dave Jensen » Sat Nov 13, 2004 12:30 pm

Shawn, I know that you will be disciminated against, so let's flat-out admit it. But, I don't think that it will be coming from a nasty mean streak, or the same sort of discrimination which stems from racial prejudice. Instead, you are a more "complicated" hire.

Any hiring manager in the biotech business is burning his or her candle at both ends. I'm serious . . .pressure, pressure, and more pressure. Timelines, shareholder gripes, management meetings, etc. There are too few hours in the day, and ANYTHING that makes one candidate a more difficult hire than another is going to impact that decision. The ideal hire, as John has described it here, is a "plug in" hire where the new employee goes right to work and there are no side issues to solve. In your case, your hire is going to appear to be filled with side issues, and many small company people, while they would like to hire you, will not . . . That is, unless you can make it appear to be less complicated and worth the risk. This will be the development of good marketing materials, examples and references from your past of how you have managed yourself and your work, etc.

Smaller companies will, generally, be less receptive. Larger biotech companies and pharmaceutical companies would be where you might want to place most of your emphasis. As I mentioned, anyone where the hire is more "complicated" is discriminated against.

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"One of the most powerful networking practices is to provide immediate value to a new connection. This means the moment you identify a way to help someone, take action." - Lewis Howes
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