Accommodations and Job Interviews

While I was reading comment posted in the discussion board for deaf and hard of hearing professionals, I came across on where one individual asked the other members “When applying for a new job and scheduling a phone interview. Do you tell the interviewer up front that you are hard of hearing or do you attempt to go through the interview with the call without informing them?”

For me, I’ve always been frank about my being a deafened person and the need for sign language interpreters during interviews. My own experiences are different from the norm as work in the field of diversity and inclusion.

Nevertheless, I understand why other people in the hearing loss community (i.e. deaf, deafened and those with varying levels of hearing loss) may feel very reluctant to request interpreter service, Video Relay, Communication Access Real-time Translation for an interview. After all, jobseekers with disabilities are often advised to avoid mention that they have a differing condition when applying for jobs. This is out of a concern that if the disability is made known, it becomes a screening metric that eliminates them from competition.

This concern is a valid one. There has been tons of research that shows that stereotypes about disabilities can influence recruiters and hiring managers if the condition is known at the application stage. In fact, I once designed and lead a (successful) positive measures program to counteract this bias while employed with a large financial institution.

Although I believe that people with disabilities should not mention their conditions in the application, it’s for a different reason. When applying for a job, the cover letter or resume should only focus on the match between the candidate’s skills to the job requirements. In those documents, any space that is not used towards selling the candidate’s skills only sells the individual short.

The whole world changes when a job candidate is contacted by an employer to do a telephone pre-screen or invited to an invited to job interview. At this point the employer has determined that the applicant has the necessary skills, at least on paper, to do the job. The telephone pre-screen is meant to confirm the documents validity and the initial interview is intended to find out how well the candidate performed in the past. For this reason concealment of a disability or failing to request accommodations can prove to be fatal to the candidacy of someone with hearing loss or deafness.

Consider the communicative nature of job interviews. Candidate must be able to effectively respond to interviewer’s questions. This means that candidates with hearing loss or deafness who try to ‘pass’ when they need some sort of accommodation only places them a severe disadvantage.
Ways that passing can hurt a candidate’s chances include:

      – having to frequently ask interviewers to repeat themselves forces them to do most of the talking instead of listening for examples of the skills being offered to the company. This could come across as being less capable than the other candidates; and

– the question heard might actually be one quite different than what the interview posed, which means that the candidate could lose points for not providing the right example.

Either way, the candidate will have wasted a good part of the limited time available during a 50 minute job interview (or 30 minute telephone pre-screen) on bluffing and/or trying to comprehend rather that showcasing what they can do for the employer.

Worse yet, passing can result in a loss of leverage if there is a bona fide case of discrimination. On a legal level, candidates who need a disability-related accommodations but fail to request they are provided during the interview will have no recourse should they be eliminated from the competition for reasons other than those based on skills and experience. They have given a discriminating company a “get out of jail free” card that the legal system will honour because the employer can claim that they did all that they could do to ensure fairness.

So what are job applicants supposed to do? The answer is simple. Job applicants who have a hearing loss or are deaf should always request the accommodation they need when invited to an interview. In cases involving a telephone pre-screen, ask that the conversation is postponed till the necessary accommodations are provided. This will ensure that the supports are in place for both parties to be fully engaged while assessing the candidate’s potential to join the company.

One must be aware that requesting disability-related accommodations that, sometimes, employers may eliminate candidates who request accommodations. It’s an unfortunate fact that there are still plenty of jerk employers out the community. But having an interview invitation withdrawn after requesting an accommodation gives the candidate evidence that an act of discrimination had occurred, which is the basis of a human right complaint and/or other legal recourses.

Regardless, the risk of encountering a discriminating employer should never make on fear asking for accommodations because having the supports in place is the only way you can give yourself a fair chance at landing a job.



Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in post is my own and do not claim that it reflect that of my current employer.