Jobs - Career Choices - Work in Deaf World or Hearing World?

Should I Work In...?

When I was in college, and struggling with my identity - did I belong in the deaf world or in the hearing world - I often thought back to a classic children's story, "The Door in the Wall." That story was about a young boy with a disability, who sought a "door in the wall" that would enable him to fully participate in society. He did find it, but you will have to read the story for yourself to find out how.

As graduation loomed, I faced a choice - work in the deaf world or work in the hearing world? Both have their pros and cons.

If you work in the deaf world, meaning that you work for a deaf organization or a business that serves deaf and hard of hearing people:

  • Your pay may be lower than it would be otherwise.
  • You may find yourself in a political environment.
  • But you don't have to worry about being lonely. There is always someone around you can communicate with. This can be especially helpful during lunch breaks or at events like baby showers, farewell parties, etc.
  • There may be more of a sense of belonging, warmth and camaraderie - after all, everyone else is the same as you, either deaf or a signing hearing person.

If you work in the hearing world, and are the only deaf employee at your company or organization:

  • Your pay may be higher than it would be otherwise.
  • You may have difficulty keeping up with office politics.
  • You may be lonely with no one to join you for lunch.
  • You may have an interpreter for formal meetings, but find yourself struggling without one at office events like baby showers, farewell parties, etc.
  • You may find yourself passing up things like big office parties because of the lack of an interpreter.

    I have experienced both sides. When I was graduating back in 1987, the word was that the Federal government was the place to be because of the large number of deaf employees. So I did the traditional thing at the time - got a government job. It was lonely as I discovered I was the only deaf employee at my agency. I spent many lunch hours at my desk reading the newspaper while hearing co-workers went out together. Only once in a rare while did I enjoy the company of someone else.

    When I left the agency to work for a nonprofit deaf-oriented business while completing my graduate degree, I got a taste of the other side: lower pay and office politics. Communication with supervisors and co-workers was not a problem though - everyone knew some sign language. It was easy to "do lunch" with someone.

    Then after I finished my second degree, in late 1996, I faced the question of "deaf world or hearing world" again. By now, things had changed. The Federal government was no longer hiring deaf employees in the numbers that it used to, and in fact was laying off deaf employees. It took me awhile, but eventually I got a job in a private company. Today I am working for another private company.

    While none of my co-workers really sign, there is one person on the staff who does know a little sign.

    Through lipreading and written forms of communication I have been able to communicate with supervisors and co-workers. I have even begun to make some friends. I tend to eat lunch alone but unlike before, I don't feel as left out because most of my co-workers do the same thing.

    But I still miss what it is like to work in the deaf world. I miss the ease of communication and the social benefits. I don't miss the politics or the lower pay. Although I think that I have found my own "door in the wall," I still hope that I made the right choice, to work in the hearing world.

    Continue Reading