December 11, 2000, 1:34 PM —
We received nearly 50 responses from last month's article,
Sound Barrier, which described our trip to the National Technology Institute for
the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology
Here's a typical response, which came from a person we'll call T.: "I'm a very
recent graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology. I majored in information
technology. I'm one of those fortunate students who have acquired a job. The
interesting thing? They didn't know I was deaf when they made the offer. It is
something to ponder whether or not they would have 'hired me' if they had known about
my hearing impairment."
We wrote back, asking, "How did they find out you were deaf?"
T. answered: "I acquired this job by posting my resume online. I was
contacted by approximately a hundred employers and was phone
interviewed about four times, including an hour and a half interview with
a company that did not extend an offer. (Nearly every state offers free "relay"
services, which allow a hearing person to talk to a deaf person via the phone through a
third party who uses a TTY device and "relays" the responses.) "All dialogue with (the
company that extended the offer) took place through email as you suspected and, in
order to be hired, I took a company-administered test in which the interested
candidates built an online project. I just sent them an email informing them (after
they had made the offer) that I was hearing impaired. They responded relating to a
different issue -- not mentioning anything about the hearing impairment. Tomorrow, I'm
set to show up at work to say hello to everyone in their offices." We plan to keep in
touch with T. and report back on his progress.
T. voices the concern of all the professionals and students with disabilities we
spoke with who wrestle with the dilemma of when to inform a potential employer about
their disability. If they reveal it too early, they risk a loss of interest; if they
reveal it too late, the surprise might become a problem if the company is willing to
accommodate but is simply unprepared.
Unfortunately, on the other side of the coin are the recruiters who are pressured to
increase their new hire numbers and consciously skip disabled candidates so they won't
jeopardize their quota. "No time," they say. There are prominent consulting firms and
staffing agencies whose hiring managers don't want to impose additional problems on
their clients and instead pose real obstacles to recruiters who may be trying to push
the envelope -- not to mention the problems they cause for the candidates.