The rise of remote jobs is huge for deaf applicants like me - but dated hiring formats are holding us back

The rise of remote jobs is huge for deaf applicants like me - but dated hiring formats are holding us back
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  • I'm 32, deaf, and currently unemployed. I've been looking for remote jobs since the pandemic began.
  • Remote work offers me more accessibility in a world of face masks, which make lipreading impossible.
  • But many interview processes still create huge hurdles for deaf applicants, and that needs to change.

Two faces - job interviewers - stare at me from Google Meet as I puzzle through the auto-captions: "FaceTime what you see another website in our social media water from the kinks we could work out a no communication strategy?"

Confused, I ask the interviewer to repeat herself, and this time I'm able to decipher it: "Based on what you've seen of our website and our social media, what are some of the kinks we could work out in our communications strategy?" It's a victory, but a Pyrrhic one; because I've been working so hard on the question, my brain hasn't had a chance to prepare an answer.

I'm 32, deaf, and currently unemployed. Since the pandemic started, I've been looking for jobs that are remote because they allow a modicum of accessibility. Whereas jobs in person involve masks, making lipreading altogether impossible, videoconferencing tools like Google Meet don't have those same hurdles - but they have plenty of their own.

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On paper, I'm an attractive candidate; my CV and cover letters have consistently opened doors. But I can't seem to get past the interview.

Is it because I'm simply not adept in these settings? Or could it be that there's an invisible barrier in place I'm unable to overcome?


Curious, I asked Dave Liu, a 30-year veteran of Wall Street, for the interviewer's perspective.

"No company is an island and every employee needs to function as a member of a team," he told me. "So ideally we hire employees who have a strong 'cultural fit' and can fit in as part of the team.

"[Disabled] people always have a challenge when it comes to this because employers are psychologically wired to hire people that are more similar to themselves - rather than different. So I always encourage interviewees to make sure the interviewer can 'pro forma' them as a member of the team."

That's a big problem for D/deaf candidates like me. (The capital "d" in "Deaf" is meant to distinguish deafness as a cultural identity rather than as a medical condition.) Videoconferencing is already introducing a layer of distance between the interviewer and candidate, and when things get delayed or lost in translation due to poor captioning or unsuccessful speech reading, it makes it nearly impossible to establish a sense of rapport. So what's a D/deaf person to do?

Although I might be able to avoid the awkwardness of auto-captions by disclosing my disability to an employer and crossing my fingers that they would pay for a Cued Language Transliterator, I'm reluctant to. I don't know how that could impact my prospects - even though the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability at any point during the hiring process, was enacted 31 years ago. Asking a potential employer to pay for an accommodation for a job I may not get feels tricky, although I know that I have a fundamental right to.


I'm not alone in being disabled and unemployed. There are more new jobs now than there were pre-pandemic, but the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is still staggeringly high - in 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a mere 17.9% of disabled persons were employed, compared to 62% of nondisabled people. It's unknowable from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' numbers what percentage of the newly unemployed are D/deaf, but as masks have made lipreading unfeasible, I wouldn't be surprised if it was significant.

This isn't to say finding employment pre-pandemic was ever ideal. I have struggled in interviews before, as well as in hearing work environments.

When I worked for a writing nonprofit in 2014, I startled easily when coworkers came up unexpectedly behind me. I felt much more at ease in job environments where I was surrounded by D/deaf people who used American Sign Language to communicate, and who made their presence known to me before entering my space. Still, I don't want to feel limited to D/deaf spaces; I want to work wherever my interests take me.

There are many things that can be done to improve the process for deaf candidates. For one, employers should use videoconferencing with the best captioning. Zoom has one of the best captioning features; Microsoft Teams, anecdotally, is quite bad. (Interviewers should always ask deaf candidates what platforms they prefer.)

Secondly, train the interviewers to understand what an interview with a deaf candidate will be like. Anticipate a minute or two of silence while a deaf candidate reads (or watches, if they're using a sign language interpreter or Cued Language Transliterator) and processes each question. Third, be proactive in offering interpreting services so the candidate doesn't have to request it. And finally, refrain from rapid-fire questions that the deaf candidate will have difficulty processing in real time.


Nobody knows what the future of work looks like, but whatever configuration it takes, it must include people with disabilities. Remote interviewing - and remote work - should, on paper, create a more equal, inclusive environment for people who are deaf, as well as other people with disabilities, but doesn't always. That's especially concerning during one of the worst pandemics of our lifetime.

Until captioning and other automatic accessibility tools improve, employers must make a better effort to show that they care about hiring - and maintaining - employees with disabilities. If they don't, they're missing out on a huge pool of candidates who are accustomed to being resourceful problem-solvers in their own lives.