My Disability: To Disclose or Not To Disclose

My Disability: To Disclose or Not To Disclose

Erin wasn't sure if she should disclose her hearing disability to prospective employers.

Erin Geld |

I was born deaf in one ear and nearly deaf in the other. By the grace of incredible parents and teachers I was “mainstreamed” at a very young age, meaning I talk and “hear” like most people. Despite many suggestions, I have never learned sign language. My hearing loss often goes by undetected, despite an ugly hearing aid and slight accent. However, it does not mean my life has been without its obstacles and challenging choices, especially regarding the disclosure of my disability.

In high school and at college, I was upfront about it, mentioning it on the first day of class each year. I usually would ask teachers to face me when lecturing, write a few notes on the board, and provide occasional visual materials. I asked classmates to speak clearly when contributing, and would often pick a buddy to compare notes with and to fill in missing gaps. (When writing, I would often miss lecture points, as my head was turned down – I’m a big lip-reader.) When I took a job at a college campus café, I attached a label to an overhead photograph that read: “I’m deaf. Speak up!” All in all, they were simple, infrequent favors and most people were happy to help.

When applying for jobs post-graduation, however, it was different. In the very spare and formulaic cover-letter-and-resume applications, where should I indicate my hearing loss? Should I even mention it? Why should I mention it?

Most of the time, I don’t even think of it as a disability, as I am extremely capable in terms of communication and language – I use the phone, am a serious chatterbox, and love to write. Yet, it is a huge part of my personality that I find impossible to overlook when introducing myself to a prospective employer. Not because I will constantly be asking for help and require large-scale accommodations, but because it indicates a certain strength, patience, humility and perseverance that has come with growing up with a disability. As a creative individual, deafness also deeply informs my personality, as I have always seen my mind divided between silence and sound.

As I said, I rarely see my hearing loss as a disability, and instead see it as a huge additional dimension to myself.

Unfortunately, I do know it’s not immediately obvious to most people. Terrible visions of mumbling, awkwardly squawking half-wits come to mind when word “deaf” is heard. Do I risk putting that on my resume, while still risking a shallow perception of my abilities? It’s my oldest quandary.

At first, I sent out applications without any mention of my hearing loss. I eventually got an invitation for a phone interview at a very cool consulting company (if you’ve been reading my columns, you’ll notice I’ve applied to all sorts of jobs). Even though it was a phone interview, I insisted on keeping my disability private. A stubborn, proud part of me felt I could manage without their understanding.

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