Patterns in the Employment and Vocational Rehabilitation of Hard of Hearing Persons – A WSD Workshop

Patterns in the Employment and Vocational Rehabilitation of Hard of Hearing Persons – A WSD Workshop

This workshop described an intensive study of employment characteristics of hard of hearing (HOH) people. It was presented by Dr. John Schroedel and Dr. Douglas Watson of the University of Arkansas Research and Training Center (RRTC) for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

The information presented in this workshop is preliminary to a final report that will be presented in Washington in May. This is noteworthy in itself, because the Federal government has funded many studies on this and related topics, but this is the first to deliver a final report! Dr. Schroedel reported that this is the most challenging study he has ever undertaken.

This study can legitimately claim to represent the hard of hearing population in the US, because of the way the study was conducted. Rather than basing their research on a self-selected group of hard of hearing people (such as SHHH members or ALDA members) this study located participants by making phone calls to 66,000 randomly selected telephone numbers throughout the United States. From those calls roughly a thousand hard of hearing people were identified. The names and addresses of 807 were verified, and 313 of those completed the survey forms. Of these 220 were workers.

Participant Characteristics

Survey participants had the following characteristics:
– The hearing loss of 75% started during their working years, with 50% starting between the ages of 19 and 44, and 25% starting between 45 and 64.
– Most people had a slowly progressive hearing loss.
– 68% had mild to moderate hearing loss and 32% had severe to profound hearing loss.
– 33% used personal listening devices, primarily hearing aids.
– The average age was 52 and the average length of employment with the current employer was 14 years.
– 27% had high school diplomas or less, 33% had attended college, but had not obtained a degree, 22% had Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degrees, and 18% had advanced degrees, licenses, and/or certificates.
– 62% were in professional, managerial, technical, sales, or clerical jobs
– 37% were supervisors
– All worked with hearing persons – co-workers, supervisors, or customers.

Assertive vs. Passive Behaviors

Most respondents were assertive in the employment setting, as evidenced by the following responses:
– 84% said they remind their bosses to give them important news
– 79% said they volunteer for extra work
– 75% ask co-workers to inform them of important news that they may miss
– 70% say they work harder than others
– 69% say they ask questions to help them understand
– 63% say they make extra efforts to make friends

A significant portion of respondents also reported a variety of passive behaviors:
– 59% do not tell others when they do not understand them
– 59% pretend to understand when they really don’t
– 48% hide their anger when they are left out
– 47% do not participate when they can’t hear
– 46% avoid large groups
– 40% avoid making small talk

Researchers analyzed the results to try to determine why some workers were more assertive than others. They determined that those with less severe hearing loss and no job setbacks (e.g. having been laid off or fired) were more assertive, and that degree of hearing loss and the occurrence of job setbacks affected the level of assertiveness about equally. They also noted that these two characteristics explained just a portion of observed differences in assertiveness and speculated that additional factors might include self-confidence, self-esteem, and the ability to recover from workplace adversities.

Characteristics of the Work Environment

Hard of hearing people were less likely than the general public to be employed by a private company, and more likely to be employed by government, non-profit organizations, schools, and hospitals. They were also more likely to be self-employed.

Most HOH employees reported that their hearing co-workers frequently act positively towards them by being friendly, communicating clearly, and being inclusive. But a significant minority also reported negative behaviors, including being impatient, excessive teasing, criticism, and ignoring them while talking.

In general HOH employees felt that their supervisors are supportive and that they are treated fairly on the job. Those who have a less severe hearing loss and are more assertive viewed their supervisors as more supportive. Assertiveness has a greater impact than the degree of hearing loss on the supervisor relationship.

Many HOH workers are aware of the value of phone amplifiers, email and pagers, but many are unaware of other important accommodations. Assertive workers, those with a college degree, those under 55 years old, and those who work in organizations with more than 15 employees are more aware of a greater variety of accommodations. Assertiveness and education level were the most influential traits.

Dr. Schroedel pointed out that 80% of HOH workers do not use hearing aids, and that even a mild hearing loss can be a disability if unaided.

Most HOH workers do not get together with others who are hard of hearing, and if they do, they generally do not talk about hearing loss!

Employment Outcomes

The average earnings of HOH male workers were virtually identical to those of hearing males (about $40,000), while the average earnings of HOH females were significantly below those of their hearing counterparts ($21,700 vs. $23,550).

HOH people reported high levels of job satisfaction.
– 87% are satisfied with their overall job
– 52% are satisfied with pay, benefits, and prospects for promotion or new training
– 76% are satisfied with their boss, safety, co-workers, job security, and fair treatment
– 87% are satisfied with the importance and interest of their job and with levels of working independently and with responsibility

Two keys to job satisfaction were having a supportive supervisor and not having experienced a job setback.

HOH Workers Experiences with and Need for Vocational Rehabilitation

The conventional wisdom is that HOH workers (compared to Deaf workers) are much less aware of and much less likely to be served by Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). This study confirmed those beliefs, but also revealed that the participation of HOH workers in VR programs is increasing much faster than the participation of Deaf workers and all disabled workers. Comparing successful closures of VR cases in 2002 compared to 1992, the increase for people with all disabilities was 15%, the increase for Deaf folks was 22%, and the increase for HOH folks was 54%.

The researchers had no firm conclusions regarding the reason for the greater increase for the HOH population. But they did note that despite this increase, the numbers still represent only a tiny fraction of all HOH workers. Survey results indicated that only 29% of HOH workers are aware of VR services, and that only 8% had contacted VR in the last 25 years.

Several reasons were disclosed for the poor participation rate of HOH workers in VR programs. These included being unaware of the services, not knowing how to apply, not feeling the need for VR services, and negative attitudes towards VR.

Dr. Schroedel emphasized his conviction that HOH people do not consider themselves disabled and are unlikely to take advantage of services targeted at the disabled population. He stated that VR counselors do not know how to serve HOH clients, and that they must trained on the distinct characteristics and needs of HOH people if we expect HOH folks to use VR services.

Another interesting result of this study is that the VR services needed by HOH people are completely different from those needed by Deaf people and by people with other disabilities. While virtually everyone else contacts VR for employment services (finding a job, keeping a job, job training, etc.), HOH people contact VR primarily for communications services, including:
– get a hearing aid – 34%
– get a hearing test – 24%
– get other communications devices – 20%
– evaluate my communications skills – 16%
– counseling to cope with hearing loss – 13%