Category Archives: Employment

Interview Accommodations

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I thought that I would share my accommodations experience during my interviews last fall. It was quite interesting to see how private law firms dealt with it, which gave me a great picture of what it would be like to work there.

It is important to note that what works for me, may not work for everyone (somehow, a lot of people have trouble with that idea). Since I do get fatigued easily when I am reading lips and listening hard, I chose to have an sign language interpreter with me for all of my interviews.  I felt that, in order to be a professional; I had to make sure I understood everything. It was also a good way for me to let the interviewer know that I was deaf, without turning it into a surprise. So, that in mind, my advice here is quite biased towards people who use sign language, but hopefully there are some tidbits in here for everyone.

Since there were two stages of the interview process, I will handle them separately.

On-Campus Interviews

Since all of the preliminary interviews were on-campus (they are called screening interviews), I was able to obtain a sign language interpreter through my school. I did a few things that were hel

  • Consistency – I liked to use the same interpreter for the majority of the interviews. I always like to build a relationship with an interpreter so I don’t need to tell him/her about my preferences all the time.
  • Age/Gender – I must admit, I’m picky. I strongly prefer young-ish female interpreters. I don’t like older interpreters because they give off a mommy-vibe. (I’ve been asked more than once if an older interpreter was my mother – aw-kward.)
  • Introductions – I always, always introduced my interpreters and how to “use” them at the beginning of the interviews. Many people have no clue of what to do. It stinks, but I felt like it was my responsibility to tell them what to do.
  • Be a HardAss – in terms of interpreters, I made it very clear to the agency that the interpreter had to (1) dress in a suit, preferably a dark suit; and (2) be 10 minutes early. I absolutely hate it when interpreters dress sloppily or arrive late, it reflects badly upon me. This is employment we are talking about, no fooling around here!

Call-backs

Callbacks were 2-3 hour-long interview at the law firm’s office. Usually you meet with several people from that law firm, partners, counsel, senior associates and junior associates. After I got invited back, I called or emailed the recruiting coordinator to set up an interview. When I talked to the recruiting coordinator, I also set up sign language interpreters through her or him.

  • Come Prepared – I don’t mean come prepared for the interview (although you should do that too!), but be prepared to refer the law firm to an interpreter agency. They have no clue what they are doing, so I think it’s fair to help them out. Since I am not orginially from the area that I interviewed at, I asked around about the best interpreting agency, and it worked out well for me. However, I have talked to other Deaf law students and some of them actually reserved the interpreters themselves. I didn’t do this, mostly because I didn’t have a strong preference or experience with the interpreters in the area. So, do what works for you.
  • Rinse and Repeat – I tried to approach call-backs in the same way that I approached my screening interviews – explaining the role of the interpreters, blah blah.
  • Transparency – I really tried to be transparent about what I wanted as a summer associate, accommodations-wise. Some may think this conversation may put off some employers, which is probably true. My take is that the employer should know what s/he is getting into. I would much rather work somewhere that knows what I want and is willing to meet my needs.  

Surprisingly, only one law firm tried to sneak out of paying for interpreter (I expected more would do that). In that situation, I mentioned the ADA, and poof, all of the protests dissolved. I guess its one good thing about looking for a job at larger law firms, they know their ADA obligations. 

Discrimination and the Deaf Law Student

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I was looking over my blog posts and I realized that I may come off as sanguine about discrimination. I realized that my constant assertions that discrimination is from ignorance may make discrimination seem more benign. Not true. In fact, subconscious and implicit discrimination is the most insidious form there is. 

Don’t get me wrong – I experience discrimination in varying modes every single day. The clerk who looks at me funny because I didn’t hear something he or she said is discriminatory. The professor who never calls on me because he or she “doesn’t want to deal with it” is discriminatory. The law student who doubts that I can ever succeed at a job as tough as a lawyer is discriminatory. An employer who doubts that I can do the job just because I am Deaf is discriminatory.

So, you may wonder why I seem to deny the existence of audism – I don’t. I merely hate the word because it is so widely misunderstood by the hearing culture. As I mentioned in a previous post, audism is an implicit comparison to racism and that gets us nowhere wit the hearing community. For whatever reason, they feel that discrimination based on ability to hear is more justified than merely skin color because it is based on ability. The American idea of equality has so much to do with ability and meritocracy, and somehow, that twisted into the idea that anyone who needs assistance or accommodations are not truly equal. That idea is truly deluded because, as people frequently point out, if there were captions everywhere and everyone knew sign or some kind of visual communication method, D/deaf and HOH people would not be ‘disabled.’ Moreover, ability should refer to the ability to think, infer and, with others, get the job done. Individualism is so overrated in our society – why is it so bad to help each other overcome our personal limitations (we all have them, regardless of hearing)?

As twisted the idea of equality and meritocracy is in our society, the question is – how do we defeat that persistent idea that if we give a helping hand to someone, it’s unfair and oppressive. We haven’t been able to eradicate racism, sexism and other -isms in our society, so how do we confront audism (i am only using this word so people know what I mean)?

I don’t pretend to know the answer, and I’m not entirely sure my approach is the most effective one, but it fits my personality the best. Since discrimination based on ‘presumed inability’ is based on exactly that – the idea that we can’t. Hopefully, as more d/Deaf/HOH people show that they can, the they-can’t-do-that naysayers will be silenced by yes-they-can sayers as more people realize assistance is not a bad thing. 

Of course, like everything, this is easier said than done. In reality, due to the structure of the workplace, educational system, heck, the world, d/Deaf/HOH will need more “help” – i.e. assistance to overcome the structural barriers – but society needs to stop seeing this as a bad thing. When has help and assistance, when necessary, been bad? People without hearing impairments get help all the time, but it is just invisible (using sound to communicate helps them). Until we get rid of this macho-super-individual-I-never-need-help idea, I fear that discrimination “because of” disability will persist.

Big Bad Private Practice Wolf

As you probably know from my previous post – I have a summer associateship at a law firm this summer. I would like to share some of my musings about the whole interview process. Disregard as you may, but I think it was an interesting experience.

Frankly, I was a bit nervous entering the search for a private-sector job. I worked at non-profits and government jobs throughout my life, so I approached the big bad wolf of private enterprise very cautiously.  I had a preconceived notion that businesses were all about the bottom line, and being a Deaf woman, I thought I would not fit into the bottom line. However, I found out that it wasn’t that bad.

At my school, we have something called On-Campus Recruitment – literally hundreds of employers, mostly large law firms, come and interview with up to 50 students. This resulted in about 30 interviews for me (I wanted to play it safe – especially because I had no idea how employers would react to my Deafness and, of course, the economy, although the economy was not as bad back then as it is today). It was an exhausting affair – but not as bad as I expected.

Ultimately, I ended up with nine callbacks, which is when the employer invites you back to their offices for more interviews. This was actually more than most of my fellow students. I have a theory about why I was relatively successful in the private sector interviews over some of my other peers, despite some alleged disadvantages.

  • Preparation – despite the fact I can speak fairly well, I am not so great at spontaneous speaking. I need to think things through, figure out pronunciation and how I approach the topic before I speak. As I mentioned before, speaking is more of a cognitive task for me – it’s work for me. But my preparation (figuring out exactly how to explain my interest in the law firm, why I went to law school, etc.) resulted in me being better spoken than some of my peers who may have relied on their spontaneous speaking ability too much.
  • Directness  – I did not hide the fact that I was Deaf. Quite the opposite – I even brought a sign language interpreter to my interviews. I was open about the fact that I was looking for a firm that would support my needs. In my mind, if I was an employer, I would much rather know up-front about what an employee needs in order to function properly.
  • Confidence – This point is related to my previous point – since I did not feel like I was “faking” by either (1) not bringing a sign language interpreter with me to make sure I understood everything that is said; or (2) hiding my Deafness, I felt more confident walking into the interviews. A lot of people, regardless of deafness, try to hide their true self during interviews and it usually doesn’t work. I think that principle rings especially true for d/Deaf persons – both sides are cheated if the d/Deaf person fakes it, the employee and the employer. The employer doesn’t know how to deal with the d/Deaf employee because the said employee did not fully disclose everything. The Employee is stuck with mediocre (if any) accommodations and potentially unwelcoming atmosphere.

One other point – I was surprised how more willing larger law firms were in hiring me. I interviewed with some mid-sized firms and even though my qualifications were great for them and the interview went well, there were no callbacks. I compared notes with other d/Deaf law students and they also experienced this phenomenon. Of course, this is completely anecdotal, but humor me here. My theory about this trend is that large law firms have plenty of resources, so they are not as fazed about the idea of paying for accommodations. Mid-sized employers, however, are a different story. They seemed more concerned about the bottom line (despite the fact that they do well for themselves).

This is not to imply that I did not make mistakes during my interviews. To be honest, I was a nervous wreck during my first few interviews – stuttering, sweating and the whole works – a miserable failure. However, with 30 interviews, I was able to work out the kinks. By the end of the on-campus interviewing cycle, I was a pro. In fact, the firm that I will work for this summer was my final interview.

Stayed tuned… 

What About Gender?

Ay, sorry for my blogging neglect – things have been pretty busy for me in the non-virtual world 

It’s odd – it is only now that I think about my gender in relation with my deafness. Law is a relatively male-dominated field. I would say that my law school is approximately 60% male and 40% women, and all of you know that this is not exactly representative of our population. In fact, in the office that I am working in right now, is very male-dominated.

As a woman, I have to wonder, how does my gender affect how my professional peers perceive my deafness? Sometimes I think my gender makes my deafness even more of a liability because it’s a double-whammy of perceived weakness. Deaf and a female – ay!

Then again I haven’t been the perfect symbol of feminism. Ever since I was a child, I always identified more with boys and men, rejecting traditionally feminine roles. I have a little theory about that – a large majority of deaf children in my area were male, so most of my friends growing up were males. I took to their rough-housing and expletive-laced speech like fish to water. During primary school, I was the girl who played basketball, rejected makeup and the “girly” gossip. Sometimes I think my implicit rejection of traditional feminine patterns (hey, calculus was my favorite class in high school!) has a lot to do with my current course in life. Law, with its  poor work-life balance commonplace in large law firms, doesn’t always provide a welcome place for women.

In the end, my tomboyish nature has benefited me in the legal world. I can get along just fine with my male colleagues, joking and drinking the day away with them. To be honest, I think I would have suffered more in a more female-dominated workplace. I remember most of discriminatory acts (not all, of course) directed towards me originated from females. Female teachers would be the ones who complained about having me in their classes. My female classmates would be the ones who made snarky remarks.

In the end, maybe being deaf and in a male-dominated industry isn’t such a bad thing if you can swim with the sharks. Admittedly, this is a very limited viewpoint, and might have more to do with my personality than my gender. I would love to hear other opinions on this issue. 

A Secret for Succeeding?

I’m afraid that I don’t have the secret to succeeding, but I have made a few observations about successful d/Deaf people. There seems to be two kinds of successful d/Deaf lawyers: one that becomes a tireless advocate for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing issues, usually enveloping oneself in Deaf culture OR being a successful attorney. The former is great for people who want to pursue that goal and is somewhat easier to do, But what about the latter? It’s indisputable that it’s harder to succeed in the “hearing” world – there are more doubts, more skepticism and frankly, a LOT more ignorance.

One thing that I’ve observed is that it is crucial to understand the hearing world and their attitude towards deafness. I do understand the instinct to reject the hearing world as “oppressive,” “discriminatory,” and “audistic.” Honestly, I HATE the word audism – it implies a conscious intent to demote deaf people, and most of the time this is not true. Most hearing people have never met a deaf person before and their only frame of reference is TV, books and their imagination. Of course they will think that deafness is a huge burden, so would you if you lost your sight suddenly. Of course, some people, even if they are educated about deaf culture/ways of life, still discriminate against deaf people. They are bigots and shortsighted fools. It is dangerous to compare racism and audism because to a vast majority of people, you cannot compare a disability to race.

The prickly attitude about “audistic” hearing people will only get in your way if you aspire to professional success in a hearing-dominated field (like law). These sentiments will alienate your co-workers and bosses, and frankly, you become a difficult person to work with. What most people want is a competent co-worker/employee who WORKS WELL with others. If you harbor insidious feelings of hatred and resentment towards everyone else, how nice can you be? The hearing world values propriety, politeness and above all, conformity.

I’m not saying these values that I listed above are necessarily “good,” but that’s reality. To beat the game, you must play the game. If you want to see more fellow d/Deaf people become successful, they will have to conform to some degree to the hearing customs. For example, I know it’s not normal to expect people to form instant bonds with me like we do in the Deaf culture. I accept that, because otherwise, I would be perpetually disappointed and I would be “weird.”

Hopefully a story will illustrate my point. A few days ago, I asked a co-worker to tell me where to drop off some paperwork. He insisted on leading me to this place and proceeded to tell the human resources officer that “she can read lips really well.” Did I want to strangle him? Hell, yes. Did I make a snarky remark? No, I just smiled and said, “thank you very much for your help, I’ll be fine on my own next time.” There’s an old adage that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

One does not need a cochlear implant or hearing aids or other fancy technologies to understand how to succeed. One must relate to the hearing world, particularly in a personality-centric field like law. These are your peers, like it or not and they have a lot of power until the day that you rise through the ranks and seize that power for yourself.

The Future Deaf Lawyers

I’ve discussed the roots of the expanding pool of the d/Deaf lawyer (for better or worse). Now, the next logical step is to look at what the future Deaf lawyers will look like. This is just my educated guess from my experiences with Deaf Culture, current trends in law schools and law itself.

Fortunately, law is slowly opening its doors to people with disabilities. It’s just a crack, but it’s a start. There are quite a few d/Deaf lawyers at BigLaw Firms (for you non-lawyers out there, BigLaw firms are big corporate firms with more than 150 or 200 attorneys). Also, there are numerous of d/Deaf lawyers in public interest, government and smaller law firms as well. These trends bode well for any d/Deaf person entering law school.

It’s given that there will be an steady increase of d/Deaf law students, hopefully an exponential rise . My hope is that the number of d/Deaf lawyers will reach critical mass and produce an organized professional association of our own. At my school, the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and the Latino American Law Student Association (LALSA) are incredible networking tools. The members help each other get prestigious firms, clerkships, government or public interest jobs. These minority groups represent a real voice pushing for inclusion in the mostly-white-and-affluent law firm world. I must admit, I am a bit envious of their networking power and ability to convince prestigious employers to consider other factors other than grades and the school’s name. 

Now, the question is, where is our voice? There have been efforts to establish official professional groups for Deaf and hard of hearing lawyers (I’m not sure what its name was, so I apologize in advance). However, the effort fell apart because of the internal split in the deaf community along ASL/oral/CI lines. Unfortunately, the internal turmoil in the deaf community has (perhaps irreparably) fragmented the d/Deaf lawyers. We cannot advocate for an industry-wide change in how employers view lawyers with disabilities without a strong group advocating for ourselves. An unified voice is much stronger than scattered individual voices.

Of course, there is the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities (http://nalswd.org/) which is a wonderful organization. However, I do think that d/Deaf lawyers face unusual resistance from employers. In such a communication-heavy profession, many employers feel leery about hiring a d/Deaf lawyer. We need a group that actually does understand d/Deaf people’s unique needs to be able to advocate for the idea that deafness can be seen as a strength, perhaps even a “diversity” factor, and not necessarily a crippling liability.

Also, I am curious about how Cochlear Implants (CIs) will affect the face of the typical d/Deaf lawyer. Honestly, I don’t see a problem with the impeding rise of lawyers with CIs. I can only hope that things will be easier for them than it has been for other d/Deaf lawyers thus far. However, the only concern I have with lawyers and CIs is diversity. From my own experiences (and trust me, I’ve met many people with CIs,) the most successful Deaf people with implants tend to come from affluent families.

The correlation between implant success and affluence shouldn’t be surprising. Affluent families are more likely to have insurance coverage that will provide funds for CI surgery and processors. Also, affluent families tend to have more time and resources to devote to their children, ensuring that they master the AVT approach. Of course, one can say, “same old, same old.” Perhaps that person is right – historically, law has been a white-shoe, predominantly white and affluent profession. However, that is changing today, and I’m glad about that. Moreover, people should try to change this aspect of law – after all, lawyers have an incredible power to change people’s lives. We need diverse viewpoints to implement this power in an equitable and understanding way.

Unfortunately, affluent families tend to be white Anglo-Saxons. I’m afraid that d/Deaf lawyer population will remain predominantly white. As a minority myself, I’m not entirely comfortable with that idea. I have to struggle whether to conform to the white and “hearing” culture or stay true to my heritage, as an double minority. Moreover, I don’t want my allegiances to conflict with each other (and they have before). I would love to see some progress in this area. I hope the rise in the d/Deaf lawyer population will cure this problem, but I’m not so sure it will. Perhaps I am asking too much, but I can always dream, can’t I?

The Rise of the Modern Deaf Lawyer

            If you think that the Deaf community is small, try the d/Deaf lawyer community. The best estimates thus far, according to www.deafattorneys.com, estimates that there is 170 or so d/Deaf lawyers. That’s not much, if you think about how many d/Deaf people there are. Just to put it in perspective, there are approximately10 million with some degree of hearing loss, 1 million functionally deaf people. http://jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/11/1/112. However, things are getting better. There are more and more d/Deaf students in law schools across the country. What’s notable is that there are more and more prelingually and/or ASL-using Deaf persons entering law school.

            To be honest, most of the d/Deaf lawyers (and I emphasize, most, not all) that I’ve met were either oral or late-deafened. I have the utmost respect for these folks – they struggle with different issues than people like me, the pre-lingually Deaf with roots in the Deaf culture. Many pre-lingually and ASL-using Deaf folks struggle with the English language because ASL is a different language, with its own syntax and grammatical structure. Also, there is a history of delayed language acquisition because of late detection of hearing loss. That said, I wondered what triggered the rise of these Deaf folks in law school? After all, law is a profession that demands perfection in English and oral advocacy.

            The easy answer would be the obvious, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed in 1990. Most of my fellow budding Deaf lawyers grew up protected by the ADA. Many of them cite the ADA as the source of increasing number of Deaf folks in higher education. The ADA did indeed improve enforcement of IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which made the word accommodation actually mean something. However, just giving equal access in the classroom is not enough. Much of a child’s linguistic development  takes place long before he or she enters a classroom. Deaf children, historically, has had problems with linguistic delay and subsequent inability to properly express oneself in English. Without this ability, a future in law is fruitless. So, along with the ADA, why are Deaf adults entering law school at record numbers?

            Of course, I have my theories. I do think the ADA did help directly, but it had indirect effects as well. By framing non-discrimination towards people with disabilities as a civil right, the ADA created a culture of empowerment amongst d/Deaf folks. Even though not all of the provisions in the ADA have enough “teeth,” but the fact that people with disabilities were now a protected class, counts for a lot. On a personal level, I grew up with the mindset that even though accommodations could be sub-par at times, but I was entitled to them. Accommodation was no longer a privilege, but a right

  Also, the ADA mitigates some of the discrimination in hiring. After all, law school is pretty damn expensive, why would you want to go to law school if you knew that you would have severe difficulties finding a job? However, the ADA does not wipe away employment discrimination, but it helps.  

Just to clarify – the ADA did require that higher education schools provide services, something not covered by IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act. However, in order for Deaf students to enter higher education in higher numbers, they need the tools that they developed during their infancy and primary schooling years.  No law school would take a student, d/Deaf or not, that could not do well on the LSATs, write a coherent sentence and express himself/herself clearly. The ADA did enable qualified d/Deaf folks to enter higher education at more diverse insitutions, however, other factors contributed to the rise in the numbers of qualified d/Deaf people

On the education side, I think the few factors really improved the literacy of some Deaf folks. One was early intervention. By early intervention, I mean finding out that a baby is deaf and giving him/her access to language (I don’t care if it is ASL or via CI, but there must be access a language), avoiding a crippling linguistic delay. I was lucky – I was diagnosed at 4 months old, a rarity at that time. Soon after my birth, hearing tests became mandatory. I think that early intervention on my part was the crucial factor, differentiating me from many other Deaf kids with poor English skills. 

Also, increased education for the parents about hearing loss helped. My mother was clueless about this issue when I was born, but there were organizations and resources to help her. One can’t expect hearing parents to automatically know how to take care of a Deaf kid. It’s unrealistic. Increased parental awareness has fostered increased parental involvement. I believe that for any kid, d/Deaf or not, parental involvement in education is vital. However, it is even more crucial for Deaf kids. Deaf children can’t just pick up language by listening to people talking. They have to be taught and parents are the best people to do that. Unfortunately, that is not always possible (busy parents, parents who refuse to learn ASL or work with their children if they have CIs, etc.)

One another factor is captioning. I remember when I was very small – I couldn’t watch any TV shows or movies because they weren’t captioned. So I just watched Charlie Chaplin’s silent movies. However, when captions became widespread, I could access the mainstream ‘language.’ By reading the captions, I got a sense (albeit, somewhat artificially) of how people expressed themselves, and some vocabulary. 

Educational access is one thing and language acquisition is another. It pleases me to see that recent developments (i.e. mainstreaming, captioning, ADA, etc) have enabled a higher degree of English acquisition by Deaf children. However, there are still severe problems in this regard. Oftentimes, I will meet a Deaf adult who can barely string together a sentence. One thing to keep in mind is that language acquisition is CRUCIAL for any successful Deaf lawyer. The increasing number of d/Deaf folks entering law school suggests that something is working. That makes me wonder what future d/Deaf lawyers will be like.