Consider Sharing Your Condition


Yesterday I sat down with someone I’ve recently been helping to find employment.  It was a very productive meeting of just over two hours in length, and the reason it was so productive is we got well beyond the surface chatter quickly. As you’ll soon read, the time was apparently right for her to make a trusting disclosure.

We’ve just completed a couple of weeks in others company as she was one of 12 people invited to attend an intensive job searching program; the kind where those attending actively job search for much of the day with the guidance of myself and another Employment Counsellor.

One of the key things I stressed throughout the two weeks was the element of trust. When you trust someone who is in a professional position to provide help, opening up about your personal barriers can be profitable. The problems you’re experiencing may be similar to ones that others before you have had, and there is a chance that whomever you trust your challenges with just may have some viable options to lay before you to consider; one of which might just address your problem.

In the middle of the 2nd week, this particular lady mentioned that although she found it embarrassing, she wanted me to know that she was hard of hearing in both ears and was wearing a very well hidden hearing device. This explained a lot. Suddenly I looked at her differently; not badly you understand. No I looked at her and taking a few seconds to process this new information,  it helped me to re-evaluate what I’d previously experienced and as a result come to wonder about.

English you see, is not this person’s first language. It’s quite good in my opinion, and I can easily carry on a long conversation with her without ever misunderstanding her words, but she herself feels her English needs improvement. Where you and I hear someone speak and respond quickly to their questions, she hears a question and then translates the English to her native tongue in her head, knows what she wants to say and then translates it back to English as the words leave her mouth; all in a matter of seconds. That’s impressive; well to me at any rate. However, those few extra seconds required to perform all this sometimes have her concerned that she appears slow or unsure of herself.

In addition to the process I’ve just described for you however, she also has diminished hearing, and so she’d often ask for questions to be repeated, especially if the speaker was facing her or spoke very quietly – and speaking quietly was something I’d been doing when working with her one-on-one with the others present in the same room. Aha! My lower voice when speaking quietly off to her left or right meant she didn’t grasp all the words I spoke; she was only getting a portion of the sentences which led to the requests for repeating myself and the turned head to face me as I spoke quite often.

Her fear in revealing this condition was twofold; one she’s a proud woman and doesn’t want to appear weak and two she’s afraid that as a Receptionist or Administrative Assistant, she’d be discriminated against for having hearing loss.

We talked about this condition and here in Ontario we’re fortunate enough to have organizations like the Canadian Hearing Society. This is a fabulous organization who helps people just like her in a number of ways. They have employment programs specifically to help job seekers with hearing loss. They have devices that can amplify phone calls and most importantly help people come to speak with assertiveness when sharing their condition. So I put her on to them for help.

We also talked about the idea of if and when it might be appropriate to share with an employer her hearing condition. This she could do at the application stage in a cover letter, at the outset of an interview, or towards the end of the interview after having just proved she could carry herself well throughout the conversation. Her fear of course is that the employer might discriminate as I say and she’d be out of the running for a job. But, as I said, how long would she last if the employer didn’t know and it appeared in the first few days that this new hire needed so much repeated? Maybe it would be better to miss an opportunity during an interview than to be hired and then let go by keeping things to herself.

Another idea I floated was just telling the interviewer during that, “Tell me about yourself” question that she has a slight hearing loss and that looking directly at her when speaking and speaking clearly would be very much appreciated. A small plaque on her Reception desk if hired saying pretty much the same to anyone who approached her would also make things easier.

The option of whether or not to share what you perceive as a liability or disability is a personal one. I’d be very interested – as would I’m sure others reading this – in hearing from you if you’re experiencing something similar. What’s been your experience? When we open up and share this way, not only are you helping yourself,  you’re helping others.

So I ask you my reader, if you’ve disclosed your own condition, how did you do so, at what point, and what was the result?

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