A few weeks ago, I received a call from a hospice company about my business (mobile hair salon catering to the homebound and those in hospice care). It went to my voicemail because I wasn’t hooked up to all my gadgets, then once I was, I couldn’t figure out the entire message so had to wait for my boyfriend to get home to translate for me. Because I had the gist of it through my boyfriend first, I was able to get through the phone call but just barely because the lady was so soft spoken. That sparked my adventure of finding captioned calls and different ways to retrieve voicemails.
The appointment was set for a week later and that whole week I worried. I didn’t confess my hearing loss on the phone, should I have? Am I hiding it? No, I always discuss it in person with people because I don’t want to be judged incompetent before they meet me. Once I meet with people, I have a chance to show them who I really am. I can do the work, have a conversation in person and I am more than a hearing loss.
Also adding to my fears, my mind flashed back to an incident a few months ago. On my FaceBook page for Hair To You, I wrote about how my business came about and a large part of that reason is hearing loss. My well-meaning boyfriend read it and thought maybe it was too much information so I went back and modified it. The whole week before the meeting, I worried about what is much is too much information. What do I disclose and what do I leave out?
I began writing a resume of sorts the day before, an ‘about’ page, to present at the meeting. Half through writing it, I decided ‘screw it,’ I’m going to be totally upfront about it all. I’m not good at hiding things and I rather people know I can’t hear well than to think I’m brainless or aloof so this is what I wrote under my personal information: Ever since I was 13 years old I knew I wanted to do hair and attended beauty college right after high school. I’ve been a hairdresser since except for a few minor breaks. I have a progressive hearing loss that started around 14 years old and I began wearing hearing aids around 23. My remaining hearing has been holding steady the last few years but salons tend to be noisy places. The more noise there is, the more deaf I become. Working one on one improves my ability to hear. This business enables me to continue to do what I love. Since the older generation is my favorite clientele, I choose to cater to them. Because hearing loss is a factor with old age, I know how to communicate with them as well which creates a win-win situation.
Of course I listed all my qualifications including the three states I had licenses in and my history as a hairdresser. I also wrote about my volunteer efforts with hearing loss and provided references from a client, from a co-volunteer and from a co-worker in Arizona. After all this writing, editing and polishing up, I felt prepared for my meeting.
When I arrived, I found out I wasn’t talking to one person but presenting in front of six people. A shot of adrenaline shot through my veins flushing me with heat in already too warm room. We were in a small office, chairs arranged in an intimate circle and the seat they offered me had a noisy fan behind me. (Enter another slash of fear…oh no! Please don’t let it wreck my hearing.) We sat in a circle and two of the walls in the corner office was glass so no ones faces (lips) were in shadows. They started asking questions and the first one was, “How did you come up with this business?”
I took a deep breath and plunged in with all honesty and it was well received. I think I only needed two repeats the whole conversation because everyone took turns talking. The rest of the questions were easily answered. I gave them the price sheet never handing over the resume because we already discussed everything. They were excited to present this service to their clients and wanted to know if I’d travel to nearby counties. They took lots of business cards and we all shook hands in the end. I felt good and oh-so-glad about being upfront and honest concerning my hearing loss.
This reminded me of a workshop I attended at the HLAA convention in Rhode Island in 2012: Hard of Hearing and Exceptional – Landing the Job and Achieving Career Success by Malik B. El-Amin (link at the bottom). It’s been over a year but my impression was it’s good to be upfront about hearing loss (but we don’t have to be) and to ask for accommodations as needed. Curious about what I may have missed, I searched the HLAA national website and found his presentation.
After reviewing his presentation, I think more of his suggestions sunk in than I thought. In regards to hearing loss, his main suggestion is to be in control of it. Asking for accommodations or adjustments shows capability and of course, don’t fake it. Since he’d done some acting in the past, he said to take a tip from actors and rehearse. Rehearse typical interview questions and also practice explaining your hearing loss before hand. Even though I didn’t remember this part, writing that resume up before hand made a big difference because part of my editing routine is to read it out loud so I can spot my mistakes. I ‘rehearsed’ which helped me gather my thoughts and give better answers.
“Tell people how they should see you.” I remember him talking about that now. He talked about a lady who wanted a tough reputation at work so she created it herself. I’m not looking to be tough but I do want to come across as capable and professional. Showing up in nice clothes, make-up on and sensible shoes showed I wasn’t sloppy. My personal paragraph above provided a scenario in which my disability might just be a strength instead. Determination to keep doing what I love also comes through so they know I don’t give up easily.
So in the end, I walked away with a smile on my face, a bounce in my step, renewed faith in myself and several future prospects. My hearing loss fears loom large at times but I can beat them back down. My worries only bring about unnecessary stress and wasted time. I just need to keep following my path and doing what feels right to me.
http://www.hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/docs/El-Amin_friday.pdf (if the link doesn’t work, cut and paste instead)
Other views and helpful hints about hearing loss and interviews
Employment Toolkit for the Hard of Hearing by HLAA http://hearingloss.org/content/workplace