Accommodating deaf workers

For example, if an employer asks all applicants post-offer about their general physical and mental health, it can ask individuals who disclose a particular illness, disease, or impairment for medical information or require them to have a medical examination related to the condition disclosed. What may an employer do when it learns that an applicant has or had a hearing impairment after she has been offered a job but before she starts working?

When an applicant discloses after receiving a conditional job offer that she has or had a hearing impairment, an employer may ask the applicant additional questions, such as how long she has had the hearing impairment; what, if any, hearing the applicant has; what specific hearing limitations the individual experiences; and what, if any, reasonable accommodations the applicant may need to perform the job.

Some individuals with a hearing impairment, however, choose to disclose or discuss their condition to dispel myths about hearing loss or to ensure that employers do not assume that the impairment means the person is unable to do the job.

Sometimes, the decision to disclose depends on whether an individual will need a reasonable accommodation to perform the job (for example, specialized equipment, removal of a marginal function, or another type of job restructuring).

In particular, this document explains: In 2011, a study led by researchers from Johns Hopkins reported that nearly 20% of Americans 12 and older have hearing loss so severe that it may make communication difficult.[4] The study also found that 30 million Americans (12.7% of the population) had hearing loss in both ears while 48 million Americans (20.3% of the population) had hearing loss in one ear.[5] According to 2010 data from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 17% of American adults (36 million people) report some degree of hearing loss.[6] Of this group, 18% of American adults between the ages of 45 and 64 have experienced some degree of hearing loss.[7] NIDCD estimates that approximately 15% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 (26 million people) have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure activities.[8] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refer to hearing impairments as conditions that affect the frequency and/or intensity of one's hearing.[9] Although the term "deaf" is often mistakenly used to refer to all individuals with hearing difficulties, it actually describes a more limited group.

According to the CDC, "deaf" individuals do not hear well enough to rely on their hearing to process speech and language.

An employer may not withdraw an offer from an applicant with a hearing impairment if the applicant is able to perform the essential functions of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, without posing a direct threat (that is, a significant risk of substantial harm) to the health or safety of himself or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced through reasonable accommodation.

Nor may an employer ask an applicant who has voluntarily disclosed that he has a hearing impairment any questions about the nature of the impairment, when it began, or how the individual copes with the impairment.

However, if an applicant has an obvious impairment or has voluntarily disclosed the existence of a hearing impairment and the employer reasonably believes that he will require an accommodation to perform the job because of the impairment, the employer may ask whether the applicant will need an accommodation and what type.

The employer must keep any information an applicant discloses about his medical condition confidential.

( "Keeping Medical Information Confidential.") Example 1: Julie has a severe hearing impairment in her right ear and is applying to the telephone sales department of a large clothing company.

Julie tells the employer of her hearing impairment during the interview.

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