The Art of Disclosure: when do you tell an interviewer you’re d/hh?

In all my nagging at other people for their opinions on when to disclose hearing loss, I’ve yet to find any other d/hh topic so cleanly divided between hearing and d/hh respondents. Hearing loss isn’t something you can really keep on the downlow, even if you’ve got amazing speechreading and speaking skills. At some point, it has to be disclosed. The question is when.

In asking around, I’ve found that the breakdown usually goes as follows:

Hearing viewpoint: Best to be upfront; it has to come out at some point. If they have a problem with it from the beginning, you probably won’t ever convince them otherwise. No point in wasting either your or their time.

D/HH viewpoint: Leave any mention of hearing loss off your resume. If they call, don’t tell them you’re deaf or have the relay interpreter introduce herself. Don’t say anything about it until you get an interview, preferably in-person. (Note: Some d/hh people in my network reported applying to hundreds of positions with no bites; when they removed any mention of their hearing loss—such as having attended a residential school for the deaf—they finally started getting responses. I’ve yet to hear about any of these responses ultimately ending in a job, however.)

My experience: When I job-hunted after graduation, I seemed to get more traction when I disclosed my hearing loss earlier rather than later. Now, I didn’t see any reason why it needed to go in my resume or my cover letter, unless being d/hh could lend strength to that position, like diversity or accessibility. Usually, I’d disclose it when we discussed setting up a phone or in-person interview, saying something like, “I use a relay service due to hearing difficulties.” I preferred to use “hearing difficulties” instead of “deaf” because 1) my cochlear implant does make me functionally hard-of-hearing, and 2) I thought it sounded a bit less intimidating. I also emphasized that visual/text communication could easily substitute for spoken communication. Usually, the response was that hearing loss wasn’t an issue in this job. (Of course, it’s not like they could’ve told me otherwise without incurring a massive HR headache, but they could’ve also opted to say nothing at all…)

Despite what my DVR counselors had advised me, I’d found that I hated surprising potential employers with that information at a phone or in-person interview. It felt awkward, there was always fumbling, and I didn’t feel like anyone were adequately prepared. About halfway through my job search, I decided to just be upfront about it when it came up. Yeah, it probably narrowed down my job opportunities, but at least they were narrowed down to employers that I could safely assume would be open to hiring d/hh people.

(What I did run into more than once was that millennial catch-22: “You’ve got great credentials and we’re very impressed with your writing, but we need someone with more experience.” Go figure.)

Now, I’ve talked to other d/hh people who have had different experiences. So, I invite you to come share in the comments.