Profile: Alex Lu

PhD Student, University of Toronto, Canada

Field of expertise: Computational Biology

Years of experience (since start of PhD): 5 years 

Describe your hearing: Profoundly deaf; I’m oral and voice for myself, but I use ASL interpreters for professional interactions

Background

I grew up mainstreamed in Vancouver. For most of grade school, I used hearing aids —back when I was in elementary school, we still had those clunky FM systems that attached to your hearing aids through wires and boots. I was lucky to have a hearing resource teacher who recognized the importance of sign language, and she brought in a Deaf teacher to teach me and a few other Deaf/hard-of-hearing students the basics in grade 9. In grade 11, I decided to stop using my hearing aids entirely. Part of my decision was practical—I had a progressive hearing loss, and it was getting to the point where I felt like my hearing aids weren’t helping enough to be worth the headache they gave me from amplifying everything. But the other reason was because I had grown to resent what they represented: how hearing people always expected me to “fix” myself to be acceptable to them. My parents and teachers were furious—I was in the middle of a highly intensive International Baccalaureate program and they didn’t know how I would get through it. But I managed to cobble together strategies, including basic ASL and borrowing notes from classmates. I’ve used ASL interpretation for my academic needs ever since. 

I’m also queer, and outside of academia, I do a lot of activism in bridging Deaf and queer communities. For a while before my PhD (and even well into it), I was active in many non-profits. Some of my fondest memories include negotiating accessibility in Pride boardrooms, emceeing Deaf poets for spoken word festival events, and moderating all-Deaf panels about prison justice. 

How did you get to where you are?

Many people in academia will talk about how they’ve always known what they’ve wanted to study since they were very small. I am definitely not one of those people. Rather, I got to my current interests by taking opportunities as they arose, and by being receptive to advice. I began studying computational biology as an undergraduate because a family friend mentioned it might appeal to me. I had many interests and didn’t know whether I wanted to major in English or history or a science; I figured that their advice was as good as any. As I worked through my degree, I met a graduate student who asked me to volunteer for a lab that wanted someone with computational skills, and I specifically got involved in image analysis because that was the data the lab worked with. That experience opened the door to my PhD; I applied to just two graduate schools upon finishing my undergraduate, and I figured that if I didn’t get into either, I would just start my career. But one graduate school liked my background enough that they accepted me, and I’ve been working in image analysis and computer vision ever since. 

That isn’t to say that I am not passionate about what I do; I love working on challenges in big biological image datasets, and it really challenges my creative problem solving skills. But I am fundamentally a very flexible person, and I can easily see alternative histories where I stumbled into something radically different—comparative literature, maybe, or psychology—and would have been equally as happy and passionate about that. In retrospect, taking opportunities as they arose was a very good strategy for me as a marginalized disabled person—it meant that I was always surrounded by people who were eager to invite me into their space, so I attribute a lot of my success to being easy-going enough that I could let these people guide my journey. 

What is the biggest professional challenge? How do you mitigate this challenge?

Anything that involves travel. I never know whether I will be able to find qualified accessibility services when I travel for conferences or other academic commitments. For conferences, my school has been terrific about having my regular academic ASL interpreters fly out with me: we have flown to New York, Los Angeles, and Vancouver together, and that guarantees that I can be fully involved in the important networking connections that are being made there. However, this is not a problem I have fully solved. I’m due to spend three months in Switzerland for a research exchange soon, and since they use a different sign language than mine, I wasn’t able to find local services. I’ve had to come up with more creative solutions; my current plan is to have my interpreters in Toronto Skype with me remotely for regular meetings, and I will have to see how this works out. But in general, I think about academic mobility a lot for disabled people. While a lot of my able-bodied peers are able to take jobs and opportunities anywhere in the world, I feel like there are more hurdles for me, and I’m trying to find ways to not let this limit the steps I can take in my career. 

What is an example of accommodation that you either use or would like to use in your current job?

I have an awesome accessibility plan with my school, which gives me “block times.” Three or four afternoons a week, I have an ASL interpreter present for any needs that might pop up: a collaborator or student showing up for a meeting, impromptu chats with my supervisor or colleagues, seminars that I learn about last-minute but seem interesting. The interpreter is booked regardless of there’s something happening or not, and if it turns out to be a quiet afternoon, she spends her time on prep or coordination. 

This accommodation has really made a massive impact on my success in my program and career. For example, it makes collaborations a lot easier: while I could book interpretation for each specific meeting happening, having to set a date three weeks ahead to confirm interpretation is a lot less convenient than a collaborator just dropping in with short notice to discuss how a project is proceeding. Similarly, I don’t have to devote a lot of energy into keeping abreast of departmental and campus events to be able to request interpretation ahead of time—I can spontaneously go to seminars as other graduate students mention them to me. It’s really leveled the playing field a lot in terms of how much time and energy I have to devote to being engaged and available as a scientist, compared to hearing people. 

What advice would you give your former self?

You work way better 9 to 5! I can’t believe how much more productive I became after I started sleeping 8 hours a night and giving myself more downtime—sometimes fewer working hours is more! 

Any funny stories you want to share?

I once helped host an ASL-interpreted theatre production. I taught the director how to say “thank you” in ASL, so she could wave goodbye to the community members I had invited as they were leaving the show. Unfortunately, between the start and end of the play, she forgot that the sign starts from the mouth, not the chin, and ended up signing “fuck you” all night… (People had a good sense of humor about it).

How much listening is too much?

– Michele

Listening is hard work. At the end of a long day of meetings I’m exhausted. When I share this with my hearing colleagues they’ll say “Oh, I know—me too!” But is it the same? Really? 

Studies have shown that users of hearing aids like me, who rely on speech reading along with amplification, experience listening fatigue as much higher rates than hearing people (e.g., Bess and Hornsby, 2014). We are working much harder than everyone around us to piece things together and make sense from what we are able to hear. Most listening fatigue studies are on school-aged children and the few studies of adults show that “Adults with hearing loss require more time to recover from fatigue after work, and have more work absences.” (Hornsby et al., 2016). As academics, our jobs require us to listen to others all the time—in our classes, in faculty meetings, in seminars, and when meeting with students. How do we recognize cognitive fatigue due to too much listening and mitigate this fatigue so that we can manage our work responsibilities? This is a tremendous challenge for deaf/HoH academics and The Mind Hears will explore this topic in several blog posts. 

In this post I share how I figured out my daily listening limit, which turns out to be 3 hours with good amplification and clear speech reading. For many years, I pushed through my day not paying attention to how much time I was spending in meetings and classes. Some days I felt okay while other days I ended up utterly exhausted. The kind of exhausted where I can’t track conversation and even have trouble putting my own sentences together. When this happens, I can’t converse with my family and exercise class is out of the question because I can’t follow the instructor. I just take my hearing aids out and lie on the floor with the dog— I don’ need to speech read him and he gets me. Yay dogs!  

When I explain to my listening fatigue to non-native English speakers, they get it right away. They recognize that this listening fatigue is just like when they first moved to a country with a new language; while they had good command of the new language, following it all day exhausted them. Exactly! Except I’m not going to get any better at my native language.

After a while—actually a really long while because for many years I tried to work as if I was a hearing person due to internalized ableism, which really is a whole different blog topic—and now this sentence has really gotten off track so I’m going to start over. After a while, I started to realize that for my own health I needed to avoid becoming so exhausted that several times a week, I could only commune with the dog.

undefinedIt turns out that my fancy new Garmin watch that tells me to “MOVE” every hour also detects my stress level. This image at left is from a day at a conference. All I did that day was sit in one room listening to talks with occasional breaks for coffee and meals. My heart rate stayed elevated all day due to the work of following the conversation and the anxiety of constantly deciding whether I should ask for clarification on something I may have missed or just let it go. When even my watch is telling me ‘enough is enough’ or more specifically “You’ve had very few restful moments on this day. Remember to slow down and relax to keep yourself going”, it might be time to figure out how much listening is too much

So last February I tracked both my hours each day spent listening and my evening exhaustion level in my bullet journal. 

Actually, I didn’t track this much detail—I just made marks in my bullet journal for each hour and then noted whether this was manageable. Below are two example pages. For the day on the left, the 3 Xs represent 3 hours of listening and this was an OK day. The image on the right is from another day that month. The horizontal line below the Xs means that I was on the floor with the dog that evening after 5 hours of listening. 

Yes, I know that my handwriting is messy and I tend to kick a lot of tasks to the next day. But this blog post is not about my untidiness and unreliability. What I learned from this exercise was that any day including more than 3 hours of listening would be a tough an unmanageable day. Armed with this knowledge, I could start to try to rearrange my schedule to avoid having days with more than 3 hours of listening. 

Interestingly, this goes against the advice that many academics give each other. Early career researchers are encouraged to push all meetings to one day so that you have a day free for research. This is great advice… for a hearing person. For many deaf/HoH, we may do better with two free mornings a week rather than 1 full day so that no one day is overloaded with listening.

So how successful have I been? Moderately. While I have control over some aspects of my schedule, I don’t over others. I schedule my one-on-one meetings with my research assistants on days that I don’t have a lot of other meetings. If I’m teaching a 3-hour lab, sometimes it’s just impossible for me to have no other teaching or meetings that day. But I am considering restructuring my lab activities so that I don’t need to be ‘on’ the whole time. I’ve also started talking with my department head about my effort to limit my daily meetings; this involves educating him on why listening fatigue is different for me than for hearing faculty. Had I been more savvy, I might have negotiated a listening limit when I was hired. Take note of this, future academics! 

I’m still sorting out how to manage my day and eager to learn more from others on how they successfully manage listening fatigue. As I mentioned at the start of this post, The Mind Hears wants to have a series of posts about listening fatigue. Tell us how has this fatigue affected your work day and your health. What solutions have you found?

References cited

  • Bess, F.H., & Hornsby, B.W. (2014). Commentary: Listening can be exhausting—Fatigue in children and adults with hearing loss. Ear and hearing35(6), 592.
  • Hornsby, B.W., Naylor, G., & and Bess, F.H. (2016). A taxonomy of fatigue concepts and their relation to hearing loss. Ear and hearing37(Suppl 1), 136S.

Profile: Dr. Stephanie Kerschbaum

Associate Professor of English, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA

Field of expertise: Writing Studies

  • Website
  • Twitter: @slkersch (although I rarely use it)

Describe your hearing: I wear two behind-the-ear hearing aids and speechread well in one-on-one and small-group settings. Due to years of childhood speech therapy, I use my voice to communicate for myself when conversing with hearing people and sign when around other signing deaf people.

Here’s me—in this professional head shot my short brown hair, red rectangular glasses, white skin, and many-toothed smile are readily visible, but my two behind-the-ear hearing aids are not. I have been deaf since birth. When I was about one, my parents learned I was deaf and my mom immediately enrolled us in parent-child sign language classes. I learned to sign before I could talk, but once I began talking, my mother reports that I largely stopped signing. 

I never completely let go of that early language learning, however—while I do not have deaf family members (other than those who have late-in-life hearing loss), I did attend a school with a significant population of deaf students from 5th through 8th grade, and began using sign language interpreters and CART when I went to college at The Ohio State University. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to start graduate school in literary studies, but after taking an “Intro to Comp Studies” course as an MA student, ended up getting my PhD in Rhetoric and Composition.

I’m currently an associate professor of English at the University of Delaware, where I think a lot about different forms of writing and composing with and around disability as well as the ways that disability matters to all kinds of everyday experiences. I didn’t start focusing on disability studies until I was well into my first tenure-track job, though—it took me a long time to make explicit connections between my lived experiences of negotiating communication, interactional access, and building an academic career with the kind of theorizing I was doing around how people name and articulate differences—of all kinds—during everyday interactions. 

One of the biggest challenges that I face—and that is common to many disabled faculty members—involves building inclusive environments in which I can authentically and fully participate. By this, I mean situations where I can contribute in a timely fashion to an ongoing conversation or meeting in a way that enables others to attend to what I am sharing and incorporate it into the discussion. Too often, disabled faculty members experience environments where their participation is marginalized or mediated through interfaces, material arrangements, and patterns of behavior that frustrate rather than enable inclusion. 

In a room of 10 people I’m not likely to be able to completely follow a back and forth conversation without an interpreter. And even when an interpreter is in the room, I almost always still need to ask for some shifts in the interaction. Right now almost all of the responsibility for making those changes falls on me. So the hardest part is getting others in the room to participate in the work that is involved in making the kinds of changes needed.

An accommodation I’d love to have is actually an improvement on one that I already have and enjoy using. I love working with sign language interpreters. But there’s so much that goes on around making that work proceed well that I’d really like to have automatically be part of the experience: getting access copies of scripted remarks without having to go through complicated negotiations each time; well-structured processes for securing interpreting in which highly qualified interpreters well-trained in academic transliteration are readily available; having presenters, meeting organizers, and committee chairs consider interpreters’ needs when setting up rooms, sending out meeting materials, and more.

New Year’s resolution 2020: Make Your Workplace Accessible

The new year brings a fresh start to our lives; it’s a natural time to reflect on the year past and make plans for the coming year. At the start of 2019 The Mind Hears offered a post on making your academic workplace more accessible for your deaf/HoH colleagues. For 2020, we’ve updated the list of recommendations on the google doc and expanded below on the reasons why you should work to improve your workplace’s inclusivity today.

Universal design your workplace: Our spaces become more inclusive for all when we improve access for any subgroup of our community. Consequently, by increasing the accessibility of our workplaces for our deaf and hard of hearing colleagues, we create a better workplace for everyone. This includes hearing folks who have auditory processing disorder, use English as their second language or are acquiring hearing loss during their careers. Chances are that someone in your department has hearing loss, whether they’ve disclosed this or not, and will benefit from your efforts to make your workplace more accessible (see post on Where are the deaf/HoH academics). This is why you should universal design your workplace now and not wait until someone who is struggling asks you to make modifications.

Sharing the work: With a google search you can find several resources on workplace accessibility for deaf/HoH employees, such as the Hearing Loss Association of America’s (HLAA) very useful employment toolkit. One drawback of these resources is that nearly all of the suggestions are framed as actions for the deaf/HoH employee. While deaf and hard of hearing academics need to be strong self-advocates and take steps to improve their accommodations, our hearing colleagues can help us tremendously by sharing the work and not expecting us to bear all of the burden of creating accessible workplaces. Speech reading conversations, planning accommodations and making sure that technology/accommodations function is never-ending and exhausting work that we do above and beyond our teaching, research and service. Your understanding and your help changing our workplaces can make a huge difference to us.  For example, if a speaker doesn’t repeat the question, ask them to repeat even if you heard the question just fine. The people who didn’t hear the question are already stressed and fatigued from working hard to listen, so why expect them to do the added work of ensuring speakers repeat questions. Repeating the question benefits everyone.

One size doesn’t fit all: If a participant requests accommodation for a presentation or meeting, follow up with them and be prepared to iterate to a solution that works. It may be signed interpreters (there are different kinds of signing), oral interpreters, CART (see post on Captions and Craptions), or FM systems (see post on Using FM systems at conferences). It could be rearranging the room or modifying the way that the meeting is run. Keep in mind that what works for one deaf/HoH person may not work for another person with similar deafness. What works for someone in one situation may not work at all for that same person in another situation, even if the situations seem similar to you. The best solution will probably not be the first approach that you try nor may it be the quickest or cheapest approach; it will be the one that allows your deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues to participate fully and contribute to the discussion. Reaching the goal of achieving an academic workplace accessible to deaf/HoH academics is a journey.

What to be a better ally and make your workplace accessible for your deaf and hard of hearing colleagues? Follow this link to read our list of recommendations. This is a living document and we welcome your comments and suggestions either to this post or directly within the document.

 

I owe my career to the invention of email

-Michele

The title of this post says it all, really. Several times a week I marvel at all the work communication that I can do now that would have been extremely difficult several decades ago. I earned my PhD in 1996. So, I remember the days of making physical presentation slides, where you had to use special film and rush to the developing place in order to get your slides produced before the meeting. I also remember searching the World Wide Web for the very first time. I realize that I’m dating myself in these reminisciings and you are probably impatient with me to get to the point.

Email was around when I was in graduate school, but, at that time, most professionals relied on phoning each other to exchange ideas and get information. At my request, the Dean’s office of my graduate school installed a TTY for me to use for making professional phone calls. I used it a few times and I was very grateful that the captionists relayed voiced information so that I didn’t have to piece together the message from fragments heard on my amplified phone. For example, I used this for some job interviews (see our post on disclosing deafness in job search).

Around my third year of my PhD, I was also having serious doubts if an academic career was for me. This is not uncommon for any graduate students but my deafness exacerbated a sense of not belonging in academia. I didn’t know any deafened professors or researchers. How does one have a successful academic career with deafness? How will I follow discussions at meetings? How will I hear my students’ comments? How will I communicate with colleagues on the phone?

I’m still asking some of these questions and The Mind Hears blog is doing a great job of probing these questions (e.g., teaching large classes post). Fortunately, the last question is now moot. Email allows us to communicate with colleagues, exchange ideas and get questions answered. I don’t have to worry about how my voice sounds or whether I can hear folks. I don’t have to fuss with the complications of the relay service, though I still use my new captioned phone when necessary.

Do I ever miss being able to use the telephone? Heck no! I far prefer email or talking in person than using the phone. Recently Ana and were chatting with a hearing person and they suggested that we contact someone by phone. Ana and I looked at each other and I could tell from her face that she was thinking the same thing as me. A combination of “Ew! Why use the phone when you can email?” and “Eek! Don’t make me use the phone!”.  When I need an answer from someone on my campus, I take the opportunity to stroll over to their office.  Sometimes I get asked “Why didn’t you just phone rather than walk over here?” I laugh and say “It’s good to get out and about and besides, now I’ve had the chance to visit you.” If I choose to, I can use these encounters as opportunities to talk about my deafness. But honestly, the work of educating the hearing community is draining so I prefer to have some control over when and where educational moments occur.

I marvel that while I’ve met many deaf and hard of hearing academics that are younger than me, I’ve not yet met one older than myself who has navigated an academic career with significant deafness (i.e., not age related).  I wonder if this is because I was the leading edge of the email revolution that changed the way academics communicate. Academics even a few years my senior had to rely on telephones for networking. The thought of that makes me deeply appreciative of starting my academic career when I did. What an amazing and empowering time this is to be an academic! I’m grateful for the luck of living on this side of the email revolution. Thank you email!

So, I will end with this Haiku:

    The telephone sits on my desk
    Gathering much dust
    While I type and weave science

P.S. The increasing utilization of remote video conferencing is presenting new challenges for us deaf and hard of hearing academics. Who wants to contribute a The Mind Hears post on navigating these settings?

When to tell? Applying for jobs when you are deaf or hard of hearing

-Ana

Going on the job market was a fraught decision for me. As a postdoc considering tenure-track faculty positions, I relied on hearing aids and lip-reading for communication, but, due to my background, I was unaware not just of assistive technologies that could help with communication, but of the very existence of campus offices dedicated to providing accommodations. My struggles in grad school and as a postdoc had left me with severe doubts (enough to fill another blog post) about whether academia was a career path I could follow. Despite my misgivings, a supportive advisor encouraged me to try my hand at the job market, thus setting the stage for a second set of excruciating decisions to be made: What should I tell the search committees about my hearing loss? When should I reveal it? How much should I tell?

If you haven’t already, I recommend you read Ryan Seslow’s wonderful post about the numerous concerns a deaf/hard-of-hearing (HoH) applicant might have concerning equal consideration from search committees. Regardless of regulations to prevent discrimination (and such rules likely do not exist in every country), every step of the hiring process has potential for bias against candidates with hearing loss. Also sobering is Michele’s recent post about the leaky pipeline for deaf and hard-of-hearing academics. Could bias against deaf/HoH candidates during the hiring process contribute to the “leaks”? The topic of disclosing (or not) disabilities to employers has even been recently featured in the New York Times, and I have just now picked up a fascinating book of collected essays about disclosing disability in higher education. With this backdrop, it is clear that deciding what to tell and when is not a decision to be taken lightly.

With these concerns in mind, in summer 2019 The Mind Hears solicited responses to a very short survey about when folks chose to reveal their deafness. The 25 survey responders spanned people in a range of positions and career stages, with at least two actively on the
market, and the rest ranging from postdocs to lecturers, faculty on and off tenure tracks, researchers, and at least one retired professor. The survey showed that preferred communication methods varied widely, with a great majority of respondents reporting that they rely primarily on speech reading and hearing aids, but a little over 40% use sign language (Fig. 1).

While the number of responses prevents an comprehensive treatise on how deaf/HoH academics approach the job search process, this survey does provide a series of snapshots of choices that have been made—and why they have been made. Many personal factors can play a role in these decisions—such as upbringing, prior positive or negative experiences in disclosing hearing loss, primary mode of communication, career stage, and the type of institution applying to. Cultural shifts in social climate may also influence whether a strategy may be more appealing today than it was 20 years ago. Regardless of the limitations of the survey, as you sift through these snapshots of experiences, you may find something that resonates with your history or that gives you an idea of how to move forward in your own job search.

The first question we asked was: At what point in your job application for a professional position have you chosen to reveal your deafness? Among our respondents, the most common choice was “upon being invited to the interview,” followed by two polar opposites: “never” or “in the application materials”(Fig. 2). Various minor choices involved situational circumstances, the fact that application materials strongly suggested (but did not overtly reveal) deafness, or revealing only once the job offer was accepted.

What prompted people to make their choice? Those who never revealed their deafness or revealed it late in the process (during the interview or upon acceptance) expressed strong concerns about bias. Here is a sample of replies:

“ I have been rejected before the interview which I assume is because of my disclosure of being deaf.”

 “Not wanting to make a fuss, not wanting to give them the opportunity to [discriminate], thinking that I could get by without them knowing anyway.”

“worried about discrimination and also feel[ing] that it doesn’t affect my ability to do job so it isn’t any of their business.”

For those who revealed their deafness upon being invited to interview, the overriding concern was that their application would be evaluated without prejudice, but that performance during the interview would not be misinterpreted:

“I want to be upfront about the reason why I may asking ‘what’ more often than the hearing person so it doesn’t reflect poorly on me. It’s not that I’m not listening, it’s just that I physically couldn’t hear you.”

 “You need to make sure you are able to hear in the interview, and prepare the interviewers for any gaps in understanding that occur as a result of your not hearing them well.”

 “I want my resume to be read without any bias. If my resume gets selected for interview, it is based on my merits. So, at that time I let the interviewer know about my deafness to get necessary accommodations for a smooth conversation. However, I understand that even at that stage the bias can creep in.”

 “I like to be upfront and let the interviewer know that I will be using VRS [Video Relay Service]—I want a workplace that will be open to my being Deaf so like to bring it up as early as possible in a relatively nonchalant way.”

 “I didn’t want my disability to determine whether or not I would be invited to campus. I didn’t want interviewers to think I was strange if I tried to pass as a hearing person, so I told the committee that invited me for the interview.”

Those who chose to reveal their deafness early on, in the application materials, felt that valuable information about them would be lost without a reveal, or knew practices in their field would require challenging communication situations arising early in the process:

“I had one significant outreach in the Deaf community and wanted institutions to know that would likely be part of my service as a professor.”

 “The job was for a post in a university as a deaf studies and sign language lecturer, so it was advantageous to tell them at that time.”

“Most jobs in my field do first round interviews via Skype or Zoom and I cannot hear the committee members.”

We then asked: What accommodations have you requested during job interviews, and how have these requests been received? In my case, this question brought back painful memories. Because the concept of asking for accommodation was so foreign to me—I had an ingrained belief that my “problem” was mine alone to solve—the only accommodation I requested was that my host repeat all audience questions for me. I still cringe at recalling the most challenging part of my interview days—lunch with the graduate students, generally a large group, with many too shy to speak loudly. I had the terrified feeling that if I as much as glanced down at my pizza slice I was going to miss an incredibly important question from a person across the room whom I could not hear nor speech read. Fortunately, some respondents were much more savvy than I was, though, as you may expect, the answers were as diverse as deaf/HoH individuals can be.

Some folks opted not to request accommodations or to bring their own communication tools or approaches:

“None; I don’t want to doom my chances from the start.”

“None, I bring my own FM system and do my own research about the panel beforehand to see if there may be any additional concerns for speech reading.”

 “I reveal my HoH state right up front as soon as we’re introduced, explain that I might need to ask them to repeat themselves and [if] necessary, ask people to move closer.”

Several job seekers mentioned orchestrating seating arrangements in order to facilitate communication:

“I did not request formal accommodations but did ask for clarification within conversations and chose my seats carefully at meals [so that I could follow conversation].”

“Rearranging a room for my job talk in order to make the seating shallower and to make it more easy for me to walk up to folks during the Q&A.”

“No specific accommodations. I’ve told people I needed to see their face to lipread, and sometime I’ve asked to sit in a different place to help with lipreading. I see this as casually saying I have a hearing impairment, if needed, rather than formally declaring it as a disability.”

 Some job seekers explicitly requested accommodations for the interviews with mixed responses:

 “Used CART or written questions for onsite interviews; Caption phone for phone interviews. 60% of the time, it was not an issue. At other times, people did not understand the accommodation process and tried to speak instead of writing questions, or say like “I don’t know why, but he is using a special phone”, even after having informed about it in advance. At that time, I had to repeat the need for accommodation.”

 “I have used interpreters in interviews and this practice generated all kinds of rude and/or illegal inquiries. I have had an interpreter blocked from parts of the all-day academic dog-and-pony-show interview on the grounds it was the “confidential” part (only to find the other party sitting with his back to the bright window, rocking post-stroke half-face paralysis and a Western movie sheriff moustache).”

“Sign language interpreters, request was very positively received.”

Ultimately, our worry is that conscious or unconscious bias will lead search committees to assume that we are not suitable for the positions. But how to limit the effect of bias when we communicate our needs? We asked respondents how they reassured committees of their job suitability. Some suggested highlighting the unique strengths of being deaf/HoH:

 “I make sure to show the positive aspects as they would relate to the job, ‘I have these sets of skills and they would assist me in this position in the following way.’ These are not just skills that ‘make up for’ my hearing, but skills that I have [that] add an advantage over hearing individuals or individuals that don’t speech read or know sign language. Being multilingual is typically a plus on a search.”

 “My PhD advisor and I talked about how he would describe my deafness within his letter of recommendation. I had some concerns that he would take a ‘pitying’ tone and in our conversation I was able to suggest to him some ways to frame my hearing loss as one of my characteristics rather than as a challenge to be overcome. He seemed to understand so I trusted that his letter would assuage any fears of the committee. My PhD advisor had also been impressed with the significant effort that I had put into disability advocacy during my PhD. I believe that he framed this as my passion for serving the community.”

A few job seekers were confident that the search committee would judge their strong qualification fairly:

“I trust that my CV speaks for itself, as well as outlining my capabilities/communication methods in my covering letter.”

 “My qualifications show suitability in and of itself, confidence is key and knowing exactly what accommodations I need.”

Sadly, also common among survey respondents were concerns that the whole process is unfairly stacked against deaf/HoH applicants, or that the only way to be perceived as competent is to disclose as little as possible:

“My work history speaks for itself. I’ve been teaching for 13 years […]. But since I rarely make it to interview stage, I don’t even get to reassure the committee members of my suitability for the job.”

“After several interviews where both having an interpreter (‘do we have to pay a second person to have you work here??’) and not having an interpreter (‘but her answer to my question was not what I asked. She should have had an interpreter if she could not hear me’) did not work, I made a deal with the devil to get a [cochlear implant] so that I could fake it through the interview as a HoH person, just showing them that I could fit in. I did not draw a great deal of attention to my deafness. I know people on the search committee and the hiring Dean knew that I was deaf and used interpretation in other settings. However, I wasn’t going to bring it up if they didn’t. Surprisingly enough, that actually did work. I kept my head down and did minimal committee service and very non-interactive classroom style teaching until I was tenured before I began [to ask] for interpreting. The more interpreting I have had access to since then, the more effective my overall professional performance has been. It is a shame that businesses only see the cost of it, and not the performance improvement.”

Because the role of search committees is essentially to eliminate applicants, the job application process is a loaded situation for all, deaf/HoH or not. And it tends to be pretty easy for search committees to come up with reasons not to hire somebody, regardless of any anti-bias regulations put in place. As a result, it is also nearly impossible to prove that a hiring committee has discriminated based on an applicant being deaf/HoH. However, the fact that communication is such a critical and continuous component of academic jobs greatly increases the possibility that our deafness will be erroneously perceived to compromise our likelihood of academic success — before we even get a chance to prove prejudices wrong. There is no easy fix for this; the only one I can think of is to normalize the presence of deaf/HoH academics to the extent that any request for accommodation is seen as routine. Those of us who already hold positions have a role to play here, perhaps in being more forward about requesting accommodations, and in making sure that our deafness is recognized by colleagues and administrators. We should also make sure that diversity initiatives in academia explicitly incorporate disability as an important facet of diversity.

We are very grateful to all people who responded to the survey and were willing to share their experiences with us. Thank you for taking the time to share your stories. Such sharing can only help all of us, and we hope others will feel inspired to keep on paying it forward in the comments below.

white young man with helmet on Stromboli volcano with gas steam in background and rocky landscape

Profile: Dr. Oliver Lamb

NRC Research Associate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA

Field of expertise: Geophysical monitoring of natural phenomena, with a particular interest in volcanoes.

Years of experience (since start of PhD): Nearly 6.

Describe your hearing: Moderately hard of hearing in both ears, since birth. I have worn hearing aids since the age of 4.

Education/BackgroundI grew up in a small village in Wales about 10 mins drive out of the university town of Aberystwyth. My first school was completely in welsh. This might sound daunting for a young HoH kid from an English speaking family, but looking back I don’t think I was really fazed by this. I think it was helped by having supportive and understanding teachers and a teacher’s assistant, always happy to repeat things for me (thank you Mrs. Fuller!). My lucky streak with helpful teachers continued into my English secondary school (ages 11-18), where I never really had any major issues with my hearing. Obviously, there were plenty of noisy classes, but a vast majority of teachers were able to keep them relatively quiet when necessary.

I cannot remember meeting any other deaf or HoH kid my age, but I also don’t remember ever feeling like I was the ‘weird kid’. I guess growing up with a father and grandfather who also wore hearing aids probably made me feel somewhat ‘normal’.

white man in bright sunshine (hat and sunglasses) on a rocky volcano barren of vegetation

How did you get to where you are?

I’ve always had an interest (some might call a passion) in volcanoes. I was lucky to visit Mt. St. Helens when my family visited the US when I was aged 8. I think it wasn’t until I spoke to a careers advisor a few years later that I realized that I could work on volcanoes as a career. From then on, I always had a determination to study geology. After school, I went to the University of Oxford where I got a Masters in Earth Sciences (equivalent of a bachelor plus master degrees). From there I was fortunate to land in the University of Liverpool to pursue a PhD. There, I worked on a project looking at seismic and infrasonic data from various lava dome eruptions around the world, and also carried out a little experimental work with acoustic emissions in the lab. After graduating in 2017, I was eager to take up whatever postdoctoral job offer might come way, and that is how I ended up in North Carolina, USA, in early 2018.

 What is your typical day like?

It’s really hard to say I have a typical day really. Each day brings a new task or challenge, whether it is coding a new way to analyze or plot my data, or preparing equipment for fieldwork, or writing and editing an article or grant application. Most of my days are spent writing either code or scientific articles. The coding can be tedious and frustrating, but it is such a nice feeling when it works and you get a great result and plot at the end. The article writing has also been very difficult (I always struggle with the discussion section), but I think I’m slowly getting the hang of it. When I am not writing, I am probably grappling with some equipment or instrument, or attending various seminars, or preparing for an upcoming conference.

The days spent on fieldwork are probably the most special though. I have been fortunate enough to travel around the world to places such as Mexico, Guatemala, Italy, and Chile. The preparation for fieldwork can be very intense, because lots of different arrangements have to be made in a short amount of time and in the right order. When I’m in the field, I am typically running around digging holes to put seismometers into the ground and/or leaving infrasound microphones to listen to very low frequency noises around the volcano. It can be exhausting, back-breaking work (each station might include 30-40 kilos of equipment and batteries), but it is well worth it when you get a chance to work in some truly spectacular landscapes. Also, it is a huge privilege for me to meet the many wonderful and generous people around the world, most of whom who share a passion for what I do.

 What is the biggest professional challenge (as educator or researcher)? How do you mitigate this challenge?

Managing the workload and the high level of anxiety that comes with it. I do my best to keep on top of projects, but I often find myself neglecting tasks that I told myself that I would do weeks or months before. It was, and still is, a huge learning curve for me when I started my postdoctoral career because of the greater responsibilities I suddenly faced. This includes managing projects, producing articles, writing grant proposals, rewriting grant proposals, managing equipment for fieldwork, preparing for fieldwork, checking there’s enough money in the budget for fieldwork, managing administrative bureaucracy, rewriting grant proposals again, and data management, all with one eye on the somewhat unclear future because I have no clear idea of where or when the next postdoctoral or lecturing position might come available. The anxiety has been very difficult to manage at times, but I am grateful that I have had and still have a network of colleagues, friends and family that I can talk to.

What is an example of accommodation that you either use or would like to use in your current job?

This is not really a specific accommodation, but one of my biggest and most frequent frustrations is having to deal with terrible acoustics during talks, whether they are department seminars or during conferences. More speakers need to learn how to project their voice to the whole room, with or without a microphone. I should not have to sit in the first few rows to hear you. Similarly, it’s an instant turn off for me whenever a speaker at a conference declines to use the provided microphone just so they can move around the room or stage. There’s no point in trying to seem like a dynamic TED speaker when I (and I suspect a lot of other people in the same room) can’t even hear what you’re saying.

Having said that, it would be great to have personal microphone/transmitter kit that I can bring to talks that will help me hear the speaker. Something that doesn’t disturb the speaker and/or other talk attendees and transmits the speakers voice directly to my ears via Bluetooth or telecoil. I have seen a few systems like this out there but none of them seemed to have quite the right specifications for me to consider using them. I’m all ears to anyone who might have suggestions for something like this.

 What advice would you give your former self?

Be more confident in our own abilities, but don’t be afraid to ask for help on even the most menial things.

 Any funny stories you want to share?

This might not be a funny story for some people, but what ho. I am a pretty heavy sleeper, and have slept through lots of noisy situations. However, when I camped next to active volcanoes I have been woken up by large noisy rockfalls (in Mexico) or a particularly large explosion (in Guatemala). It’s good to know my ears are at least tuned to noises that I definitely need to pay attention to!

The sound we can see: working with hearing loss in the field

When I was 19 I went for a checkup with an audiologist and found out that I was hearing only 90% of what I should be. The doctor said that for my age, this was a high level of hearing loss, and attributed it possibly to the intense course of antibiotics I took for kidney failure when I was one year old. He suggested that I come back yearly to repeat the hearing exam, to verify if my ability further decreased below my current hearing levels. Of course I ignored this advice and never went back. When I started my graduate studies six years later, I decided it was finally time to visit the audiologist again, because I discovered that I could not hear the species of frog I had decided to base my research on. This was a very scary moment for me. How did I find myself in this situation?

In the last year of my undergraduate studies I took an ecology course and fell in love with the topic. I knew I wanted to earn a master’s degree in ecology, ideally working with animal populations. In Brazil, one has to take a standardized exam to enter a graduate program. I traveled 440 km to take the test and passed; I began my studies in the Federal University of Paraná located in Curitiba, in the south of Brazil. Among all the available mentors, there was one who carried out research on ecological dynamics of insects and anuran amphibians. I chose his lab and wrote a project proposal examining the population dynamics of an endemic species of stream frog (Hylodes heyeri) in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, specifically Pico do Marumbi State Park, Piraquara, in the state of Paraná. Much of what I was to be doing was completely new to me: I had never worked with frogs and I also had never practiced the mark-and-recapture method. I thus faced a steep learning curve and had to learn a LOT about lab and fieldwork from my team and my mentor. In my first field outing, during which I was to learn how to identify and capture the species I would study, I discovered that I could not hear the frog. A labmate who accompanied me to the field said, “Are you listening? The frog is so close to us.” He thought I was not hearing the frog due to lack of experience, or because of the background noise of the stream. I worried that something else was amiss, and this finally prompted me to go back to my audiologist. There, I discovered that I had lost 2% more of my hearing, and this loss compromised treble sounds, those in the range of high to very high frequencies, precisely overlapping my frog’s vocalizations.

Now, I’m a PhD student and I use hearing aids programmed specifically for my hearing loss, which primarily encompasses frequencies above 4000 Hz. I was initially ashamed to wear hearing aids because people mocked them. But I didn’t consider changing projects, because I knew I could get help localizing the frog. I also knew there would be ways for me to analyze the sound without necessarily hearing it. Even with hearing aids, however, I can only hear the call of my frog when I am no more than 4 meters away. Other members of my lab can detect the sound of the frog from much farther away, even when they are 20 meters or more from the stream. This means that for every survey I carry out in the field, I need a person to accompany me to guide me to the frog, using their sense of hearing to identify the sound. But the assistance I receive in the field goes beyond locating my frog; the field can be dangerous for many reasons: I may not hear dangerous animals—such as puma, collared peccary, or leopards—approaching; and I may lose track of my team if people call me from too far away. Even for scientists without hearing loss, it is advisable not to carry out fieldwork alone.

In recent years, I have had the opportunity to learn Brazilian sign language (LIBRAS) in graduate courses. I am happy that it is a requirement for my degree! When I am in the field I communicate primarily with gestures. I am lucky that my frogs are diurnal, because I am able to see my companions in the field, making communication much easier. Once my companion hears the frog, they look at me so I can read their lips or we make gestures so as to not scare the frogs. Sometimes I use headphones, point the microphone of my recorder in the general direction of the frog, and increase the volume to better understand where the sound comes from—this trick of using my main research tool (my recorder) to find my frogs was taught to me by a friend who also carried out research in bioacoustics and had the challenge of finding a tiny mountain frog species that hid in leaf-litter (thank you, André Confetti). My frogs are also tiny, only 4 cm long. They camouflage in the streams and spook very easily, but in order to obtain my data, I need to get as close as 50 cm from the frog. Only then can I really start. The aim of my work is to analyze the effect of anthropogenic noise (such as traffic road sounds transmitted by playback) on frog communication. Once I am in position, I can play the anthropogenic sound, and record the frog’s call. I take these recordings back to the lab and experience the most rewarding aspect of my efforts to find these frogs. The recordings are transformed into graphs of the frequency and length of each call. Although I cannot hear the sounds my frog makes, I can see them! After seeing the sound I can analyze several call variables and calculate various statistics.

Would I recommend field work such as mine to somebody who finds themselves in my predicament? If you are open to creative workarounds, such fieldwork is possible for all. Having a field companion, using signs to communicate, and making use of the amplification provided by my recording equipment has solved the majority of my problems. Most important of all, having support from your mentor and other people who can help and you can trust is crucial. I do not intend to continue with bioacoustics research after I graduate, but if I need to mentor any students in the area, I’ll be happy to do it. I worry about my hearing loss too, in thinking of how it will affect my teaching in the future, because sometimes I hear words incorrectly and confuse their meaning. But I recently exposed my hearing loss in an interview; reading more at The Mind Hears and on other blogs has inspired me to worry less about my hearing loss and to continue to forge ahead in my career.

 

Biography: My name is Michelle Micarelli Struett and I am a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Program in Ecology and Conservation (where I also received my MS) at the Federal University of Paraná in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil. My undergraduate was at Maringá State University in Maringá, which is also in Paraná. I am interested in animal behavior, especially in frogs, and in my research will examine multi-modal communication in the Brazilian Torrent Frog (Hylodes heyeri). This unique frog can sing from one or both sides of its mouth (it has two vocal sacs), depending on context. I will attempt to determine what that context is that stimulates those two possibilities (auditive, visual, or tactile), and how anthropogenic noise may interfere with communication and social interactions in this frog. Despite my hearing loss (which primarily encompasses frequencies above 4000 Hz), I have not been constrained from working with frog calls and bioacoustics.

Mandated equal opportunity hiring may not ensure equal considerations by hiring committees: A hypothetical scenario

-Ryan

Imagine that you are a deaf/hard-of-hearing (HoH) person applying for a full-time academic position in a U.S. public institution of higher learning. The position is listed nationally across multiple job boards. At the offering institution, deaf/HoH faculty, students, administrators, and staff members represent 1% of the population. You are highly qualified and display an extensive résumé with many accomplishments in your field and a strong history of service. Information about you is highly transparent on the internet at large.

You investigate and discover that the offering department does not currently have a deaf or hard-of-hearing person among their full-time and adjunct faculty.

Applying for the position:

When applying, you check the general “YES, I have a disability” box on the institution’s application and contact the human resources (HR) department directly to let them know that you are applying specifically as a deaf/HoH person. If you are offered an interview for the position, you request, as is your right, to meet with the search committee in person, rather than have the interview over a conference call. You cross your fingers, hoping that the HR department communicates with the department offering the position to ensure that they are presenting an equal opportunity for employment for those with disabilities. Does the HR department actually communicate your request for accommodation to the academic department? You may never know but let’s say that it does in this case…

Considerations of the hiring committee:

When the academic department’s search committee learns that you are deaf/HoH how will they respond? Are they experienced in the process of interviewing a deaf or hard-of-hearing person? How many interviews have they given to deaf/HoH applicants in the past? How many of those previous applicants were given an interview, made it to the second or third round of the process, and hired full-time? Where are the statistics to prove that equal opportunities are being given?

When the search committee learns of your request to meet in person for an interview because you are deaf/HoH, how aware and educated are the search committee members of Deaf culture and what it means to be deaf or hard of hearing? How aware are they of what it means to be a deaf/HoH faculty member teaching in a mainly all-hearing environment? Do they know the benefits of having a deaf or hard-of-hearing person as a part of their full-time or part-time faculty? What evidence is there within the department’s current publications, seminars, exhibitions, faculty development, and outreach efforts of awareness of the advantages brought about by workplace diversity that is inclusive of disability?

Is the typical academic faculty search committee equipped, skilled, and supportive enough to interview a deaf/HoH candidate if none of their members are deaf or hard of hearing? If they don’t have deaf/HoH members, are they sufficiently trained in deaf/HoH experiences to judge your application fairly against the numerous other applicants who do not have any disabilities? Are search committees trained enough to distinguish between medical and cultural models of disability, and to understand how these models impact their perceptions of your strengths? Are they savvy enough to move away from focusing on what the you can’t do, and focus instead on what your diverse perspective brings to the hiring unit?

Answers to many of the questions I ask above shouldbe part of the public record. My experience in the job search circuit thus far has left me disillusioned and believing that departmental search committees and HR departments are likely ill-equipped to handle deaf/HoH applicants. Studies have shown that search committees have many implicit biases. One of these biases is that since deafness may impede academic success, it is safer to hire a hearing applicant.

It’s time to fix this.

Have you ever been a on a faculty search committee where a deaf or hard-of-hearing person applied? If so, did that person receive the position? If not, would you like to share your experience?

Who am I at a Research Conference: the Deaf Person or the Scientist?

– Caroline

I look forward to and dread research conferences simultaneously.

I look forward to seeing my friends and colleagues, learning about new research, and exercising my neurons as I ponder different research topics and directions. I eagerly anticipate exploring the different cities and countries where the conferences are held. I long for those few days where I control my own schedule.

At the same time, I dread discovering that the provided access services are inadequate to catch the various research presentations and posters—the interpreting and/or captioning quality ranges from poor to excellent, so the significance of getting the gist of what is new research is >0.05 (I know I shouldn’t be using 0.05 as a baseline, my dear statistician friends). I also worry whether the quality of my research work is reflected accurately by the interpreters for my presentations.

But what I dread the most is being viewed as the deafperson, not as a scientist. At the first few conferences I attended, people would come up to me and ask questions such as, “How do you come up with signs for phytoplankton or photorespiration?” Often, they would try to strike up a conversation with the interpreter right in front of me and commiserate about how hard it must be to keep up with the scientific jargon, especially with people speaking at warp speeds. These conversations were always awkward since the interpreters know they cannot have personal conversations while they are interpreting. They would look to me for guidance on how to handle the situations, since they knew the protocol, even if my colleagues did not.

solomon mid post

I’ve mastered responding with a strained smile on my face, “Yes, it isn’t easy. By the way, what is yourresearch on? And do you have a poster or talk here?” Most people get the hint and are more than happy to talk about their own research. After twenty years in the field, these encounters become less frequent, but they still occur.

Those encounters have become rarer over time because I have become more assertive about going up to other researchers to ask them about their work; but that assertiveness and confidence has come in part because of my growing scientific reputation in the field of estuarine science and oceanography. Now, I suspect that if I stand around and wait for people to come talk to me, they either won’t come due to fear, or they will come with the dreadedquestions. I truly appreciate my colleagues who come to me to discuss science.

At academic conferences, I am a scientist first, and deaf person second.

Caroline_SolomonDr. Solomon has been a faculty member at Gallaudet since 2000.  She also is an adjunct at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and serves on masters and doctoral committees for research on increasing participation of deaf and hard of hearing people in STEM and estuarine science especially in the areas of nutrient and microbial dynamics.