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Ticking the disability box on a job application form

Published Date: 01 Apr 2021

Girl sitting on wall

"Do you consider yourself to have a disability?" I stare at the job application in front of me. Just tick the ‘yes’ box, Danii. Tick it. You have a disability, you are deaf. Tick the box. WHY AM I HESITATING? Why is this question suddenly the hardest question on the whole application form? It’s not that I think of myself as not having a disability. It’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed. It’s part of who I am. My whole personal statement pretty much tells the story about how my deafness has created so many paths for me, given me so many experiences and lessons and shaped me to be who I am today. So I can’t exactly say, “Yes, I’m a nine times deaf world record holder in swimming and Deaflympic champion,’ then not tick the disability box. I think they’ll catch on that I’m lying.

So why do I hesitate at this part of a job application? And why does it seem to be becoming increasingly hard to tick the ‘yes’ option and scroll down to the ‘sensory impairment/deaf/hard of hearing’ box? Because even in this day and age, companies still discriminate, employers don’t give you the benefit of the doubt, and make their own assumptions. I’ve experienced it many, many times. One of these assumptions is that because you’re deaf, you cannot speak. People won’t understand you so you won’t be able to communicate and/or meet the needs of their company. I was rejected for a job once on the grounds of ‘communication problems.’ I had the minimum requirements and yet wasn’t even invited to interview.

The reality is I always have that dark little thought in the back of my mind - if I wasn’t deaf, they’d want me. Whether it be a job application or a university application. If only I could hear, they’d give me the opportunity. But then, how boring would my personal statement section be? I would no longer be the multiple deaf world record breaking, medal winning, children’s ambassador, winner of Deaf Sports Personality of the Year and Deaf Sportswoman of the Year. Being deaf has given me so much to talk about, learn and probably given me more experience and skills than most of the other applicants. Yet somehow, I’ve convinced myself that by ticking this silly little box, all of my achievements, quirks and experiences are brushed aside and no longer matter just because I can’t hear like Susan, the applicant before me, who can answer a telephone. Every rejection I get seems to knock my confidence even more to tick that box, because I somehow convince myself that ticking the box is the reason they don’t want me. I have more than the minimum requirements, I can answer all of the questions they throw my way, I have the people and life skills required to fulfil the role. If I had just ticked ‘no’ to disability, I’d be their CEO by now. Okay, maybe not CEO, but I convince myself I’d be well on my way!

I guess it’s just another thing us deaf people need to deal with. In a world that claims discrimination is a thing of the past, we know that it’s not always.

I’ve been at my current job for almost three years now. I’m a full-time fitness instructor and personal trainer, working in a noisy environment with weights slamming, machines turning and loud music. I hold fluent conversations face to face with my clients, teach group classes and help other customers in the gym. I’m known as one of the best instructors the company has. I’m an asset to the team and a “joy to have as an employee” (my bosses words, not mine I promise!) Yet after over a year of me working for the company, this same boss admitted something to me. He was getting ready to interview potential new employees and I asked if he was nervous. He said that he still gets a little nervous to do interviews but that he has never been as nervous as he was for my interview. I was shocked and asked why. He admitted that when he saw that I had stated on my application I was deaf, he wasn’t sure how to proceed. He didn’t know if I’d be able to understand him or if he would be able to understand me. He didn’t know if I needed an interpreter or extra assistance, and he was walking into my interview with no idea how this was going to work. Now, when he does interviews, he goes in with an open mind and knows that every one deserves a fair chance.

I suppose it’s up to us to fight this discrimination, to stand up for the deaf community and ourselves. We need to challenge decisions that don’t make sense and to keep breaking the stigmas that come with ticking that little box on applications.

Danii

Danii (23) is a double deaflympic gold medalist and world champion for swimming. She holds 10 swimming world records and was deaf sports personality of the year in 2018. She's profoundly deaf in both ears and wears a bright pink hearing aid in her left ear.