Deaf Americans at Work: Closing the Employment Gap

with Eric Kaika of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Inc. (TDI)

In 2017, 53% of deaf people were employed. What accounts for this employment gap, and how can employers ensure deaf and hard-of-hearing workers are afforded a comfortable — and accessible — working environment?

Eric Kaika of TDI, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Inc., discusses the un- and under-employment of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Posted on:

Oct 07, 2019

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: While national jobless rates are the lowest they've been in decades, Americans who are deaf continue to struggle with high rates of unemployment. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Sheila Hyland. Despite advances in accessible technologies, only about two in five people with a hearing disability are employed full time. Joining me to talk about this employment gap is Eric Kaika from TDI, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc., and his interpreter, Jamel McCaskill. And thank you, Eric, so much for being with us.

Kaika: Thank you.

Hyland: So let's look at some of those numbers. 53% of people who are deaf were employed in 2017, compared to over 75% of the hearing impaired. What accounts for that major gap?

Kaika: One of the biggest misconceptions that people think is the 50%, that 47% are, you know, not employed. That's really not true. Some are actively involved and they're looking for work, you know. So the ones that are still searching for jobs also count, so that 40%, that could be a little misleading. But it doesn't matter Still, the 50%, you know, those people get jobs and try to catch up with the hearing population, as well.

Hyland: But there are obviously a lot of challenges for the hard of hearing and deaf on the job. Talk to us about some of those challenges and what prevents some people maybe even from looking for employment.
Kaika: Well, you know, many diverse reasons. You know, what I believe is that some of the workers, you know, there's a bit of a hesitation to hire deaf people or hard of hearing people, and they're not really sure how to deal with them. And, you know, what's gonna happen with the co-workers? The company's gonna have to pay for interpreters or accommodation services. And deaf people, when they get a job, you know, and they tend to earn less money, and that's not fair. You know, it's not the same as their hearing co-workers. So they have a social-service program that more of a motivation to transfer deaf people to these jobs.

Hyland: And speaking of jobs, one of the things that I know that you -- TDI is concerned about is getting the deaf and hard of hearing into more meaningful jobs. How do we go about changing that?
Kaika: I think, you know, the biggest start of it is changing the misconception of the deaf people, thinking that deaf people can't work or deaf people can't communicate or the education. You know, today many of the deaf people have really good degrees. [And to get deaf -- you know, for the hearing employers to look at them and say, "Hey, we should hire them and work with them so they can get that experience." Start with internships, part-time jobs, and get those workers to really start looking at their perspective of deaf people and bring them in. And often I've talked with those hearing employers, and they say, "Oh, those deaf workers, those are the best workers I have," you know. So that's really common with a lot of the employers, and a lot of people don't know about that, and the awareness is not out there.

Hyland: On the flip side of the coin, it's interesting to note that there's a higher percentage of deaf people who are self-employed than hearing people. What accounts for that?

Kaika: Maybe it was possibly because, you know, they're looking for work and they're struggling, and they say, "Well, I have the skills. I can do these things myself," and they're very involved with the community, so the community starts to really look at him and say, "Well, I'm deaf. You're deaf. I support you. I want to support other deaf people instead of, you know, getting contract work with a hearing company." And, you know, they pay little money to deaf people, and they have to budget. So this really helps them build their own business. You know, deaf people say, "I learned something. I learned online the deaf business, dot-com, online." And has many, many, many deaf workers that are deaf business owners there, too. And I look at that, and so that was really cool, and that number is growing, growing exponentially.

Hyland: Right, so we still need to get more hearing impaired and deaf people into the regular employment world. What is TDI working on as far as public policy to make that happen?
McCaskill: TDI and my focus is really on telecommunications and media and information technology, those three. So anytime, you know, the companies are developing the technology and services,] I want to make sure that they are accessibility -- they're accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community. I want to make sure that, you know, I suggest and find deaf workers for them and also clients and customer service, managers, you know, testing, you know, a whole diverse thing. So to be able to make sure that their companies and service and products are to general and all deaf people.

Hyland: You mentioned companies. There are a lot of companies who are being more inclusive of the deaf and hard of hearing. Talk about some of those companies and the strides that they're making.

Kaika: Companies. Yes. I think one of the biggest things right now is Starbucks. Starbucks, they just set up, you know, four signing stores. They have one in D.C., and they're setting up their fourth signing store there in Japan at the end of the year. So Starbucks is growing, growing, growing. I think that's wonderful. I think it's wonderful for the hearing world to look at the deaf people and say, "Look at that. Look at the service there." And another company is CDI, Customer Services for the Deaf. And they make festivals, and they really support incorporating deaf-owned businesses. And they also work in partnership with other hearing big companies really provide customer service for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Hyland: They are really leading the way. Where can people go for more information?

Kaika: Yes, for starters, you can look at our website, There -- You can contact us there, or we can refer you to many different other deaf and hard of hearing organizations for specific information.

Hyland: All right, Eric Kaika from TDI, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. you for joining us. And, Jamel McCaskill, thank you for being our interpreter. And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I'm Sheila Hyland.

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