Psssst! Come here!

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There seems to be a little secret at many deaf schools across the nation.

Apparently, if you want to work at a deaf school, you have to be either a local hearing person or have someone on the inside to pull you in. Okay, maybe this isn’t such a secret after all. It’s frustrating, though, in so many ways.

Time after time, I learn of people, deaf or hearing, hired at deaf schools only because they had friends in the personnel office or knew someone who had influence within human resources. I also constantly learn of people who were passed over simply because the job was never posted publicly, or because the school decided to hire from within.

Sure, this happens at schools and companies everywhere. That’s why so many employment trainers emphasize the importance of networking. Still, for state-funded deaf schools, we gotta be reasonable. Shouldn’t it be the school’s responsibility to create opportunities for deaf people in an environment where deaf people are the pillars of the school? If deaf folks can’t even get jobs at deaf schools, what message does this send?

The problem with this common practice is that most of the people who work within human resources or personnel aren’t deaf. At the majority of deaf schools I’ve visited or met people from, the human resources folks can barely sign. They’re not quite in the know about how to really reach out to the deaf community, nor do they really care. They don’t quite realize – although they may have a vague understanding – how critical jobs at deaf schools are to a lot of deaf folks.

There’s a person I know (actually, I know a lot of people in similar situations) who has an outstanding resume, excellent references and amazing experience. Yet because this person doesn’t have any direct ties to the deaf school in the state he lives in, he’s constantly passed over for jobs for one reason. He simply never is told of the jobs, even though an application is on file and he has often contacted the (hearing) superintendent and human resources office. I keep thinking after I hear about every job he’s passed over for, “My goodness, what are they missing out on?” I’ve seen this individual at work, and he’s ethical, a graduate of the school, fluent in American Sign Language and English, and well-deserving of any job he wants.

Every time I hear of yet another job being filled without appropriate advertisement, I feel almost stabbed in the heart. Although I have never applied for nor worked at a deaf school – aside from substitute teaching a few years ago – I know firsthand the impact and importance of having qualified deaf folks working at deaf schools. I also know the importance of reaching out to the deaf community for any vacant position.

Typically, state-funded positions, like those at deaf schools, are required to meet specific criteria and then submit the position to the state employment agency. People are then expected to check the state agency’s website or job database on a regular basis to see if a job opens up. Some states even allow applications to be put on file and will alert the applicants when their desired position(s) are available.

We won’t even get into how many job announcements are never physically posted on bulletin boards or passed around. And of course, state employment websites aren’t updated regularly. Bureaucracy aside, this simply isn’t right.

Given the vast geographical diversity within the deaf community, so many deaf people live in various states and want to relocate to be closer to (or farther away from) family. Or maybe they’ve met someone new in another state and want to begin a new life. If they don’t know anyone at the deaf school, or aren’t perceived as high priority because they’re not in-state, they’re pretty much screwed. Unless, of course, they have a contact in the personnel office, or went to college with an employee at that school who can rush their applications through.

Say a deaf applicant doesn’t have access to the web, and lives in another state. How does he find out about job opportunities? Maybe he calls the human resources office, but he can’t do that every week – the office would get annoyed of his calls. Or maybe he does have access to the Internet, but the website doesn’t update its information. Or maybe he gets the information, but his application is lost in the shuffle The list goes on forever. Yet the solution is so simple: be fair and as far-reaching as possible when announcing job vacancies.

This is fairly easy to accomplish. Post job announcements outside of the school by posting them on websites or in mainstream publications and e-zines. Physically post job announcements on bulletin boards and leave copies with various school offices and deaf organization offices. Place neutral people on interview committees who are open-minded and have minimal biases. Don’t get stuck in the “local is better” thinking; there might just be that ideal, out-of-state employee who brings nothing but good things to the school.

The real secret is that a school’s hiring practices send a loud message about what type of school it is.

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