Will Work for Food

This article originally appeared at i711.com.

Last week, I learned that a friend applied at Lowe’s to earn some extra cash. This guy is one of the most experienced carpenters around who knows every tool on the market, pays incredible attention to detail, and is probably Lowe’s dream customer (and worker, I would think). Yet, when he applied, he was told he didn’t qualify. Was it because he isn’t quite fluent in English? Or was it because he’s deaf? I don’t know.

I doubt it’s because of the English thing, because there are several non-English speakers working at the store. My friend thinks it’s because he’s deaf and doesn’t speak. As much as I hate to admit it, he’s probably right. Mind you, there’s another deaf employee at the store; however, she speaks fluent English and can hear somewhat. In fact, when my husband and I went to Lowe’s last December to order a new shower glass door, an employee told us to hold on, but we didn’t know why. We learned later that the worker ran to the other side of the store and brought the deaf employee over to interpret for us. We really didn’t need an interpreter, so we said hi to the deaf woman (who we knew) and told the hearing worker we preferred to write back and forth. The deaf employee was visibly relieved when we said we preferred to write back and forth.

My friend’s situation made me think back to when I applied at Borders many years ago. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a major, major bookworm. I haven’t ever been without a book since I began reading as a tot. You’d think I was a perfect candidate to work at a bookstore.

Apparently not. I filled out an application, and got an e-mail from the store manager saying my application made me “a perfect employee,” and that she’d love to interview me. When I went in and finally revealed that I was deaf, her face visibly dropped. I knew right there and then I wouldn’t get the job. Should I have requested an interpreter, implying that I needed “help” at a cost to the store? Or should I have said upfront that I was deaf and maybe not even land an interview?

The manager asked how I would deal with customers who didn’t know sign language. I didn’t bother pointing out the inappropriateness of this question, because I wanted the job and didn’t want to rock the boat. I explained that I had retail experience, shared some solutions to this, and all the other right things to say.

Just as I predicted, I didn’t get the job, although I never was given a straight answer about why. No, I didn’t do anything about it. I figured if they wouldn’t hire me based on this simple fact, then I didn’t want to work there. Sure, I could have taken this opportunity to try and educate people, blah, blah, blah, but I didn’t have the time nor energy. Besides, if I had filed a complaint, she could’ve easily said I was overqualified or any number of reasons. But I knew, deep inside, the real reason, even though I hated to admit it. Still, I had to pick my battles, and this wasn’t one of them.

Back to my friend who wasn’t hired at Lowe’s: he didn’t know what resources he had, and asked my husband and me for some input. I did some sleuthing and found that Minnesota has the Deaf2Work program, working closely with Home Depot. I also referred my friend to a couple of state resources/contacts, and hopefully this situation will be taken care of.

There are programs, laws and options in place, and we need to be aware of them. But even with those resources, it’s dreadful to wonder, “Was it because I really wasn’t qualified, or was it because I’m deaf?” Nobody should have to wonder that. Ever.

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