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POSTED 24.5.2019

Working with deafness in Ireland: how I manage challenges in the workplace

A new RTÉ documentary called ‘London Calling’ follows several young deaf Irish people who had to move to the UK in order to find work. As a deaf Irish person in my 20s and working in Ireland, it reminds me of both the challenges I’ve dealt with when searching for work and the support I have received.

When I think back to when I was just out of college, I wince a little at the memory of some work experience interviews.

I was studying journalism and during my three years at DCU, I was struggling to deal with a deterioration in my hearing. That knocked my confidence ten-fold, making it difficult trying to sell myself in interviews.

I felt I had more to say about what I couldn’t do rather than what I could do. And what I couldn’t do was hear over the phone. Back then it seemed like a huge barrier towards a career in journalism.

That fear was fuelled when during a work experience interview with a newspaper, the editor told me: “Well that’s going to be a problem for us if you can’t use the phone.”

Now, eight years, a cochlear implant, and a lot of confidence-building later, using the phone is a challenge, but that’s all it is, and it can easily be overcome with the right support.

The memory of that interview has stuck with me because it was nearly a decade ago and now in 2019, trying to find work as a deaf person in Ireland is still a major issue for many.

This is addressed in ‘London Calling’, a new RTÉ documentary which follows several young deaf Irish people who had to move to the UK in order to be able to work in their first language.

They are bright, qualified and ambitious and they are thriving in their careers in London. This is thanks to the Access to Work scheme, a UK-government-backed programme which provides personalised support to people with disabilities in the workplace.

Looking at their individual experiences of trying to find work in Ireland, they all appear to have the same thing in common. Not just the lack of meaningful support, but the negative attitude of prospective or current employers.

I’ve experienced that negativity too, but I’ve also received amazing support from employers who have encouraged me to focus on my strengths and even push myself outside my comfort zone.

My final work experience interview was a success and I spent eight weeks working with the brilliant team at The Irish Catholic. The support and encouragement I got from there spurred me on to continue pursuing a career in the media despite the challenges with communication.

I could have changed my career path to something where speaking to people and listening wouldn’t be at the core of the business. But I just loved writing and storytelling and sticking at it led me to my job here at StoryLab.

Focusing on my strengths gave me the confidence to talk about my deafness in a positive way in my job interview. Rather than present it as a problem, I was able to talk about the challenges I face and how I can work around them. And, my bosses were keen to learn how they could help me work around those challenges.

I’ve been with StoryLab three years now and my colleagues don’t hesitate to help out when it comes to using the phone.

Note-taking while listening is tricky so if my bosses have a detailed job for me to do, they always email me the brief so that I don’t miss anything.

Like in any office, there’s the occasional banter and sometimes I mightn’t catch everything. But someone always repeats the joke and makes sure I’m included.

Since I got a cochlear implant six years ago, I’ve been able to do short interviews over the phone. It might take me a little longer to do an interview compared to my colleagues, and it can be incredibly difficult at times.

If I think about it, it would probably be much easier to just stop doing interviews altogether and focus more on other projects but where’s the fun in that? The feeling of fulfilment that comes after completing a challenge makes it all the more worthwhile.

Overcoming those challenges just pushes me to take on new ones and that’s paying off as recently I was awarded the Public Relations Institute of Ireland Certificate in PR Account Management.

Ireland does need a similar scheme to Access to Work if it wants to not only keep its brilliant and bright workers from emigrating but add value to workplaces.

For now, many workplaces can follow the example of others who are supporting their employees and keeping them around.


If you missed ‘London Calling’ you can catch it on RTÉ Player and you can read John Cradden’s review of the documentary in The Irish Times.