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Tips on Interviewing a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Using an Interpreter

When a job applicant identifies as deaf or hard of hearing, you will want to make sure you remove any restrictions to a successful interview experience.


Today’s workplace is becoming increasingly inclusive, and research has shown that the modern workplace is all the better for it. More specifically, studies show that both productivity and morale increase when there is a true spirit to inclusivity and diversity. If your company or organization has committed to expanding the diversity of your staff by hiring deaf and hard of hearing employees, you will want to make sure you are prepared to give them the best job interview experience as possible. When a job applicant has identified as deaf or hard of hearing, you will want to remove obstacles that would impede a successful job interview experience by considering the communication needs of the applicant during the process. If a deaf or hard of hearing applicant wants to use an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for their interview, here are some tips on how to make sure you make the situation as easy for them as possible.

1. Remember: You, the employer, are responsible for the interpreter. The primary purpose of an interpreter is to facilitate the flow of communication during the interview. Please understand that the interpreter is there as much for you as they are for the applicant. The applicant must feel comfortable with the interpreter chosen, and that it is someone skilled to communicate verbally on their behalf. Ask the deaf or hard of hearing applicant if there is a specific interpreter they prefer to use, and if so, get their contact information, then have someone in your Human Resources department set up their attendance at the interview and payment for their services. If the applicant does not have a preferred interpreter, then find a qualified agency that provides certified ASL interpreters. Allow for the applicant and interpreter to have a few minutes together before the start of the interview to make sure they are comfortable with each other and to briefly prep for the interview.

2. Try to also prep the interpreter before the interview for clarification. ASL is a visual language, independent of spoken English, with its own grammar and syntax, and because of that, sometimes words and phrases like specific industry jargon can be lost in translation. Many jobs these days use industry jargon or technical terms that your applicant may know well, but the interpreter might not. That is why it is vital to provide the interpreter with a job description of the position, and even a list of terms that might be likely to come up during the interview. This arrangement will help them (and you as the interviewer) be able to do a much more accurate and efficient job facilitating the communication of the interview.

3. Do not forget: Your focus should be on the applicant, NOT the interpreter. It can be challenging for hearing individuals who are unfamiliar with deaf and hard of hearing people or ASL itself, so it is important to remember that just like any other interview, your attention should be zeroed in on the applicant as much as possible. Do not make the mistake of directing your questions to the interpreter, as doing so could cause a deaf and hard of hearing applicant to feel marginalized and disrespected. It is perfectly fine to glance at the interpreter once in a while or ask for clarification when needed, but your consideration should stay with the job prospect as much as possible.

4. Treat them as any other applicant; DON’T PATRONIZE. You must treat a deaf or hard of hearing applicant as you would anyone else. Be careful not to adopt a patronizing attitude or talk about how “inspired” you are by the candidate because of their hearing loss. It is one thing to be excited about their qualifications or skill set as you would any other promising candidate but presenting a “Wow! You are so accomplished for having a hearing loss!” attitude will marginalize the candidate and build resentment. Check your unconscious bias at the door and leave it there!

5. Remember, EVERYTHING is shared. One thing you might not be aware of is that ASL interpreters are trained to share EVERY aspect of the conversation with the deaf or hard of hearing interviewee, even whispers and background conversations. It is an ethical requirement of being an ASL interpreter. Therefore, do not make the mistake of thinking you can have an “under your breath” private aside with one of your colleagues. If the interpreter hears it, they will share it with the candidate. Also, you cannot ask the interpreter not to translate things that you said in the room with the applicant, and you wanted to take back what you recently said.

Keeping some of these details above in mind will help you and your company or organization have a successful interview with a deaf or hard of hearing candidate and allow your organization to find some highly capable, accomplished job applicants.

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