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Career Trends for the Deaf:  

Terri Naylor
July 28, 2011

Career Trends for the Deaf

     Even the briefest glance into the pages of Deaf history reveals the long and arduous struggle members of the Deaf community have faced in their quest for equal opportunity employment.  Not until the dawn of the industrial age has notable change been wrought, through the availability of manufacturing jobs in factories, millwork, mines and textile fabrication (Weta and Florentine,1/10/2007). Stigmas attached to Deaf individuals, brought about by discrimination and ignorance in the Hearing world were the driving forces that left a large majority of Deaf families without sufficient and viable means to support themselves. Fortunately, through advances in education, both for the Deaf and the Hearing, changes in laws, increased rights for the Deaf, and advances in technology, Deaf communities are experiencing more opportunities now than ever before. Anti-discrimination and advocacy groups persist in helping to break down barriers to employment, and though traditional jobs for the Deaf such as teaching and interpreting continue to grow, new and exciting prospects in the "Hearing world" are opening all of the time (Weta and Florentine 1/10/07). From the many IT computer based jobs that were non- existent even 10 years ago, to Health care, Law, Engineering, and entrepreneurship, it seems a new day is dawning for career opportunities among the Deaf.

     In 1975, the Total Communication act   [Ed. note: It wasn't the "Total Communication act," it was the "The Education for All Handicapped Children Act" (Public Law 94-142)] was passed to insure that all handicapped children in the U.S be provided with free and appropriate education. This was perhaps the most significant influence on the advancement of Deaf education. Since then, education has improved in a number of ways both among the Hearing and the Deaf.  Availability of American Sign Language classes both at the high school and college levels, is helping to educate people in communicating with the Deaf, and about Deaf Culture. Classes and programs for the Deaf at the college level are growing to include training for health professions, computer programming, engineering and the arts, preparing students for the growing needs in these fields (Martin,6/1/08). Gallaudet University has designed all of its programs and services to accommodate the Deaf and offers over forty majors and many job openings in many areas such as secretarial positions and university faculty positions, as well as preparation for careers outside the Deaf community. Education about Deaf culture for the Hearing, and training for degrees in professional careers for the Deaf are key components to revolutionizing careers for the Deaf and expanding their choices beyond conventional Deaf jobs.

     Perhaps the most profound catalyst for change in Deaf employment is the advancement in technology. In the 1960's, the invention of the teletypewriter (TTY) made a huge impact on communication for the Deaf, as it enabled them to use the telephone, increasing their communicating and networking abilities. But this invention was merely the beginning of a wave of technology that would continue to sweep across the world, forever changing the "quiet" world of the Deaf community. By 1980, closed captioned television was invented, further increasing the opportunity for education and information retrieval, vital to expanding employment options (Weta and Florentine, 1/10/07).

      The 1980's were also the beginning of the personal computer age. With the advent of more user friendly computers and programs, and the World Wide Web, the Deaf could expand their employment base exponentially. Many Deaf have started their own web based businesses with the aid of email and high speed internet . Other technology based jobs include computer programming, systems analysts, system engineer, software developer and network administrator. Many of these positions do not require college degrees, but experience, training and certification through examination can often qualify an employee to earn 40,000-100,000 dollars per year. Many job search engines such as, report a 41% deficit in locating qualified workers to fill these types of jobs, making IT jobs one of the most in demand and highest paying career choices for both Deaf and hearing individuals .  Many of the highest paying jobs require a college degree. Careers such as accounting and tax professionals can earn upwards of $100,000 per year, but require at least a bachelors degree and usually some post graduate study or training. Large corporations are reporting an increase in demand for these jobs due to economic globalization. People who enjoy working in this type of fast paced, high powered environment might choose to enroll in an institution that offers training in the field of accounting and tax professional for businesses (Martin, 6/1/08).

      With a more globalized economy comes a need for corporations and businesses to develop and manage their websites. Website developers can earn upwards for $50,000 per year and do not need a college degree. However, experience in related fields and training or certification will land the best website developer positions. These types of jobs are ideal for the person who prefers to work in a slower paced environment, and the work can be done remotely, often even at home. Accounting, Tax, and website developer jobs could be ideal for Deaf employees preferring to work in situations that call for less interaction with the public, but there are many jobs that are suited for the more outgoing individual who prefers to work with and around people.

     There are approximately 100 Deaf physicians practicing in the United States and with the development of advanced medical technology this number is expected to increase. From stethoscopes for the Deaf to overhead screens in operating rooms for communicating during surgery, the way is being paved for Deaf individuals to pursue careers as doctors or other healthcare providers. The topic of Deaf employees in the health care field is being widely addressed at present, due to the severe lack of Deaf or hard of hearing employees in this field. This topic is of great concern in the Deaf community and efforts are being made to change this trend. Nursing, speech pathology, audiology, sonography, and X-ray technicians are all fields in which Deaf people can easily be trained to operate successfully (Ray, 5/20/10).

     Other up and coming career choices in the 21st century include dental hygienist, psychologist, electricians, and engineers (Martin). All of these require some college education, but usually pay higher than those that don't. The Arts is an ever expanding area including performing arts, music interpretation, dance, theatre, graphics, and computer game design. These jobs are easily filled by Deaf individuals who enjoy performing in front of audiences, displaying artwork in galleries, or for the gaming enthusiast who refuses to grow up! Being Deaf would have little or no impact on the ability to excel in these careers.  Confidence is a major factor for many Deaf individuals in obtaining the courage needed to pursue many positions that might otherwise be filled by Hearing individuals.

     Though new trends for employment are rapidly expanding, some of the more traditional jobs for the Deaf are also enjoying large increases in growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2009, Positions for interpreters and translators increased by 40,000 and were expected to rise. With improvements in technology, Deaf individuals can participate in this rewarding field. An example of an interpreting field that is growing, is managing sign language video, or relay services, and video remote interpreting services. Deaf people can manage these services so this type of job isn't limited to Hearing individuals. However, standards for education for these spots are rising and now require at least a bachelor's degree along with additional training and experience within the Deaf and hard of hearing community. This type of interpreting can be found in many environments including government agencies, schools, hospitals, courtrooms, amusement parks and theatres (Berke, 3/29/11).

     Deaf career counseling is a much needed service for Deaf students in both Deaf and mainstream colleges and universities, especially as opportunities continue to expand (Berke,3/29/11).  These professionals will be key figures in serving the Deaf community by educating and guiding students to the right career path that is suited to their specific gifts, talents and personality traits.

     Gone are the days of limited access to a few government, manufacturing and Deaf teaching jobs for the Deaf community. The world is changing and new and exciting opportunities are opening up continuously. Through advances in technology, education about the Deaf community for the Hearing, and expanding educational choices for the Deaf, we are all limited only by our imaginations.


1. Weta and Florentine Films/Holt Productions. Jan 10,2007. Through Deaf Eyes.  Retrieved  July 10,2011.

2. Ray,(no first name given). May 10,2010. Universities  Seek more healthcare jobs for the Deaf. Deaf Times. Retrieved July 11,2011.

3. Berke, Jamie. March 29,2011. Jobs using Sign language. Deafness Retrieved on July 13, 2011.

4. Martin,Nick. June 1 2008. Best Jobs for the Deaf.  NetSignNews.  Retreived on July 13,2011.




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