How the deaf deal: Finding work and working to be heard
Gen Diokno says she has gone through over 20 types of jobs and has experienced years of unemployment, despite being a college graduate.
She has worked as a fast food crew member, an encoder and a teaching assistant. At one point, she was jobless for three years, a period which made her feel “frustrated and depressed.”
The only difference Diokno has had with her peers is that she is deaf. She has faced discrimination at the hiring level, and difficulties continue in the workplace.
“They doubt me, on whether I can or cannot work. I feel bad because they judge too much,” Diokno told INQUIRER.net of her sentiments about employers.
The lack of job opportunities did not stop her from seeking personal growth. In her years of job-hunting, she took up photography, got a scholarship at a culinary school and enrolled in a life coaching program.
It was in the life coaching program held by Innov8, formerly known as OCCI, that she was able to take an active role in addressing the issue of Deaf employment. After joining a program which mixed Deaf and hearing participants, she volunteered as a staffer when the program launched an all-Deaf class.
One of the hearing coaches in the program was Elyse Go. With Go’s exposure to the Deaf community, she was able to learn sign language without formal training and learned more about their culture, as well as their struggles.
“Gen really forced me to sit with them during meetings. At first you can feel very confused until you really get used to it,” she said.
Though the life coaching program guides participants in reaching personal and professional goals, the coaches soon realized that the Deaf mainly needed job opportunities. The life coaches took it upon themselves to help connect the Deaf with companies.
“The life coaches who are hearing, since we are also professionals, we decided to knock on the doors of some friends who are in the professional world and that’s where I personally chanced upon Unilab Foundation,” Go said.
Go and other coaches volunteered to help the Unilab Foundation initiative called Project Inclusion which matches persons with disability (PWDs) to employers. The initiative has evolved into the non-profit organization Project Inclusion Network (PIN).
Go was among those who offered interpreting services in job interviews with the Deaf. Diokno explained that having an interpreter is best during a job interview so that the discussion can be clear, especially with regard to the job description and the company policies.
The foundation then encouraged them to create their own center so they could be hired for interpreting and Deaf awareness trainings.
As a social enterprise
In 2018, Go, Diokno and Dave Mariano, executive director of special education institution The Learning Center, Inc., set up Hand and Heart. The social enterprise is based in Cubao, Quezon City and aims to provide the Deaf access to jobs through skills enhancement trainings and disability awareness. Go handles the center’s business development while Diokno is the general manager. The center is comprised of two Deaf staff and two hearing staff.
Their clients have so far included both private and government companies, such as business process outsourcing (BPO) companies and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Hand and Heart helps smooth the process from job interviews until the Deaf employee is adjusted to the company’s work environment. It offers interpreting services at the job interview, and when the Deaf employee is hired, it provides a Deaf awareness lecture for co-workers. This involves sensitivity training on Deaf culture, how to communicate with the Deaf and skills trainings for the Deaf.
Both Go and Diokno also provide job coaching, bridging the communication gap between the supervisor and the Deaf employee. There are regular visits from both PIN and Hand and Heart until the employee can be independent.
“If there are any issues that come up, we try to help solve. We know how they act, we know their minds, we know their behavior, more or less we’re able to give recommendations on how to bridge if there’s any gaps between the hearing coworker and the Deaf employee,” explained Go.
Doubts on the Deaf
“As a hearing person, we get to enter the workforce at the age of 21, but for them they become entry-level after 3 to 5 years. Their advancement in their career is really delayed,” Go said, noting that she knows of cases of Deaf persons being jobless for up to 11 years.
Diokno said doubts remain that the Deaf are as competent as hearing employees. She explained, “Here in the Philippines, [employers] are not aware about the Deaf community… They think I can’t do the work the same as the hearing people.”
The communication barrier is one of the main concerns, but Diokno says one can use writing to get a message across. She has also experienced teaching co-workers sign language during lunch breaks, but found that it is younger colleagues who are more receptive to learning compared with older ones. Ironically, Diokno has felt taken advantage of in terms of the workload.
“The Deaf are very focused and then they will finish early. When the hearing will see you are not doing anything, so they will ask you to do work,” she lamented.
Deaf impress in Davao hotel
One hotel in Davao has taken the initiative to actively seek out PWDs for its on-the-job (OJT) training program. In 2018, Green Windows Hotel opened internships to adults with Down syndrome for 10 days.
Customers and hotel staff alike were so pleased with the trainees in the workplace that this year the training extended to people with Down syndrome and Deaf students. The internship culminated in September 2019 for four Deaf trainees who are 12th-grade students and four trainees with Down syndrome.
The persons with Down syndrome underwent training for 40 hours while the Deaf had 80 hours of training, which covered front desk assistance and housekeeping cleaning standards.
As with the 2018 training, the hotel partnered with groups which represent people with Down syndrome and the Deaf for screening of trainees and to inform the company and staff on sensitivity while working with them. In particular, these were the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines (DSAPI) and Deaf Ministries International (DMI). Hotel staff was oriented on how to handle and communicate with the trainees.
“Our staff underwent eight hours of sign language training to be able for us to communicate and give instructions in a way that [the Deaf] feel more comfortable with us,” said Pio Sto. Domingo, Green Windows’ sales and marketing head who began this initiative.
Employees were able to refine their sign language know-how through the help of the “very enthusiastic [and] patient” Deaf interns. Sto. Domingo also spoke about how well the Deaf were able to bond with the rest of the staff.
The interns impressed managers of the hotel, such that the housekeeping supervisor Ramon Barriga declared the Deaf trainees “ready for employment.” Sto. Domingo said they are willing to hire them whether they have a college degree or not.
“I thought we would have difficulty when it comes to communicating during duty but I was surprised that it was easier than expected since they are able to adjust and even teach you how to sign,” said Barriga. “It was an enriching experience for my staff and [me].”
The interns with Down syndrome earned praises too, and as per general manager Jessielyn Pulvera, “They have this contagious vibe which positively improves our working attitude in the office. If they have learned from us, we could say the same about them.”
Compared to her days of job-hopping, Diokno says there are now more opportunities for the Deaf to work. Besides BPOs, local companies such as Lamoiyan Corporation, which manufactures Happee Toothpaste, and warehouses of clothing brand Bench, hire Deaf employees. The servers of Elait ice cream are all Deaf; its stalls have posters that instruct customers how to order in sign language.
Despite the gains that the Deaf community has made in increasing their access to work, barriers remain: it is still rare that the Deaf get promoted, Diokno observed.
One government agency, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), is trying to change this. As per Republic Act 10524, at least 1% of positions in government agencies should be reserved for PWDs. The DFA noticed that its Deaf employees who have been working for a decade or more do not rise up the ranks because they do not take the civil service exam or fail it. It tapped Hand and Heart to provide a special training to Deaf employees to help them pass the exam.
Ultimately, the success of the Deaf in their careers, or getting hired in the first place, is not merely a matter of communication, it is about believing in their capabilities.
“I wish that the hearing people were aware that the Deaf have many talents and it’s easy for them to learn,” Diokno said. “I wish hearing people would encourage the Deaf to do their best, to make the Deaf inspired if there’s anything wrong or right with their jobs. The Deaf will learn more and they will improve more and they will develop themselves.” JB