05 September 2012

Daphne's Dilemma: Discrimination in the Workplace

Daphne's boss tells her she can't be a chef
because of her hearing loss. 
 ABC Family's "Switched at Birth" kicked off its fall premiere this week with episode 25,"This is the Color of My Dreams," a successful return after a long time away. One of the main story lines of the episode follows Daphne's struggle to get and keep a job in a kitchen (despite her enthusiasm and qualifications) because managers are wary of her deafness.
At the start, upon finding out she's deaf, a woman with whom she's been having a pleasant conversation with up until that point, begins moving her lips exaggeratedly, speaking loudly, applies a good, thick layer of pity, then compares Daphne to her deaf dog. And while the performance feels a bit rush and overacted, the facts of the conversation still stand.

  1. Awkward, unpleasant reactions abound when hearing people with no understanding of hearing loss come in contact with a deaf person. For more on the right and wrong ways to communicate with a deaf person check out Indi's 10 Things you Shouldn't Say or our 5 Easy Tips for Talking with a Deaf Person
  2. Despite the ground we've gained under legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring equal treatment and reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, statistics show that the attitudes of employers still haven't changed much when it comes to actually hiring a person with a disability. In a time when the unemployment rate is already high, the rate for people with disabilities is even worse, clocking in at about 13.6%

If the statistics don't sway you, check out this clip from ABC's "What Would You Do?" a hidden camera show in which the crew sets up injustices in public to see how passersby respond. In this episode, a deaf girl goes to apply for a kitchen job at a cafe (requiring no contact with customers, so speech is not at issue) and the manager makes a public display of rejecting her application. Some people say nothing, and a few people express outrage at his flagrant rudeness and disregard for the law.  But the most surprising responses come from several Human Resources workers, who, after hearing the interaction, approach the counter and tell the manager not that he was in the wrong, but rather that his big mistake was that he cannot tell the applicant he's rejecting her on account of her deafness, but rather needs to accept the application quietly, make a note to himself, and not call her back. (Re video: The captions take a few seconds to start rolling, but they're there!)

So why don't companies want to hire people with disabilities? Usually it's a combination of misinformation and laziness. In Daphne's case, the head chef tells her she can't be an effective kitchen worker because he is too lazy to turn his head and look at her when he speaks.
To combat discrimination, a combination of education and self-advocacy is required. Despite being demoted to dishwasher, Daphne is determined to prove herself, and has already begun making modifications in the kitchen, the first of which was the mirror she hung so she could see people behind her. It'll be interesting to see how the story pans out in the next couple episodes.

Have you ever experienced discrimination in the hiring place or workplace? Leave your story in the comments section!

1 comment:

  1. Im not working my last job at a deli because they didn't understand when I didnt do what I was told was because they didn't have my attention before talking so I didn't hear the order. Also, I didn't hear my name on public announcement overhead speaker thing. They thought I was ignoring. I requested accommodation of text ticker but was denied.. They story continues to unfold as I am filing a complaint..