I'm deaf and have been wearing hearing aids since I was 2. I also was the first mainstream deaf child in my school district, so I have no issues speaking and understanding English, as long as verbal conversations are face to face.

That's due to my reliance on lip reading to understand speech. Without it, the other individual can be talking in French, Greek or some other language, because I struggle at placing values to the word sounds. This means my phone conversations are best limited to calling for takeout, since I won't understand much of what the other person is saying. In other words, simply because I can hear the other individual doesn't mean I understand their words.

I'm also looking for a software developer position, and have a pretty good resume. When applicable, I put in a comment about my deafness and preference for alternative textual communication consisting of email, Skype video-and-text chats, as well as instant messaging.

So far, I've had some managers willingly accept email questionnaires and IM conversations in place of phone interviews, but I've also had several recruiters and managers cease contact once I suggest a non-phone contact alternative.

So, what are reasonable barrier-free alternatives to phone for interviews in a hiring process when voice communication is an obstacle and why?


4 Answers 4


In the United States, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee with a disability, meaning that employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodation to candidates during the interview and hiring process.

In a FAQ page provided by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it states that "Employers are required to provide 'reasonable accommodation' -- appropriate changes and adjustments -- to enable you to be considered for a job opening" and further on indicates some examples of "reasonable accommodations", such as: accessible formats for reading, sign language interpreters, modifications of equipment used in the screening process, and modifications of application policies and procedures.

As a hiring manager, I would say you're doing everything right -- I certainly wouldn't balk at using alternate forms of communication in the hiring process, especially because that's one of the things the ADA is supposed to ensure happens! (But also because to me it's the Right Thing to Do.)

It doesn't surprise me that you're running into many people who, basically (and really unfortunately, and perhaps illegally), consider reasonable accommodations to be "too much work". However, the aforementioned FAQ provides guidance for asking for accommodations, and I would suggest you continue to do so as is your right. Quoting from the EEOC page again:

How do I request a reasonable accommodation?

You must inform the employer that you need some sort of change or adjustment to the application/interviewing process because of your medical condition. You can make this request orally or in writing, or someone else might make a request for you (e.g., a family member, friend, health professional, or other representative, such as a job coach).

What happens after I request an accommodation?

The employer may need to discuss your request more fully in order to understand your disability and why you need an accommodation. You should respond to the employer's questions as quickly as possible and be sure to explain how a proposed accommodation would enable you to participate fully in all aspects of the application/interviewing process. If your disability and need for accommodation are not obvious, the employer may ask you for reasonable documentation explaining the disability and why an accommodation is needed.

I asked for a specific accommodation, but the employer offered me a different one instead. Do I have to accept it?

An employer has to offer an accommodation that will meet your needs. If more than one accommodation meets your needs, then the employer may choose which one to provide. You cannot insist on a specific accommodation only because it is a personal preference. If the employer's proposal does not meet your needs, then you need to explain why.

When recruiters or HR people contact you to set up a phone screen or other evaluative session, be as clear as possible about what you need. Offer a range of options if that range of options truly works for you, as is your right. So, ultimately, "reasonable barrier-free alternatives" are "whatever you have determined accommodate your situation".

  • 12
    I'd like to add: If they don't offer that much flexibility to even make interviews possible, you might not want to work there in general.
    – CMW
    Jan 9, 2014 at 16:36
  • @CMW Absolutely.
    – jcmeloni
    Jan 9, 2014 at 16:36
  • 3
    I would add that most companies I have worked with will bend over backwards for an applicant that is skilled and has a relatively easily accommodated disability like this. Jan 9, 2014 at 21:51

Hmm.. not an easy question to answer universally just yet because companies and their communication patterns are changing and companies have wildly different policies.

My thoughts for approaching the problem would be to try to figure out (this may be impossible) what the most common source of the barrier may be. For example:

  • Is the barrier with the interview process?
  • Is the barrier with the perception of your ability to communicate with the team once you are hired?
  • Is the barrier with tools currently permitted by the corporation in their policies regarding business communication?

Those are three different potential problems that all produce the same reaction - a lack of response from recruiters or managers.

Thoughts for each problem:

First interview barrier

Ideally the first round of interviewing is easy and cheap to arrange. Both the candidate and the manager should be able to attend very easily, with minimal extra time required to set up the communication and/or travel to the point of meeting. Phones have traditionally been the ideal here because they are a lowest common denominator - it's a safe assumption that everyone has one, calling a phone number is very reliable, and the hardware is cheap, ubiquitous and covered by every corporate policy.

It's also fast and high feedback in terms of execution - email has a higher time delay and gives less insight into tone, body language or other cues. IM is fast, but still low in the richness of information. And many companies have limitations in terms of which clients they are willing to support in terms of Skype or other video chat, IM client connectivity or other mechanisms.

The only way I can think of to lower the barrier here is to provide ways that accommodate an employer's lack of flexibility - for example:

  • offering a selection of options for video chat that allow for limitations within the company
  • this might include video meetings that use web clients, so that the interviewer does not need to install a client on the desktop (a common challenge if IT tightly controls machines)... not sure if that's feasible but it might be...
  • finding a way to help a technology challenged manager or recruiter make use of modern tools - sad to say, but a barrier may simply be the perception that setting up video chat is hard.

Team communication barrier

This is a lot harder. I'd like to think that most managers would make the reasonable accommodation of doing just a little bit extra to help a candidate with a specialized communication need. But there may be a gut reaction of "this won't work" in terms of the team communication.

I'm doubtful that it's true in every case, but I'm not sure at all of what the reasonable workaround would be for a geographically distributed team that communicates by a lot of conference calls. I know that there are TTY systems and other ways to translate speech for the hearing impaired, but I'm less certain of their viability for team communication purposes. This is where "reasonable accomodations" get tricky - a company with enough money could set up conference rooms with video, and give you a laptop with video - but the options are more limited when the team is 10 people in 10 different places - I've tried a 10 person video conference call on a quite reasonable corporate network - the technology isn't ready for that yet.

If this is the actual barrier, I'm stuck.

Corporate Tools

This is the real wildcard and I expect it to change over time. Companies are starting to embrace all sorts of video communication, as well as IM - but the ways of communicating are evolving with each company and it's business needs as well as its corporate identity.

The best I can think of is to be willing to be as flexible as possible - recommend clients and tools that work well, but be open to virtually any video or IM client that meets your needs. I've seen corporate limitations on:

  • client installation of any sort - but often web based clients are workarounds
  • limitations in connectivity - that IM be only used internally, for example, or that video streaming is limited or forbidden for bandwidth reasons.

Anything you can do to make it easy for the interviewer to work within his own limitations would be a win here.


I am deaf with a cochlear implant, currently employed as a software developer.

You do not mention which country you're from - this answer is from a UK perspective.

As other answers have already mentioned, prospective employers are generally obligated to not discriminate against you because of your hearing impairment. This is enshrined in UK law in the Equality Act 2010, particularly section 6 and 21.

However, as you've already noticed, there is nothing to stop an employer deciding that making any reasonable adjustments is too much effort and ghosting you. This is illegal in the UK but unfortunately from my experience there is very little you can do about it, unless they make a big mistake like telling you 'why' they are no longer prepared to accept you as a candidate (Preferably in writing)

So my advice in this situation would have to be, say nothing about your hearing impairment until the interview. This prevents the employer writing you off as someone who would automatically need a BSL interpreter. (or any of a dozen assumptions that could be made...)

Remember that candidate onboarding isn't a solo activity. The people rejecting your cv offhand won't be the interviewers, it'll be someone in HR doing the initial shortlisting who thinks 'disability - potential liability - reject without a reason'

Having this conversation instead with the interviewer (Who is far more likely to be the role's actual supervisor) proved much more productive, at least in my experience. You can directly demonstrate to the employer your ability to communicate and how little effort would be required to make the necessary reasonable adjustments.

With regards to pre-main interview 'phone interviews', a company that won't make such a basic adjustment will make no adjustments elsewhere. In these cases, they have failed you. Try elsewhere.

Personal anecdote: When I was first job-hunting, my experiences were identical to yours. I made every effort to be as up-front about my hearing impairment and to summarize the minimum reasonable adjustments I would require to perform the job role. I got very few responses, which were ALL along of lines of 'sorry we do not think you're a fit for the company'

I changed tactics, deciding to tell prospective employers nothing about my hearing impairment until the interviews, which I suddenly started getting. One company made a formal offer, which they rescinded after the interview when someone 'higher up the chain' raised concerns about the reasonable adjustments. They were silly enough to declare this (and why) in an email so I ended up getting a reasonable settlement at the tribunal.

It literally took years after that to find my current employment but they couldn't be more accommodating. All communications is text-based except for mandatory client meetings (For which they changed the service used to one with automated captions - Microsoft Teams)

Best of luck finding an employer prepared to make the same effort for you.


Do you have a Captel Captioned Telephone? They work pretty well. I wouldn't doubt if there are other brands with similar functionality.

While making accomodations for hearing impairment shouldn't be an obstacle to most employers, it might give pause to some people to initiate the process if they have to accomodate someone they've never met when they have 50 other people just as capable instead.

Besides, it would also come across as more impressive if you've demonstrated you've done everything you can do to alleviate any issues your hearing might cause (such as using a CapTel phone) before asking others to accomodate you. Might even give you a leg up.

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