Preparing Deaf Youth for Employment in the 2020s

The issue

Employment opportunities for young deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) individuals in the 2020s are more promising than ever. We have deaf machinists, computer technicians, accountants, lawyers, doctors, educators, scientists, engineers, business owners, and social workers. Deaf people work for Fortune 500 companies, small to mid-size companies, federal agencies, and non-profit organizations.  The options are as endless as our human creativity allows. Unfortunately, this information doesn’t always reach the parents of deaf youth, and they may wonder if their sons or daughters will become productive members of society, find good jobs, get married, and be able to support a family.  While these goals are all within reach, there are a number of specific considerations parents and DHH youth need to take into account while preparing for employment.

What we know

It is critical to look at what employers are seeking in potential candidates. Often, hiring managers or businesses seek individuals who:

  • Maintain a positive attitude (e.g., show understanding, politeness to others)
  • Communicate and establish effective working relationships with co-workers and customers
  • Think independently
  • Analyze and solve problems independently
  • Adapt quickly to change
  • Demonstrate leadership
  • Possess strong technical skills

We know that many young deaf individuals are not ready for employment for various reasons. Parents and DHH youth therefore need to keep the above qualities in mind when exploring employment options. In addition, as Director of the NTID Center on Employment (a career center for DHH students enrolled at the Rochester Institute of Technology), I have identified three skills that some DHH youth are lacking: critical thinking, communication and interpersonal skills, and career management skills, which are sometimes referred to as “soft skills.”

Soft skills and characteristics such as optimism, integrity, attitude, and good manners are not necessarily thought of as “teachable,” but they are highly sought-after qualities for employers look for.  Those, and workplace skills, including collaboration, problem-solving, are critical to success in any place of employment. Two areas that are particularly important, but that DHH youth do not always understand the value of or appreciate are:

  • Communication skills (writing, reading, researching, presenting), including language skills, in relation to navigating the company’s culture, how to network, assertiveness about self-advocacy for assistive technologies, etc.
  • Volunteering, whether it’s at religious organizations, hospitals, group homes, or other places, can help grow critical skills and demonstrate willingness to go above and beyond just a “paying” job.

Transition planning in school can play a key role in helping DHH youth acquire the above skills as well as the academic content and effective communication skills needed for the workplace.

What we don’t know

What we need to learn more about is how employment options are impacted by specific situations or skills sets. For example, each young deaf individual’s language skills, cognitive skills, problem-solving skills, motivation, and desire to be successful will have a direct impact on whether or not they succeed in finding and keeping employment.

Questions we still have include: How do we best match young DHH individuals with effective early exposure and/or experience about the work force? What sorts of experiences can contribute to helping best prepare deaf youth for employment? What kind of opportunities should they seek out, that have a better chance of success?

Visiting companies’ or businesses’ websites and talking with people is a great way for DHH youth to find out more about the working world.  Places like Amazon, Boeing, McDonald’s, and Home Depot have career sites which are great resources for reviewing various job descriptions.  This will provide a better understanding of what employers want and need.


When parents know more, and can provide appropriate guidance, their sons and daughters can become successful in the workplace.

How can parents help their sons and daughters be prepared and ready for career success?

  • Ask your children about their career interests and visions.
  • Review job descriptions together from various employers.
  • Inspire your child to volunteer while in school.
  • Have your children ask questions of people in the career field they are interested in.
  • Encourage your son or daughter to join a club or a team sport.
  • Require your child to read a book every day for at least 20 minutes.
  • Encourage your child to attend summer camps.

If your DHH child can read, write, interact with all kinds of people, make decisions, obtain and process information, act ethically, demonstrate motivation, plan, organize, and prioritize, and understands the importance of volunteering there is no reason why he or she can’t be successful in the workplace.

Posted on Oct. 10, 2017 by
John Macko
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
jrmned {at}


Further reading