Self-Advocacy for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind Youth Relating to Employment

The issue

The transition from school to work is an important milestone in the lives of young adults. However, since many deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind (D/HH/DB) students have incomplete access to the language(s) of hearing family members and community, they may lack understanding about the worlds of commerce and employment.  For example, D/HH/DB students may be excluded from parents’ discussions about issues in their own jobs.  They may not have the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “What do you want to do after high school?” conversations with adults in their communities. These young people and their families may not know about the career options that are open to them, their legal rights for accommodations in the work place, or how to advocate for these rights. Unless there is an Individualized Education Program (IEP) transition plan in place, this can result in a lack of preparedness for independent living and career pursuit.

What we know

Some students who are D/HH/DB have fewer foundational skills for independent living than their hearing peers. They also may receive less information and encouragement about employment from parents unaware of D/HH/DB youth’s opportunities and potential. Even with parent support, D/HH/DB youth without college degrees often struggle to obtain employment and earn lower salaries than hearing individuals. These factors highlight the need for targeted interventions aimed to increase readiness for the transition from school to work for D/HH/DB individuals.

One of the most important skills for young D/HH/DB individuals to develop is the ability to advocate effectively for themselves. Self-advocacy involves self-awareness (knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses), knowledge of one’s rights and responsibilities, independent decision-making, and showing assertiveness by communicating one’s needs to other individuals. Self-advocacy is important because employers may be unfamiliar with the needs and rights of persons with hearing loss.

Self-advocacy training for D/HH/DB individuals should occur throughout their academic careers. As early as preschool, children can be encouraged, for example, to let teachers know if their hearing aids or cochlear implants are not working. By high school, D/HH/DB students should have the self-determination skills to be able to express their own goals, describe their preferred communication methods and needs, and have an understanding of anti-discrimination laws and their rights in the work place.

For educators unfamiliar with hearing loss, it can be challenging to fit in lessons and practice on self-advocacy during busy school days. Teachers and parents need to build such instruction into IEPs or seek out opportunities to help students develop these skills. Such resources are available in many places from both private and public agencies. The Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss (CDHL) in Washington State is one such organization that addresses self-advocacy training and employment through two programs. The Washington Career Academy for the Deaf (WCAD, is a three to nine month program that teaches independent living and employment skills to post-high school students. For middle and high school students, CDHL partnered with the Junior Achievement, to create the Deaf2Deaf Experience (, a two-day event designed to improve knowledge of commerce and employment. Both programs provide lessons on self-advocacy including legal rights for individuals with disabilities, ways to manage communication with hearing employers and co-workers, and requesting accommodations in the workplace.  In Deaf2Deaf, students and parents are also given the opportunity to meet deaf professionals who serve as career models, describing their own successes and challenges and in the workplace. Students who participate in these programs report feeling more confident and knowledgeable about seeking employment, participating in job interviews, and letting employers know what accommodations they need.

What we don’t know

First, we don’t know which self-advocacy programs best prepare D/HH/DB students for the employment and living responsibilities of adult life. No school-to-work transition program or curriculum has been validated for the D/HH/DB population. Second, we do not know how best to match such training to diverse student strengths and needs in order to support finding and maintaining employment for different subgroups. More research (and more programming) is needed to answer these questions.


D/HH/DB students are faced with unique challenges as they navigate the transition to adulthood. Parents, schools, and all stakeholders need to continue to explore partnerships with community organizations that can help young D/HH/DB individuals become effective self-advocates. We need to develop effective transition activities and programs that will guide them on their path towards their future careers to enable them to become active, working participants in our society.


Posted on Oct. 10, 2017 by
Cathy Corrado & Deirdre Curle
Washington State Center for Childhood Deafness & Hearing Loss
cathy.corrado {at} – deirdre.curle {at}


Further reading

Michael, R., Cinamon, R.G., & Most, T. (2015). What shapes adolescents’ future perceptions? The effects of hearing loss, social affiliation, and career self-efficacy. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 20, 399-407. view details

Michael, R., Most, T., & Cinamon, R.G. (2013). The contribution of perceived parental support to the career self-efficacy of deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing adolescents. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 18, 329-343. view details

Punch, R., Hyde, M., & Power, D. (2007). Career and workplace experiences of Australian university graduates who are deaf or hard of hearing, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12, 504–517. view details

Schley, S., Walter, G. G., Weathers, R. R., Hemmeter, J., Hennessey, J. C., & Burkhauser, R. V. (2011). Effect of postsecondary education on the economic status of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 16, 524-536. view details