Labor Day: A Reflection of Disability in America's Workplace

By Morgan Leppla

Did you know that the first Labor Day in the U.S. was celebrated on September 5, 1892, to commemorate the achievements of the labor movement? More than a century later, we still celebrate our workforce for their contributions and successes. Mandatory safety regulations in the workplace, anti-discrimination policies, and establishing minimum wage are some of the noteworthy milestones accomplished.

Labor Day exudes an inclusive spirit. 

But what about individuals who have a disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) mandates that employers must make reasonable accommodations for qualified candidates with disabilities in the workplace. However, many people do not speak up or are ashamed to disclose their disability and needs to their employer, including those with hearing loss.

The employment rate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing in the U.S. is 50 percent, compared with 70 percent among workers who do not have disabilities. There is also a stark disparity between annual income for those who have a substantial hearing loss or are deaf, compared with their typical hearing peers: $38,000 per year vs. $50,000 annually in 2011.

A hearing loss may affect one’s ability to remain communicative and productive in the workplace, as the majority of today’s jobs require some form of verbal correspondence. Whether that is listening to instructions on a construction site, providing medical expertise, or receiving feedback from a supervisor, the words people say tend to be important. Gaps in understanding lead to gaps in accuracy, productivity, and performance.

This is not just an individual worker’s problem either. When people stop working at optimal capacity, bottom lines shrink. And considering that 67 to 86 percent of the 48 million Americans who have hearing loss do not have hearing aids, more dollars than you’d expect could be lost.

Workers’ general wellness includes knowing about, managing, and treating hearing loss, as well as feeling comfortable asking for reasonable accommodations without fear of discrimination. Eradicating the stigma surrounding hearing loss is key to addressing it as an epidemic medically, economically, and socially—and we at HHF are working hard to eliminate that stigma through building education and awareness.

Labor Day is about honoring the workforce. Please join Hearing Health Foundation in celebrating the progress made for American workers, as well as acknowledging the obligation to improve the livelihood, both in and out of the workplace, of our fellow citizens. 

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