39 Excellent Jobs for Deaf People in a Wide Range of Sectors
Very few jobs are off-limits to those with hearing challenges. Indeed, compiling a list of jobs for deaf people is a daunting task due to the sheer enormity of options. Whether you have some degree of hearing loss or are completely deaf, jobs in virtually any career field are possibilities for you.
According to one report, the top sectors in which deaf people are employed include manufacturing, healthcare, retail, professional services, and construction. Deaf workers can also be found in the entertainment, education, transportation, finance, and information services fields.1 Bottom line: If you develop the required skills and acquire the necessary expertise, you can go after pretty much any job you want.
Below, you'll find information on dozens of career options for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, including several that can be done from home and a few that draw on competency in sign language. You can also learn about the medical and cultural definitions of "deaf" and other related terminology. And you can explore the issue of deafness as a disability and what that means in terms of your rights in the workplace and your eligibility for government benefits.
Unless otherwise noted, the median earnings listed below are based on May 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.2 All figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.
- 28 jobs for the deaf and hard of hearing
- 7 work-from-home jobs for hard-of-hearing or deaf people
- 4 jobs that use sign language
- Deaf, hard of hearing, and other terminology: Medical and cultural definitions
- Is deafness a disability?
- Basic facts about deafness and hearing loss
- FAQs about hearing aids and cochlear implants
28 Jobs for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Hearing loss or deafness doesn't have to keep you from doing a job you love. With relevant training, the right skills, and the proper accommodations, you can pursue success in any career you choose. Here is just a sample of jobs you might consider in areas like:
Do you feel called to care for other people's well-being? Thanks to simple tools like stethoscopes that amplify sound and clear surgical masks that enable lip reading, people who are hard of hearing or deaf can become doctors, nurses, veterinarians, and many other types of medical professionals. Some deaf people's sense of touch becomes so finely tuned that they can discern heart, lung, and bowel sounds just by using their hands. And some healthcare professions, such as those that take place in the lab, require very little verbal communication.
- Doctor—$201K (for general practitioners)
- Diagnostic medical sonographer—$73K
- Registered nurse—$72K
- Medical laboratory tech—$52K
- Massage therapist—$41K
Law and human services
Many people who don't hear well excel at understanding body language. They tend to pay close attention when people are speaking, and they are often very attuned to the differences between what people say with their mouths and what those same people convey with their gestures, expressions, and movements. If you have those types of skills, you can find plenty of opportunities related to law or human services. You could use your unique abilities to connect with people in order to help them overcome mental struggles, find appropriate jobs, or fight for their legal rights.
- Police officer—$61K
- Vocational rehabilitation counselor—$36K
The vast majority of jobs in the technology and engineering fields do not require full hearing abilities. In most cases, communication can be done through text messaging, email, or other electronic means. As an added bonus, many of these careers are in demand and tend to pay extremely well. So if you dream of finding technological solutions to real-world problems, don't let your deafness hold you back.
- Software developer—$104K to $110K
- Information security analyst—$98K
- Database administrator—$90K
- Biomedical engineer—$89K
- Web developer—$69K
The skilled trades
The skilled trades offer a wealth of opportunities. Nearly a quarter of the deaf workforce is employed in the manufacturing and construction industries.1 Many factories, garages, and building sites are noisy places to work, which means that even hearing employees are probably accustomed to communicating non-verbally using things like hand gestures, flashing lights, written notes, or vibrating cell phones. Plus, pinpointing mechanical problems can often be done by feeling for vibrations rather than listening for sounds.
- CNC programmer—$53K
- Industrial machinery mechanic—$52K
- HVAC technician—$48K
- Automotive technician—$41K
The creative and performing arts
Some people with hearing challenges have exceptional visualization skills that serve them well in fields like design, animation, and photography. And some are so good at understanding the nuances of body language that they find it easy to convey concepts and emotions on stage or on screen. If you can capture memorable images, portray a character, or bring your artistic vision to life, you have numerous options for satisfying career paths.
7 Work-From-Home Jobs for Hard-of-Hearing or Deaf People
Are you looking for a position that allows you to work from the comfort of your own home? Plenty of people, regardless of hearing status, prefer remote jobs that don't require them to be on the phone. Some of the careers listed above would fit in this category, but here are a few more options:
If you have a talent for expressing yourself through words, you can parlay your abilities into rewarding opportunities in areas like copywriting, blogging, speech writing, technical writing, and much more. In many cases, freelance writers communicate with their clients via email rather than by telephone. Depending on the type of writing you want to do, courses in journalism or creative writing may come in handy.
2. Online moderator—$44K (average)3
Ensuring that website visitors adhere to established rules and guidelines regarding content requires no phone work and can easily be done from home. Online moderators safeguard their clients' brand reputations by deleting derogatory messages, removing inappropriate content, and banning users who repeatedly break the rules. You'll need a cool head, good judgment, and a solid understanding of the way social media platforms work.
3. Medical coding specialist—$40K
Medical coding can be an ideal career for anyone who's interested in home-based computer work that contributes to the smooth functioning of the healthcare system. In this role, you review patient records and assign the proper codes for each diagnosis, treatment, and procedure. Voluntary certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders can boost your employment prospects.
Lots of small business owners and nonprofit organizations rely on home-based bookkeepers to track their monthly income and expenses. You might also be in charge of overseeing payroll, preparing invoices, and reimbursing employees for business-related costs. While a degree is not always required, accounting courses can help you develop relevant skills.
Do you have a love of the English language and an eagle eye for detail? Proofreaders ensure that documents and manuscripts are free of typos as well as errors related to grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and formatting. Most proofreading work is done on a freelance basis, so you can set your own schedule and work from wherever you like.
6. Chat support agent—$34K
Many people hate phoning customer support. They prefer the convenience and immediacy of digital channels like live chat. So, if you have top-notch written communication skills, are able to quickly zero in on a customer's pain points, and can provide concise explanations or directions, plenty of companies might be interested in your services.
7. Online tutor—$19 per hour4
Helping others develop new skills and abilities can be satisfying work. If you have a strong background in a particular academic area and are adept at explaining and demonstrating concepts, you can pursue opportunities that involve sharing your knowledge via virtual means. Some tutoring companies look for tutors with college degrees; it also helps to have training or experience in teaching.
4 Jobs That Use Sign Language
Being fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) can be a huge asset in several different fields, from communication and education to healthcare and social services. Common jobs that use sign language include:
How would you like to diagnose hearing issues and help other people cope with hearing loss? Audiologists who know sign language can better communicate with the patients they are trying to serve. In fact, some patients actually feel more comfortable working with a deaf audiologist because they can relate to him or her more. You'll need a doctoral degree in audiology as well as a state license.
2. Teacher of the deaf—$59K to $61K
Being able to communicate in sign language is a basic requirement for those that aim to educate students who have hearing challenges. Some of these teachers work in private schools for the deaf, while others work with students in mainstreamed classrooms within the public system. Specialized degree programs that focus on preparing people to teach deaf or hard-of-hearing students are available in most states.
3. Social worker—$45K to $63K
Many social worker positions call for fluency in ASL. That's because these roles involve advocating for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals within the social system and connecting them with the resources they need. You become a social worker by getting a bachelor's or master's degree in social work; if you want to go into clinical work, you'll need to be licensed by your state.
4. Certified deaf interpreter (CDI)—$43K4
While a sign language interpreter is a hearing person who learns ASL as a second language, a certified deaf interpreter is a deaf or hard-of-hearing person who natively communicates in sign or other gestural forms. CDIs work alongside hearing interpreters and are often called upon in situations where a deaf person has challenges (such as mental health issues or language deficits) that make it difficult for him or her to understand a traditional interpreter.
Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Other Terminology: Medical and Cultural Definitions
In order to define "deaf," it's important to determine whether we're talking about "deaf" or "Deaf." In lowercase, "deaf" means the audiological condition of having little-to-no hearing. Medically speaking, to be considered deaf, a person must have profound hearing loss, meaning that his or her average hearing threshold is more than 90 decibels above that of a typical person.
But when written in uppercase, "Deaf" refers to a community of individuals who strongly identify with Deaf culture, are fluent in American Sign Language, and are proud to be Deaf. A Deaf person considers him- or herself to be a member of a linguistic minority with its own history and culture. Many Deaf people have never had hearing and come from families with several members who are also deaf.
Hard-of-hearing (HOH) individuals have varying levels of hearing loss, from mild to severe. With mild hearing loss, you may not be able to hear someone speak if there is background noise or you are standing a bit of a distance away. Severe hearing loss is when your average hearing threshold is 71 to 90 decibels higher than that of a person with normal hearing. With severe hearing loss, you may be able to pick up on very loud sounds like an airplane overhead, but you won't hear typical everyday speech.
From the cultural perspective, there are no hard and fast rules about which category someone fits in. A person who is medically deaf might read lips or use sign language, but still identify with the hearing world. Another deaf person might culturally identify as Deaf. Similarly, some hard-of-hearing individuals align themselves with the Deaf community, and some do not. It's a matter of what each person is most comfortable with.
Hearing impaired is a term that was once widely used but is no longer accepted within the deaf and hard-of-hearing community because of its negative connotations: It defines people by what they can't do. Two other inaccurate and offensive terms that should never be used are "deaf-mute" and "deaf and dumb."
Is Deafness a Disability?
That depends on who you ask. Many deaf people, particularly those who have never had hearing, do not consider themselves disabled. Their deafness is simply part of who they are.
However, deaf people are disabled in the context of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). How much hearing loss is considered disabled? Under the ADA, any physical impairment that substantially limits your hearing qualifies as a disability. Therefore, deafness is a physical disability for the purposes of the ADA. Being hard of hearing could also qualify.
The ADA stipulates that disabled individuals have certain rights in the workplace. For example, you are entitled to have a sign language interpreter with you during a job interview.
In addition, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to enable a person with hearing challenges to be successful in the workplace. Such accommodations might include:
- A TTY device or a videophone for video relay calls
- A personal FM system that broadcasts sound to hearing aids
- A visually based alert system as an alternative to a public address system
In some cases, accommodations might be as simple as ensuring that all meetings are held in rooms with good lighting and that deaf and hard-of-hearing employees are able to face whoever is speaking.
Here's the next logical question: Can you get disability for hearing loss? The answer is yes, you can, but not in all cases. Deaf people get Social Security disability benefits if they meet certain conditions. This is what you need to know:
- If you have a cochlear implant, you qualify for disability benefits for one year after having the surgery. After that point, you can still qualify if you score 60 percent or less on the Hearing in Noise Test (HINT).
- If you do not have a cochlear implant, you may qualify for benefits if you have an average hearing threshold of at least 90 dB as documented via air conduction tests and a hearing threshold of at least 60 dB as documented via bone conduction tests. You can also qualify if you have a word recognition score of 40 percent or lower.
If you don't meet the above conditions, you may still qualify for benefits through a medical-vocational allowance if you can demonstrate that your hearing loss keeps you from performing any job you are otherwise qualified for based on your age, education, and work experience.
It's important to note that the Social Security Administration (SSA) assesses your eligibility by evaluating your hearing in your best ear. Thus, according to the SSA, being deaf in one ear is not a disability if you have good hearing in the other ear.
You claim disability for hearing loss by applying online or by calling TTY 1-800-325-0778 to make an appointment to apply in person at your local SSA office.
Basic Facts About Deafness and Hearing Loss
Some people are born deaf or with varying degrees of hearing impairment. Being deaf can be genetic. In fact, around 50 to 60 percent of hearing loss in newborns is attributable to genetic factors.5
But hearing loss can occur at any age, and it can be quite sudden. For instance, you might wake up one morning to discover you've gone deaf on one side. You might also experience tinnitus or vertigo. (While being deaf in one ear does not affect balance per se, balance problems could indicate that you have a problem with the part of your inner ear that controls your vestibular system.)
Infections, circulation issues, metabolic disorders, certain medications, and a variety of inner ear disorders can cause sudden loss of hearing in one ear. If you experience this, it's important to consult your healthcare provider immediately so that he or she can assess your condition.
There are two main types of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss is caused by a problem in the middle or outer ear that blocks sound from getting through. It can result from things like wax or fluid buildup, abnormal growths in the ear canal, a punctured eardrum, or rapid changes in air pressure. This type of hearing loss is reversible, depending on the specific cause. Blockages can often be treated with medication or surgery.
- Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is damage to either the hair-like cells of the cochlea in the inner ear or the auditory nerve itself. Common causes include noise exposure, age, head trauma, and viral infections. Sensorineural hearing loss cannot be cured; that is, hearing cannot be completely restored to normal levels. However, through the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants, many people do find that their hearing improves.
In some circumstances, hearing loss does get worse. It can also lead to additional problems. For instance, some studies have shown that hearing loss can cause an increased risk of dementia.6 So it's essential to undergo regular screenings and take good care of your ears.
FAQs About Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants
1. Can wearing a hearing aid cause further hearing loss?
Under most circumstances, a hearing aid cannot damage your hearing. Some people complain that after wearing their hearing aids for a few weeks, they cannot hear as well without the aids as they did before they ever got the devices. But the truth is that their brains have simply become accustomed to the new signals being received from the hearing aids. That level of hearing becomes the new normal. So if you wear your hearing aid for a while and then take it out, it may seem like your hearing loss has gotten worse. But in reality, you just notice it more because you've become used to hearing better.
However, if your hearing aid has been programmed incorrectly, it could damage your hearing by delivering sounds much louder than you really need. So it's important to have it adjusted by a professional.
2. Why does my hearing aid crackle or whistle?
It's likely that your hearing aid crackles because its battery level is low or it has accumulated dirt or moisture, which leads to static. A hearing center should be able to change the battery and clean the device for you.
That whistling sound is called feedback. It's possible that your hearing aid is whistling because it doesn't fit tightly enough or because your ear canal is clogged with wax. Feedback can also occur when you hug someone or put your hand up to your ear. In most cases, it's easily fixable and is nothing to worry about.
3. Are cochlear implants a good solution for all people with hearing loss?
Cochlear implants do not amplify sounds like hearing aids do; instead, they bypass the damaged area of the inner ear to deliver signals directly to the auditory nerve. They can be a good option for some people with severe to profound hearing loss who do not benefit from conventional hearing aids. People who were either born deaf or became deaf later in life can be eligible for the surgery; it can even be performed on children as young as 12 months.
However, cochlear implants do not work for everyone. For example, if your auditory nerve itself is damaged, an implant will not help. And if you can hear well enough with hearing aids, you are not a candidate for the surgery.
4. Do cochlear implants ever need to be replaced?
Typically, cochlear implants do not need to be replaced. The internal implant is generally meant to last a lifetime, although the external audio processor will have to be changed every few years. In most cases, audio processors are designed to work with previous generations of implants. However, if the technology changes significantly, or if there is some sort of equipment malfunction, the internal implant may need to be replaced.
Find Your Way Forward
As you can see, there is almost no end to the number of jobs for deaf people. The real question is whether you have the skills and knowledge you need to achieve your aspirations. So if you're considering additional training, why not explore the huge range of career-oriented programs offered by trade schools and vocational colleges? Discover convenient options in your area by entering your zip code into the search tool below!
1 National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes, Deaf People and Employment in the United States: 2016, website last visited on April 9, 2019.
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on April 9, 2019.
3 ZipRecruiter, website last visited on April 9, 2019.
4 PayScale, website last visited on April 9, 2019.
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Genetics of Hearing Loss," website last visited on April 9, 2019.
6 Archives of Neurology, "Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia," website last visited on April 9, 2019.