Navigating the Architecture Industry with Profound Hearing Loss
by: Tony Decha-Umphai
As an adult who grew up with hearing loss/deafness my entire life, but born hearing, I was assimilated into mainstream culture. This entailed being exposed to the hearing world every day of my life. My families and friends are all hearing. Having a very profound hearing loss, it was often difficult following group conversations as one on one communication was mostly preferred.
People often ask me what it is like having a profound hearing loss while working in the architectural field. To understand profound hearing loss (which one could say is close to being deaf), think of not being able to hear music lyrics or high pitch sounds like fire trucks or ambulances. Perhaps the only sound I was able to hear was heavy drum beats and bass tones. So to get around the real world, lip reading became my everyday form of communication including visual clues and facial expressions.
I always thought it would be difficult getting a job with a “hidden” disability that the general public are often unaware of. Having been rejected from multiple architectural interviews from the 2007-2009 recession, I was close to a career change outside of architecture. This would mean learning new trades and skills or getting another degree that focused on another career. Since I was determined not to lose out on what I have built for my architectural career after graduating from the University of Tennessee Knoxville in 2007, I went out and set on one more architecture job interview which changed the course of my personal and professional life.
Prior to that last architectural interview, I only had 1.5 years of architectural experience added to my resume after the massive layoffs back in 2009. I needed more work experience to work my way up into the architectural world. So when it was time for me to get to the backbone of that last interview, I knew, if rejected, I would have dropped my passion for pursuing architecture in its entirety. Surprisingly, during that last interview and doing my best to focus attention on the job requirements (and not what my profound hearing loss could not do), I did my best to present myself in a manner as someone well suited for the architectural job. When the interview was over, I was surprised to get an email congratulating me on being accepted for the position.
During the course of my career and working with ProjX, I was fortunate to have met people who were understanding of my needs, but it required repetitive effort with adjusting to our communication differences and finding ways to be on the same page. This resulted in a few trial and errors but over time, it naturally and gradually got better. It required a lot of time, patience, understanding, and especially mistakes in making something work for all of us. While flawed in my ability to hear conversations at 100% efficiency, I put in 200% effort in my work to compensate for what I was unable to do with my hearing. The focus of my long term success with ProjX centered on being confident in who I was by keeping an open mind, educating my coworkers about my hearing loss, and having the patience to acknowledge our differences while working on common ground.
“Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you’re needed by someone.”