Technology gives deaf journalists more options

It's easier than ever to interview sources, says freelance journalist Lisa Goldstein

When Pittsburgh journalist Lisa A. Goldstein signs onto an instant messaging program, the 39-year-old freelancer is doing so not only to communicate in real time on the Internet, but also to converse visually. As a deaf journalist working in a hearing world, she does everything she can to ease communication.

“There’s no better time to be a deaf journalist,” she says. Her voice sounds normal thanks to early oral training, but it is sometimes mistaken for a “foreign” accent. “Technology has evened the playing field.”

To that end, she requests conducting interviews via instant messaging or email. “The written word also helps me in other ways,” she says. “It provides a record of the conversation should anyone dispute a quote and allows me to be accurate. I can’t rely on relay calls”—in which a third person converts voice to text for a deaf caller—“because there’s an intermediary relaying the words.” According to Goldstein, captioned phones also generate mistakes as well as a time lag.

For in-person interviews, Goldstein lip reads and speaks, her cochlear implant and digital hearing aid enhancing the early lip reading and speaking training she received rather than learning in American Sign Language.

Social media has also been a boon to deaf journalists; Goldstein says that one of her deaf friends “lives on Twitter,” with the goal of becoming an international reporter covering social media.

Despite all these technological advances, deaf journalists still face a more daunting road to career success than their hearing counterparts. Goldstein says it may have caused employment discrimination throughout her years in the field. “No way to prove it,” she says, “but that’s for sure what happened. One job was right up my alley.”

According to Census Bureau statistics, when the overall unemployment rate was around 10 percent last year, the rate was about 14 percent among the hearing impaired.

Still, Goldstein discloses her deafness in interviews and often writes op-eds about life without hearing. But another deaf journalist, a recent graduate and job seeker, declined to be interviewed for this article due to her desire to keep her disability private from potential employers.

“This is a hot-button issue with me and my speaking deaf friends,” Goldstein says.”I think that [not telling] is a mistake. What happens if they try to communicate with [a deaf applicant] and fail? What if they call on the phone and she/he doesn’t understand something or misunderstands? It’s better to be proactive; there’s a way to be upfront without hitting them over the head.”

Besides, says Goldstein, employers can infer a disability from perusing resumes and clips, as in her case. “And it’s obvious in interviews, especially when I say I have to lip read and to please look at me when you talk.”

Goldstein concedes that not every journalistic opportunity is a good fit for her. “I can certainly meet daily deadlines in some situations such as a website or publication that doesn’t require in-person interviews,” she says. “But I wouldn’t want to go out in the field and write up an article the same day unless they [the publication] were able to transcribe it right away.” And deaf journalists still cannot access YouTube and similar Web media due to non-captioning.

Goldstein always wanted to be a journalist. She worked at her college paper while attending Skidmore College and interned at the nearby Amherst Bee. She earned a master’s degree at UC Berkeley, where she was awarded the McClatchy Prize for in-depth reporting.

“Being deaf is all I know,” she says, “but it’s not all of me. It’s challenging, but I think people think being deaf is more difficult than it is.”

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Janice Arenofsky is an Arizona-based freelancer who writes for such national venues as Preservation, Experience Life and Scientific American.