Working with Hearing Loss

Working with Hearing Loss

Robert Weissman, Au.D., B.C.A., CCC-AUncategorized

Robert Weissman, Au.D., B.C.A., CCC-A

We spend a third of our lives at work, contributing to the benefit of our larger social organizations in one way or another. For those of us with hearing loss, there might be some extra challenges in the workplace. Especially if our hearing loss is new to us, we might not be comfortable at first requesting the things we need to be productive, but with a little persistence and know-how, we can overcome our challenges and be valued members of the team.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

First and foremost, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for those with hearing loss. What is reasonable? Depending on your job, it could range from being seated near a speaker to having an interpreter present at a meeting. Obviously, you don’t want to put people out of their way unnecessarily but you need to be able to do your job to the best of your ability.

Educating your Coworkers

There’s a range of possibilities here as well, but basically you want to be upfront and assertive with the fact of your hearing loss. Let everyone know you have difficulty hearing before meetings or before conversations begin, and before long you’ll notice others anticipating your needs in advance. It’s not rocket science to accommodate a person with hearing loss, but people do need to know what to do.

Let them know to tap you on the shoulder or otherwise make sure to have your attention before they start speaking to you. Make sure they know if one of your ears works better than the other, or if it helps to make sure they’re standing in light so you can read their lips. If email or text works better for you in most circumstances, let them know.

Make Requests Whenever Necessary

Ask people to face you, and if you lean on lipreading, you can ask them to speak a little slower. Ask for written notes on presentations or written follow-ups whenever possible, if you know you’re going to miss a little of what’s being said at a meeting or presentation. If you have options of where to meet, request quiet rooms and round tables so you can see everyone’s faces.

Many people with hearing trouble fall into the trap of pretending to hear when they can’t, often just to keep things moving forward. It’s important to speak up in this circumstance and politely request that the speaker repeat themselves. You might ask them, “Can you say that again a little differently?” It’s usually easier to understand when people use different words to express the same thing, than when they just repeat the same words louder.

Get the Right Tasks and Spaces for You

If you and your coworkers need to share duties at the reception desk, maybe that’s not best for you if you can’t hear well on the phone. If background noise makes hearing conversation more difficult for you, maybe you shouldn’t have your desk next to the photocopier or the HVAC duct. Of course you need to pull your weight, but if there are a variety of tasks in your workplace to be divided up, request the ones that won’t strain your hearing abilities too much.

Use Technology

Technology is everywhere in the workplace, and accommodating the hard-of-hearing is no exception. Your workplace might employ a loop system, which uses a wireless system to broadcast the audio from microphones directly into hearing aids or cochlear implants. You might also have a directional mic of your own that broadcasts to your hearing aids, which you can employ in meetings to single out one speaker or another.

Computer Assisted Realtime Transcription (CART) is software that transcribes speech in realtime, which can then be projected onto a screen or onto your personal laptop. You can also use videoconferencing to allow you to read lips, which is more and more common as jobs are done off company premises.

Get Your Hearing Tested Regularly

You want to make sure you’re hearing to the best of your ability. If it’s been a while since you last saw a hearing healthcare practitioner, make an appointment. Your hearing may have changed since the last time you had it tested, and hearing aid technology is always advancing. Recent studies have shown that those who suffer untreated hearing loss can make up to $30,000 less than those with mild hearing loss who wear hearing aids, so try to keep up with your hearing loss and keep its effects to a minimum at work.