Working with Hearing Loss

Many people associate hearing loss with advanced age, however, 60% of those affected by hearing loss are still in the US workforce. Even so, people assume that those around them have normal hearing because hearing loss often goes unseen. Often referred to as an invisible disability, it is important to understand how to navigate your place of work as a person with a hearing disability. Likewise, it is important for those with normal hearing to understand how best to accommodate those in the workforce with a hearing disability. This kind of compassion for people of different abilities opens the workplace to be a truly inclusive space.

Employees with Hearing Loss

Working with hearing loss can be a frustrating experience. All too often you may mishear instructions and make mistakes because you don’t have the best tools to hear in your work environment. This can lead employers to value you less as those with hearing loss often earn less and are skipped over for promotions in favor of co-workers with normal hearing. If you are an employee with hearing loss, it is important to let your employer know. There are a lot of protections for those with hearing loss in the workplace. The American Disabilities Act of 1990 also makes it mandatory for employers to offer reasonable accommodations for those in the workforce with hearing loss or any other disability. 

Accommodations in the Workplace

It’s common for a workplace to be chaotic, with multiple conversations happening at once over industrial sounds. This can be difficult for anyone to hear, but for people with hearing loss, it is completely confusing. To make it easier for you to hear with hearing loss you can request written memos of instructions, to ensure you don’t miss important details. You may find that it is easier for you to hear information in person rather than over the phone. Everyone benefits from slightly different accommodations, so it is important to find the ones that work for you and don’t be afraid to ask for them.

How Employers Can Help

If you are an employer, know that there is a likelihood that some of your employees will most likely have hearing loss, regardless of age. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 12% of the US workforce has hearing loss. Unaddressed hearing loss in the workplace offers challenges to all employees and employers, regardless of the field or profession. As an employer, offering health benefits for those with hearing loss offers them a chance to treat their hearing loss, which in turn will provide better work performance from them. It is in everyone’s interest to address hearing loss.

How Coworkers and Colleagues Can Help

It is important that if you work with someone with hearing loss that you know the best ways to communicate with them so they can understand. Everyone finds different things which can help them hear so it’s best to ask your co-worker with hearing loss what works best. However, here are a few common pointers for successful conversation.

  • Face the hearing-impaired person directly so they can rely on facial expression, lip-reading, and body language.
  • Avoid speaking from another room as they may miss what you are saying altogether.
  • Don’t yell. This can distort sound and come off as condescending. Instead speak clearly, slowly, and distinctly. 
  • Get the person’s attention before speaking. Say their name, to give them a chance to focus on what you are saying.
  • Pause at the end of sentences.
  • When you can minimize background noise when speaking. If the location is too loud, try moving to a quieter place.
  • Rephrase instead of repeat. This can avoid a tone or consonant which is giving the listener an issue.
  • Write down important information, especially details such as time, place, or phone numbers 
  • Pay attention to the listener. If they seem confused, gently slow down and try some of these methods to help the person understand. 

Treating Hearing Loss

If you suspect you have a hearing loss and it’s affecting your work, you must have your hearing diagnosed and treated. The Hearing Health Foundation reports that with the use of hearing aids the risk of income loss was lowered by 90 to 100% for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 to 77% for those with moderate to severe hearing loss. The first step is to schedule a hearing exam now!