If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from hearing loss, you may find it difficult to manage your condition in the workplace. There are a few steps you can take, however, to make sure that your hearing loss does not interfere with your ability to do your job. With a little planning and effort, you can continue to work effectively while managing your hearing loss. Here are a few tips on how to do just that.
Disclose your condition
While hearing loss is a sensitive topic that is difficult to divulge to others, being open about your condition provides you with the most benefits to your daily workplace success and to your overall mental well-being. According to researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, people fall into three main categories when it comes to revealing their hearing loss:
- Nondisclosure: These people either fail to acknowledge their hearing loss or simply refuse to disclose to others their hearing impairment. They often shift the responsibility of successful communication to the speaker. People in this category often tell others to repeat themselves or to speak louder.
- Disclosers: This group of people is fully open about their hearing impairment. They often willingly provide details regarding their condition and do not shy away from discussing the topic. For example, a discloser may describe how they lost hearing in their left ear from an explosion years ago.
- Honest disclosers: These people are similar to disclosers with the transparency of their hearing loss. However, in addition to openly conceding their impairment, honest disclosers also offer suggestions or communication strategies before initiating dialogues. They may suggest moving to a quieter room with less background noise to talk in, for example.
Amongst these three categories, honest disclosers engage in the most efficient tactic known as the multi-disclosure approach. It may be a more intimidating strategy at first, but telling others how to best converse with you yields the most significant results. Not only is this technique empowering, but it also garners understanding and accommodation from those around you.
Accommodations in the workplace
There is no all-encompassing approach to workplace accommodations, as each person’s specific requirements and workplace protocols are unique. It is important then, to always establish how specific accommodations will be beneficial to the organization and your overall productivity. Be mindful of this whenever engaging with human resources or a supervisor on the topic.
Common accommodation requests
- Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)/Assistive Listening System (ALS): Determine which system is best suited for your work environment and research the best vendors and pricing.
- Telephones: You are entitled to Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC) phones and cell phones at work if you have hearing loss. A separate, dedicated line is required if you also need captioned telephone service or Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS).
- Meetings: Requesting the meeting agenda beforehand and summary notes afterward are common accommodation requests.
- CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation): This employs a human transcriber who converts every spoken word into text which can be displayed on a computer or projected onto a screen. Transcripts are available upon request, and CART writers adhere to confidentiality agreements, so privacy is not an issue.
- Work area adjustments: Demonstrate how the noise level in your immediate work area may exceed safe limits or negatively impacts your productivity.
- Emergency notification systems: Emergency assistive technologies geared toward people with hearing loss, such as vibrating pagers, low/multiple frequency alarms, and strobe lights, should be requested if they are not already implemented.
- In-service training: Specific accommodations for all in-service training can be made in advance.
Workplace hearing loss management
Hearing loss can be a real challenge in the workplace, especially for those who work in noisy environments or have difficulty hearing speech at a distance. Hearing aids can help amplify sounds, but they don’t always discriminate between what is being amplified, so discerning dialogue amidst background noise can still be troublesome. However, there are a number of things you can do to optimize your hearing ability in the workplace.
- Prepare for all possible communications at the workplace by acknowledging your hearing impairment.
- Remember that your hearing loss does not define you or dictate your success at work.
- Educate yourself on all types of accommodations suited to your specific needs that best align with your workplace policies.
- Always have backup hardware or batteries available when traveling.
- Advocate for yourself and request all practical accommodations from your employer
- Inform your coworkers about the best strategies with which to interact or communicate with you.
- Be prepared for meetings by requesting accommodations beforehand. Ask for the agenda or CART services and assistive listening devices. Always arrive early to select optimal seating best suited to your condition.
- Anticipate specific requirements for conference calls. Be bold and ask colleagues for assistance in taking notes when CART services are not available.
- In case of emergencies, make prior arrangements with colleagues in the event that you are unable to hear the implemented emergency systems.