Hearing loss in the workplace: hearing loss and employment

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Contributed by Debbie Clason, Editor-in-Chief, Healthy Hearing
Last update 2020-11-17T00: 00: 00-06: 00

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), of the 15% of Americans who report some degree of hearing loss, about 60% are either in the workplace or in a school setting.

Online chats and captioned Zoom calls can make
work with hearing loss easier.

Hearing loss can take a little extra work, but it shouldn’t decrease your productivity or put additional stress on your day. Most inconvenience comes from a misunderstanding, so open communication is the key to an effective relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to speak clearly or to look at you as they speak. Small changes in your working environment can keep the office running smoothly.

If you have hearing loss, and especially if you’ve recently discovered your hearing loss, you may need to give your coworkers and boss some tips on how best to communicate with you. If you’ve recently changed jobs, there’s a good chance your new colleagues haven’t been exposed to hearing loss before. Once you’ve informed someone about your condition, you can both successfully bypass them.

Hearing loss and employment

In the United States, employers are legally required to provide an egalitarian workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including for hearing-impaired employees. Changes in the workplace may include providing assistive listening devices and making other accommodations that remove barriers to communication. Learn more about your rights under ADA guidelines and regulations for the hearing impaired.

HLAA Resources

HLAA has put together several fantastic resources for hard of hearing employees, including a very comprehensive job toolkit that covers just about any issue a hard of hearing employee may encounter.

Federal Resources on Working with Hearing Loss

The US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has detailed guidelines on deafness and hearing impairment in the workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Wearing hearing aids at work

Hearing aids work exceptionally well for most people with mild to moderate hearing loss. If you are new to hearing aids, keep in mind that it can take time to adjust to them in different settings, including your job. Unlike glasses, hearing aids require a “ramp up” process to be worn full time, which can take a few weeks.

If you’ve given it a few months and are still having difficulty adjusting to wearing hearing aids in the workplace, see your audiologist for advice. She may be able to program the settings to work best for your typical working conditions, and she may be a great resource for recommending assistive listening devices (below).

Hearing aids in the workplace

In an office, you may find that you need extra help beyond what your hearing aids can provide. Using assistive listening devices can help bridge the gap.

  • A T-coil in your hearing aid is common in many hearing aid models, and it opens the door to assistive devices that can make your life easier. For example, FM systems use telephone coils, and they can be used in a variety of settings.
  • Directional microphone technology makes it easier for you to hear the intended speaker without background noise. This is especially useful in meeting or conference settings where outside noise or people talking to each other may be a problem.
  • Captioned phones are great for people who have a lot of conference calls. These devices translate words into text on a screen connected to the phone. By being able to hear and see what the person on the other line is saying, you are more likely to clearly understand the conversation.
  • Bluetooth technology is also useful for people with hearing aids who spend a lot of time on the phone. With the simple flip of a switch on your hearing aids, you can digitally connect to a phone and avoid common interference with hearing aids and phones.

Advice on hearing loss and communication in the workplace

You can do your part by educating your coworkers about good ways to communicate with you in person. For starters, people with hearing loss tend to do better in person than on the phone. Therefore, when possible, have them come to your office instead of dialing your extension number. This way, you can use contextual cues like lip reading, facial expressions, and body language to help with the conversation. (During the pandemic, when social distancing is important, an email or chat window may be better than a phone call or Zoom, unless it’s captioned.)

If an in-person visit is required, have them follow your line of sight if you don’t respond to their attempts to get your attention. It is less surprising to see someone approach you than to get punched on the back. In meetings and conference rooms, ask them to try not to speak when they are in front of you, such as when they are writing bullet points on the dry-erase board. Speaking with someone with their back to you projects the person’s voice against the wall, making it difficult to understand even if you are seated near the speaker.

Office management

Open cubicles are not always suitable for the hearing impaired, as there are a lot of activities going on that can distract you from your job. Trying to have a phone conversation at the same time as your colleague in the booth next to you is hard enough with normal hearing. Ask to be put in a private office with a door, if available. This way, you can cut off the noise and focus on your job, making you a more efficient and productive employee.

How to help a deaf colleague

Even if you are not the boss, you can still help create a positive work environment when deaf or hard of hearing colleagues are present:

  • Speak clearly, not loudly, and don’t confuse your words. Raising your voice won’t help.
  • Keep phone calls short and confirm key points at the end of the call.
  • When possible, watch out for unwanted noise in the workplace, especially those that might occur right next to their desks or desks. Making an effort to avoid impromptu conversations or speaking over office partitions will go a long way in creating a comfortable working environment for everyone.

Hearing loss due to work?

If you think you’ve lost your hearing as a result of working conditions, check out our pages on OSHA and Hearing Loss and Workers’ Hearing Loss Benefits. Work is one of the most common places people will be exposed to harmful noise levels, putting them at risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). OSHA has a set of worker rights designed to protect people from harm, including hearing loss.

Get help if you can’t hear at work

If you have trouble hearing at work, have your hearing assessed by a hearing care professional. If you have hearing loss that can be treated with hearing aids, buy the ones that fit your lifestyle and budget. If you can’t afford the technology you need:

  • Check with your employer to see if you are eligible for vocational rehabilitation. To find what hearing health services are covered and if you qualify, visit your home state’s website or search the Internet for “vocational rehabilitation” and the name of your state.
  • Your insurer may cover part of the expenses related to hearing aids and ALDs. You can also use health savings accounts to purchase hearing care.
  • If you are a veteran, check with Veterans Affairs to see if you are eligible for assistance.

Following: Working Remotely With Hearing Loss: Tips For Virtual Meetings


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