Today in America, there are about 48 million people dealing with some type of hearing loss. For those in the workforce, hearing loss can create communication issues that can slow down productivity, affect the path of their careers, and even cause mental health problems. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way! By keeping a few things in mind, you can reduce the stress of trying to do your job while negotiating with hearing loss.
Ask for Reasonable Accommodations
The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with all kinds of disabilities, including hearing loss. Talk to your employer about what you need to do your job most effectively. It could be as simple as having a microphone at the table during meetings, sitting closer to a visiting speaker, or moving your desk away from noisy workplace appliances.It can be crucial to make sure that people talk in turns, and a meeting moderator who knows that you have hearing loss will be able to remind everyone to do that. You might also ask that meetings take place at a round table, or another situation that allows you to see everyone’s face when they speak. If one conference room tends to be noisier than another (for example, if it’s closer to the kitchen), you can ask to hold meetings in a quieter space. Whatever you can think of to ease communication between you and your coworkers is worth trying out!
Disclose Your Hearing Loss
In order to take advantage of the protections offered by the ADA, your employer needs to know that you have hearing loss. Your coworkers can also participate in facilitating your work as long as they, too, know about your hearing loss. Positive, forthright, polite disclosure helps everybody to understand the little steps they can take to make sure you’re included in the conversation. If you’re having trouble hearing someone, you can say, “I’m having trouble hearing you with my hearing loss. Can you please face me when you speak and talk a bit more slowly?” Once your workmates understand what they can do to help, most of them will start doing it automatically whenever you speak with them.
Prepare in Advance
While everyone benefits from advance preparation, it can be especially helpful for those of us with hearing loss. You’ll be able to follow along much better in meetings if you know the agenda in advance, so ask to have it emailed to you prior to the event. It may also be helpful to have a notetaker present, who can provide you with the minutes afterward in case you need to revisit something.
Use Assistive Technology
If you meet in larger groups, it can be a lot harder to hear than in smaller discussions where everyone can be physically nearer to each other. In larger conference rooms, a loop system can be helpful. Members of the group each have a microphone, which is sent to an amplifier that feeds a loop of wire that surrounds the room. The audio signal can then be picked up by a receiver, or a set of hearing aids with T-coil capability. A similar but more transportable option could be an FM system. Talk to your employer about obtaining these technologies.Other technologies can translate spoken words into text, like Computer Assisted Real Time Transcription (CART). Choosing to email when possible, rather than call or stop by a coworker’s office, can also be helpful. Video calls might be more beneficial than phone calls, so you can see the other person’s face. Lean in to the technology around you!
Try Hearing Aids
Even if you’ve tried them before and didn’t find them useful, you’d be surprised how much the technology has advanced in the last few years. Most hearing aid manufacturers offer a trial period, so don’t be afraid to give them another shot! Current models of hearing aids can do a very good job of distinguishing between speech and background noise, and even altering their program automatically as you move through different environments. If discretion is a concern for you, hearing aids are available that are invisible or nearly invisible. Don’t let hearing loss affect your performance at work. Try out a set of hearing aids today and see just how great life can sound!