Hearing loss can pose a host of hurdles, with some of the most stressful ones occurring at work. Whether it’s applying or interviewing for a new position, or maintaining a current one, hearing problems can make a difficult task even harder. Unlike problems with eyesight or movement, hearing loss is dubbed the “invisible disability” since others are less likely to be aware of your limitation.
Colleagues and bosses who aren’t informed of your hearing loss will naturally assume that you’re understanding everything being said without issue. Meetings will carry on without accommodation, and the odds are high that important information will be unheard or misinterpreted. This is of course true elsewhere in life, be it at a restaurant or the airport, but at work these missed communications can affect your hard-earned position and livelihood.
So how do you deal with the various challenges that hearing loss presents at work?
To start, a simple mindset shift is essential: that hearing loss is actually quite normal, and there are numerous ways of accommodating it to ensure your productivity and effectiveness remain intact. Just remind yourself– people with glasses aren’t treated any differently at work. And neither should you be.
Which is why it’s imperative that you understand your rights as someone with a disability, even if it’s just a slight one. No matter what level of hearing loss you’re experiencing, the Americans with Disabilities Act ensures your right to have reasonable accommodation made for your known disability. Types of assistance often include modifying existing equipment, providing new devices, restructuring jobs, reassigning an employee to an available position, and even providing readers or interpreters. While your employer is required to take the necessary steps to make your position accessible for you, it’s your responsibility to know what services or accommodations you need to perform your job.
As you review the challenges you’re facing at work, consider where exactly your hearing loss is posing problems. Review the situations where you do best, and what factors impede your success elsewhere. The most effective approach to improving your experience at work will be a combination of using the right assistive tools for your type and level of hearing loss, and making simple requests in group meetings and conferences.
Tools for better hearing:
- Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs), which can be used in conjunction with hearing aids or cochlear implants, are an effective way to battle background noise, echo, and distance-related sound distortions. They’re designed to help maximize your current level of hearing.
- Speechreading classes can help you improve your ability to use visual clues in conversations.
- A phone with volume control, or a high-gain amplified phone if louder volume is needed, is extremely helpful, and captioned telephones (including mobile versions) are also available. Ensure that the mobile phone you’re using is equipped with the latest HD (wideband) audio technology, which enhances voice quality.
- Communication Assisted Real-time Translation (CART) is commonly used for group meetings, and involves a hired writer to clarify what’s being said in real-time.
In addition to optimizing your tools for maximum hearing, it’s also a great idea to ask for simple adjustments to be made in group settings. This might seem intimidating at first, but it’s important that you remain rooted in the mindset we began with: that hearing loss is completely normal. In fact, it’s the third most common health problem in the country, with nearly 20% of Americans affected. Asking others to help you hear better with any of the following requests is not only unobtrusive, it’s also helpful for them. They’ll likely need to use these tips for others in their life, be it now or later.
Tips for better group meetings:
- Ask for meeting agenda items, and any supportive materials, in writing and in advance. It’s also helpful to get the names of those attending the meeting in writing beforehand as well.
- Ask that your seat be closest to the main speaker, with your back to any windows or sources of bright light.
- Request that any music, cross-conversation, or other sources of background noise be avoided.
- For teleconferences or webinars, ask that the attendees speak only one at a time, and use their headsets instead of speakerphones to reduce background noise as much as possible.
- If CART is provided during a meeting, ask that the CART writer be sat beside you, for clarification purposes.
Hearing loss may require that you be proactive in addressing your needs, but it doesn’t have to mean the end. of your success at work.