Over 48 million people have hearing loss. 60% of people who have hearing loss are in the workforce or are a student. This highlights that working with hearing loss is likely much more common than you think. Navigating the work environment with impaired hearing can be challenging. Managing work responsibilities, communication with coworkers and supervisors, and being in a setting that could be noisier can be overwhelming for people with hearing loss who have a reduced capacity to hear and process sound. But there are strategies you can use to effectively support your hearing needs and communication, allowing you to navigate work successfully.
- Disclose Hearing Loss. It is common to feel unsure about whether or not you want to share your hearing loss with the people you work with. You don’t want others to see this as a hindrance or barrier to working effectively. Though this is normal to think about, disclosing your hearing loss is the best way to set yourself up for success in the workplace. Sharing your hearing loss offers major benefits that can make the workplace much more accessible. Disclosure allows you to share what your hearing needs are, and access workplace accommodations, and it provides others with context that can better help them understand how you engage in communication.
- Know Your Rights. Being informed about what your rights are in the workplace regarding your hearing health is also essential. The Americans with Disabilities Act (passed in 1990) is a critical piece of civil rights legislation to know about. It not only prevents discrimination based on disability – hearing loss counts as a disability – but it also requires employers to provide workplace accommodations that make the work environment more accessible. Sharing your hearing loss with your supervisor or human resources allows you to learn about what your accommodation options are.
- Access Workplace Accommodations. There are various types of workplace accommodations that are intended to make the workplace more accessible to people with disabilities. It is important to learn about the specific accommodations your employer provides and assess which would be optimal for you. Examples of workplace accommodations that could be useful for you include: requesting a copy of meeting notes, asking that meetings be arranged circularly or squarely so that you can see all faces, making adjustments to your workspace, and having access to specific technologies like captioning services and assistive listening devices.
- Share Communication Strategies. Disclosing your hearing loss also makes it easier to share what your hearing needs are with others. It is also helpful to share specific communication strategies that make conversations easier for you to follow and engage in. This can include:
- saying your name and grabbing your attention before starting a conversation.
- facing you while speaking so that you have access to lip reading and other nonverbal communication.
- Rephrasing rather than repeating can make it easier to process specific sounds that may be more challenging for you to hear.
- avoid multitasking so that everyone participating can be focused on the conversation at hand.
- Speak in a clear voice while taking natural pauses which provides you with time to process sound information.
Sharing these tips for effective communication invites others to also support your hearing needs and increased understanding during a conversation. It is important to remember that everyone involved in a conversation is responsible for effective communication so it’s not just on you to overwork yourself in trying to hear.
- Wear Hearing Protection. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, 22 million people are exposed to hazardous levels of noise in the workplace annually. If you work in a noisier setting, it is incredibly important to wear hearing protection. This can prevent you from worsening your existing hearing loss. There are different types of hearing protection including headphones, earbuds, earmuffs, etc. These accessories provide a physical barrier for the ears, reducing the amount of loud noise that is absorbed.
- Have Hearing Assessed Regularly. Another useful way to prioritize your hearing health is by having your hearing checked regularly. Experts recommend having a hearing assessed annually which allows your hearing healthcare provider to identify any changes you may experience. This also ensures that your hearing aids are effectively meeting your hearing needs.
Implementing these tips can alleviate any stress you may feel about working with hearing loss. These strategies can maximize your hearing capacity, support effective communication, and create an accessible work environment. Contact us to learn more about how you can easefully work with hearing loss.