Working with Hearing Loss

Working with Hearing Loss

Olga Lis, MS, CCC-A
Latest posts by Olga Lis, MS, CCC-A (see all)

There are as many different hearing loss profiles as there are people with hearing loss, and as many different lifestyles as well. Some of us are born with hearing loss and grow up accustomed to working with or around it, while others suffer hearing loss as adults and will need some time to adjust. If you’re having difficulty with a new hearing loss at work, never fear. There are some tried and true methods of staying focused, productive and content at work despite developing a hearing loss.

Don’t Pretend

A common mistake people make with a new hearing loss is trying to pretend that it isn’t there. Some people may feel their employer may not react positively to hearing loss, and in some cases they may be correct (more on this in a moment), or they may not wish to inconvenience others.

Pretending to hear when you can’t will cause a host of problems. Try to imagine something that could go wrong at your workplace if you mishear a request or instruction. What if you mistake the number 15 for the number 50? Mistakes will occur, and they can range from mildly embarrassing right up to fireable offenses.

If you find yourself having difficulty hearing in one situation or another and you know you’re going to need to interrupt a lot to request clarification, think of ways you can change the scenario so you can hear better. Maybe you can sit closer to the predominant speaker at a meeting, or move the whole discussion to a quiet room. If you’re discussing something one-on-one in a noisy or crowded area and you can’t find a quiet one, ask that the conversation be moved to email or text.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

Your employer is required by law to make “reasonable accommodations” for all employees who have hearing loss, regardless of how they have acquired it. It’s up to your employer and you to determine what is “reasonable,” but a forthright conversation and a willingness to give-and-take will go a long way. Your employer cannot legally dismiss you for developing hearing loss or any other disability.

Disclose and Educate

Letting your employer and coworkers know that you have hearing loss is crucial to getting the consideration you need to do your job well. The best disclosure method, according to surveys, is “multipurpose disclosure.” This method is used in a moment when you’re having trouble hearing someone. It involves letting them know that you have hearing loss, and noting a way that you’ll be able to hear them better. An example might be, “I’m having a little trouble hearing you. Could you face me when you talk and speak just a little louder?”

Many of us have felt like asking for accommodations is putting other people out, but you may be surprised just how willing your coworkers will be to be considerate of your hearing loss. Asking for a specific change in behavior on one or two occasions will start to sink in, and soon people will know just how to address you without even thinking about it.

Use Technology

Meeting in larger groups is one of the harder things about working with hearing loss. Your employer may be able to install a loop system, which would integrate with telecoils to deliver the sound from any speaker’s microphone directly to your hearing aids. Smaller spaces, less inclined toward infrastructure, might consider an FM system which functions similarly.

If you spend a lot of time on the smartphone, or with Zoom, Google Meet or other video meeting software, Bluetooth-capable hearing aids can significantly improve the audio quality and seamlessly integrate with the devices you use. Unlike other hearing aids, which rely on the audio reproduction system connected to your device, then pick that sound (and whatever other sounds are in the air) up with a microphone and amplify it again, Bluetooth-capable hearing aids will take the digital signal in your device and transport it directly to your ear.

However recently your hearing loss was acquired, if you’re having trouble hearing at work you should make an appointment for a hearing test and look into a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids today are loaded with tiny supercomputers that perform DSP (digital signal processing) only dreamed of in previous generations. They can reduce background noise and improve directionality even when you’re in motion. In some cases, hearing aids can improve speech intelligibility to better than normal. We’re not saying that will make you work better than normal, but it can’t hurt!