Hearing loss can make it very difficult to navigate the workplace. It can stifle career progress, impede work performance, and cause frustration with colleagues. But, because it can also be difficult for someone with hearing loss to recognize the signs and symptoms, treatment often comes too late. Hearing aids in the workplace need not be a hindrance. They are essential to the wellbeing, productivity, and happiness of an employee with hearing loss.
Challenges People with Hearing Loss Face in the Workplace
The effects of hearing loss extend far beyond the immediate consequences of not being able to hear what’s said in a conversation or a meeting. People with untreated hearing loss may find that they:
- Miss important details in meetings and during one-on-one conversations
- Perform below expectations as a result of missing important details
- Loose their self-confidence because they feel they are missing out on conversations
- Miss occupational warnings
- Feel they are treated with less respect due to age-old stigmas.
Hearing Loss in the Workplace - Solutions
It can be very challenging to navigate your workplace with hearing loss. Do not feel surprised if you find that your emotional well-being is affected. Not to worry though, we have a few tips that can help you advocate for a better, more inclusive environment for yourself.
Create An Ideal Workspace for Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can make it difficult to distinguish between speech and background noise. Working in an open-plan workspace as a result can be very difficult and frustrating. Unfortunately, options like noise-canceling headphones are not necessarily a long-term solution.
Request a closed or quieter working space from your employer.
Also, if you wear hearing aids, see if they can be adjusted or customized to reduce background noise.
Always ask colleagues to speak to you face-to-face in open spaces, as this will make it much easier to hear.
Upgrade Your Hearing Aids
The key to finding the right hearing aids is to look for one with the essential features you need, at a price you can afford. Some key features to look for include:
A Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid with a dedicated app will allow you to adjust your volume and environment settings to perfectly match your environment.
Noise reduction means that your hearing aids can differentiate between speech and background noise. This means your hearing aids will automatically cut out extraneous sounds and help you focus on the conversations that matter.
Openly Communicate About Your Needs
Many people do not realize what someone with hearing loss needs. That’s why it is important that you communicate openly with your management team or HR personnel.
You will likely find that they will be understanding of your situation, and willing to accommodate you. Share with your colleagues and employers that you have hearing loss, and help them understand the best way to speak to you.
- Ask them to talk to you in person rather than over the phone (lip reading and facial expressions help add context to the conversation).
- Ask them to face you when speaking to you.
- Ask them to speak slower and clearly and not raise their voice.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves.
Some day-to-day tips for you include:
- Check the agenda before each meeting. That way you’ll have a better idea of what’s being discussed.
- Take calls in quiet spaces so you won’t have to raise the speaker volume to hear.
- Get a copy of the meeting minutes. This gives you a chance to review the discussion on your own time and ensure you didn’t miss anything.
How to Support a Colleague with Hearing Loss
If you’ve never worked alongside a colleague with hearing loss, it can be difficult to know how to accommodate and speak to them. But, with a few simple tips, you can help foster great communication, and even learn a few new skills yourself.
- Be mindful. It’s not always easy for someone with hearing loss to admit they have hearing problems. If you see someone struggling to hear in a larger group, try and speak to them one-on-one. This gives them the chance to speak up about their hearing loss, should they want to.
- Get their attention before speaking.
- If it doesn’t need to be said aloud, try writing it in a message or email instead.
- Join them. If a colleague with hearing loss is campaigning for a change to the working environment, lend your support.
- Be kind and considerate and continue to include them in discussions.
- If the environment is noisy and you see that they are struggling, suggest moving to a quieter spot.
- Add visual aids to any discussion (like PowerPoint slides).
The Employer’s Responsibilities
Every employer has a duty to an employee. With hearing loss, there are certain non-negotiables that need to be met. These aren’t just in the interest of current employees with hearing loss, but help build a more tolerant, inclusive environment for all employees that promotes healthy communication.
The unfortunate truth is that many workplaces aren’t designed for people with disabilities or hearing loss. True change often only comes when employees campaign for it.
Some of the responsibilities of employers include:
- Condemning all forms of discrimination, including toward employees with hearing loss.
- Adjusting the workplace, and providing, for employees with hearing loss.
- Ensuring the workplace doesn’t further contribute to the employee’s hearing loss. This includes exposure to loud noise, or requiring them to take part in activities that might cause trauma to their hearing.
How to Create an Inclusive Space
There are many systems available that can make it much easier for an employee with hearing loss to hear much better in the office. These include:
Induction Loop Systems
An induction loop system works alongside the telecoil in a hearing aid to transmit audio directly from a source to the hearing aid, bypassing the hearing aid’s built-in microphone.
The induction system uses a wire loop that is fitted around a room. This creates a magnetic, wireless signal that the hearing aid can pick up, but only when in the dedicated telecoil setting. If your hearing aid doesn’t have a telecoil setting, it likely doesn’t have a telecoil built in.
These can be placed anywhere in a room. The companion mic then connects to the hearing aids, allowing the wearer to hear clearly, even if they are on the far side of the room.
Working with hearing loss can be challenging but with by communicating openly with colleagues and management, it is possible to create an inclusive, cooperative space.
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