A busy workplace environment with multiple people working and standing around talking to eachother. The perfect example of how hearing loss and workplace are linked to each other.

How to Navigate the Workplace with a Hearing Loss

If you have hearing loss and work in an environment with people who don’t have hearing loss, it can be very challenging. Some people are hesitant to tell others about their hearing loss for fear of discrimination; however, it is so important to share your difficulty to hear with those around you, to achieve the best results within your workplace. Co-workers should also be encouraged to take extra steps to help people with hearing loss not to feel isolated

Tips on navigating the workplace with hearing loss:

Ideal workspace

If the environment you work in is noisy and you find it difficult to focus or to hear the conversations around you, request a closed office that is quieter. If this is not logistically possible, speak to your hearing health provider about adjusting your hearing aids to block out background noise as much as possible. Where possible, make arrangements for seating to be face to face so that you have more of an opportunity to look at your colleagues directly. 

Advocate for yourself

Hearing people do not fully understand hearing loss, nor do they understand the requirements for a person with hearing loss. You will need to create awareness by informing as many people as you can that you have hearing loss, and that your needs are a little different from people with normal hearing. For your employer to allow for changes in the workspace, you will need to make them aware of what you personally require and how they can meet your needs. Not communicating with others will leave them not knowing how to help you. Most importantly, don’t pretend that you’ve heard something, you could be missing out on important information. 

Organizational skills

To work efficiently with hearing loss, you’ll need to be quite organized with work tasks so that you’re well prepared and so that work can flow easily without any setbacks – consider some of the following tips: 

  • If you’re scheduled to be in a lot of meetings, be sure to have the agenda beforehand to prepare,
  • If you have telephone calls scheduled, make sure a quiet space has been set up for the calls,
  • If there are external parties in the office or in a meeting with you, inform them about your hearing loss before the meeting,
  • Read over the minutes of the meeting to make sure you have not missed out on any information.

Using technology to your advantage 

If you find communicating via your cell phone or email easier than face to face, use this to your advantage to send reminders to clients, to set meetings, etc. Consider using video conferencing for meetings instead of public venues which can be noisy and distracting. Specific products have been manufactured for the workplace to help you hear well. We’ve listed some below

  • Better hearing aids: choosing the best hearing aids within your budget will give you the opportunity for clearer sound, better background noise management, smaller size options, adjustable environment features, and syncing your mobile device to the hearing aids Bluetooth features. 
  • Hearing loop systems: a wire loop that is fitted into an area and transmits sound directly to the hearing aid of a person with hearing loss. This makes it easier for them to hear speech when they are in that area. 
  • FM systems: these are a portable personal device that is worn by the person with the hearing loss. Sounds are sent directly from the speaker to the FM device to the users hearing aids. This blocks out background noise and provides clearer speech. 
  • Real-time captioned talks: certain apps and devices turn speech to text and the person with a hearing loss can view it on their personal device. By having this option, a person with hearing loss can follow the discussion in real-time. 
  • Bluetooth connectivity: this streams directly from the phone to the hearing aid, making it easier for the wearer to hear phone calls. 
  • Volume-enhanced telephone: phones that the volume can be amplified so the person with hearing loss can hear speech better. 

Tips for people with normal hearing in the workplace:

If you have a coworker who has a hearing loss, keep the following in mind so that you can help make their day-to-day activities easier.

  • Face the person when you are talking to them, do not turn your back to them. This way they can hear you better as well as read your lips to get a better understanding of the conversation,
  • Repeat or rephrase sentences if necessary,
  • Be kind and considerate towards the needs of a person with hearing loss. Try to include them in all discussions
  • Do not speak fast or whisper, speak clearly at a good listening level,
  • If the environment is too noisy, move to a quieter place so the other person can hear you better,
  • Provide visual aids as much as possible, e.g. PowerPoint slides in meetings,
  • Try to stand/sit a reasonable distance away from the person with a hearing loss, not too far away nor too close by,
  • Research hearing loss in your own capacity so that you are better equipped to deal with individuals who experience hearing loss. The Lexie Hearing library has a number of useful resources. 

Responsibilities of the employer

There are certain responsibilities that an employer will need to fulfill. These include:

  • Not tolerating any forms of discrimination towards a person with hearing loss,
  • Making reasonable provisions in the workplace for a person with hearing loss, 
  • Provision of an interpreter if necessary,
  • Providing a safe working environment for a person with hearing loss,
  • Providing equal opportunities for people with hearing loss and normal hearing individuals,
  • Making sure that the workplace is not further contributing to a person’s hearing loss, e.g. by exposure to continuous loud sounds without personal protective equipment. 

Having to navigate a hearing loss in the workplace can be exhausting, and it can have an impact on your emotional well-being. Always be positive and confidently express your needs in a safe space so that you can have the best workplace experience. Many workplaces are not equipped to deal with people with disabilities, but if you advocate well, you can change this for yourself and for others to come. When hearing loss in the workplace is addressed properly and dealt with correctly, it has a positive impact on the workplace as a whole as well as employees’ relationships with each other by implementing good communication skills and inclusivity. Employees with hearing loss will feel comfortable, and this influences their overall productivity, business profit, and happiness.

Hearing expert and article author Faatima

Written byFaatima Nakhooda

Masters in Audiology

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