Working with Hearing Loss

October 22, 2020

Working with Hearing Loss
Dr. Darcy Benson
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Hearing loss is a public health epidemic that nearly 1 in 8 people live with in the U.S. A permanent medical condition, hearing loss has multifaceted effects that impact a person’s ability to manage professional and personal responsibilities with ease. Impaired hearing reduces one’s capacity to absorb and process sound which strains communication, impacts relationships, social engagement, and overall health. This can make it particularly difficult to navigate work environments and maximize job performance. Addressing hearing loss and practicing a few useful tips can help you effectively manage hearing loss in the workplace and tend to your hearing health! 


Treating Hearing Loss 

The first and most critical step is to treat hearing loss. It is critical to be aware of the symptoms and seek treatment as soon as possible. Early intervention can prevent the impairment from worsening and help you transition to better hearing health sooner! It can also alleviate the range of symptoms that make it difficult to engage in communication: 

  • Tinnitus (buzzing or ringing noise in one or both ears)
  • Sound is slurred or muffled 
  • Frequently asking others to repeat themselves and/or speak slowly 
  • Unable to follow entire conversation 
  • Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise 

In addition to alleviating these symptoms and enhancing communication, treating hearing loss allows people to participate fully in all aspects of their life. 

Fortunately, there are effective ways to treat hearing loss that increase one’s ability to hear. Treatment begins with having your hearing assessed by a hearing healthcare specialist. Hearing tests involve a noninvasive and painless process that measures your hearing in both ears. This establishes any impairment and the degree of hearing loss you may be experiencing. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which are small, electronic devices designed to help absorb, amplify, and process sound. Hearing aids can significantly improve hearing, allowing people to easily navigate daily life!


Tips for Working with Hearing Loss

In addition to recognizing and treating hearing loss there are several ways you can create an accessible and supportive work environment that meets your hearing needs. A few helpful ways include: 

  • Disclose Hearing Loss: it is normal to be uncertain about sharing your hearing loss with colleagues and supervisors. Though you may feel nervous or anxious about it, disclosing your hearing loss is incredibly beneficial! It allows your employer and the people you work with to participate in creating a work environment that supports your hearing needs. It also facilitates having conversations about effective communication strategies and best ways to engage in conversation. 
  • Workplace Accommodations: disclosing your hearing loss also opens the conversation with your employer about the workplace accommodations that you are entitled to. In addition to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, the American Disabilities Act (ADA), requires employers to provide accommodations that support maximum job performance.  There are various types of accommodations that could be really useful for you including: physical changes to your work area, investment in hearing technologies, captioning services etc. Taking the time to research the range of workplace accommodations available to know what would best meet your needs would be helpful!
  • Share Communication Strategies: taking the time to think and practice different ways that enhance your hearing is a critical way to develop effective communication skills. There are numerous strategies that support hearing and easeful conversations including: making eye contact, facing the speaker, maintaining a comfortable distance, reducing background noise, avoiding distractions and multitasking etc. Identifying what best works for you and sharing this information is incredibly helpful. This allows other people to actively participate in having an effective exchange. 
  • Plan for Hearing Needs & Protect Hearing Health: thinking about and planning for your hearing needs in different work situations is helpful. This could look like asking for a meeting agenda and/or minutes prior to a meeting, changing room configurations, requesting captioned services etc. 

Additionally, if you work in a noisier work environment, you should wear protective gear (earmuffs, earplugs, headphones) that reduce the amount of noise you absorb. You can also use noise cancelling headphones which reduce background noise and prevent you from increasing the volume on personal devices. Taking a few extra measures can significantly protect your hearing health!