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Hearing loss is a reality for many of us in the workplace. While any communication issue makes work a little more difficult, with a few tricks up your sleeve you’ll be able to get along just fine.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you have the right to “reasonable accommodations” from your employer. This can include assistive technology, sign language interpretation, or even something simple like a periodic check-in on how things are working for you. You need to set yourself up to be able to do your job effectively, so don’t hesitate to ask for what you need.
Be Assertive and Educate
While some of us may feel we’re inconveniencing our coworkers by asking for special treatment to accommodate our hearing loss, it’s better to let people know what you need from them so that things can move smoothly going forward. You’ll find that after asking once or twice, most people will remember what works for you and start doing it automatically.
Ask your coworkers to get your attention before speaking, and to make sure they’re facing you when they speak. You could also let them know that, if you didn’t catch something they said, it’s more effective for them to rephrase than to repeat the same thing louder. Some people who are new to hearing loss might be tempted to pretend they’re able to hear when they can’t, just to keep the conversation rolling. This usually doesn’t end well! If there are some people in your workplace whose voices you really have trouble with, see if they’re willing to rely more on email or internet chats.
Think of the Simple Things
When you have hearing loss, there are likely some small changes you could make that would improve your productivity and effectiveness at work. Is your desk close to the copy machine, making it hard to hear coworkers or people on the phone? Ask to move to a quieter spot in the workplace. Do you rely on lipreading? Ask that meetings be held at a round table.
Rearrange furniture so that the people who come to your desk are seated so that it’s easy to see their faces, and they’re well lit. If you and your coworkers share reception duties, ask to opt out of that and make up the work in some other way. And if your office frequently entertains clients at reception, ask to be moved away from that area to avoid having to hear two conversations at once.
Get It In Writing
Have a meeting coming up? Ask to have the agenda sent to you in advance, and you’ll have an easier time following the discussion. At the end of the meeting, ask to have the notes emailed to you. If there is not normally a written document of meeting notes at your workplace, ask to have this practice started, at least for the meetings you take part in.
If email works better for you than in-person discussions, let people know this. Also consider “chat” programs, where you can type back and forth with a coworker in real time. Computer Assisted Real Time Transcription (CART) technology can be extremely helpful in meetings as well. Using CART, words that are spoken aloud can be immediately projected onto a screen or just your personal laptop.
Request Additional Technology
Your employer might consider installing a loop or FM system. Loop systems allow signals picked up by a lecturer’s microphone to be broadcast directly into headphones or hearing aids. FM systems are similar, but are more of a closed system, with the microphone going directly to your FM receiving device or hearing aids.
If you already wear hearing aids, that’s great! If you’re having trouble with your hearing at work and you’re not currently wearing them, consider checking them out. You might have a bad impression of hearing aids of the past, but in recent years hearing aid technology has taken off.
Modern hearing aids have directional microphones that allow you to focus on the sound that’s coming from in front of your head. They incorporate DSP technology that helps reduce background noise, and they are tuned to accentuate just the specific frequencies at which you are deficient, restoring a more accurate representation of the full audio frequency spectrum. They’re also small and can integrate via Bluetooth with smartphones, laptops and other technology so you can carry on phone conversations or Zoom meetings with ease.