In May of each year, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) celebrates Better Hearing and Speech Month. This year’s theme is “Communication at Work,” and this is a great time to think about ways we can make sure we’re communicating ourselves effectively in the workplace and beyond, whether we’re in person or working from home.
Making Our Hearing Issues Known
Some people are hesitant, on suspecting hearing loss, to disclose their issues at work. They might be afraid that their boss or coworkers would see them differently. While this fear is legitimate, it’s better to let everyone know if you’re having trouble hearing.
Sooner or later, not being able to hear is going to cause a problem. You can address the issue and make sure people know you might need something repeated, or that you might need an email followup. If the people in your workplace don’t realize you’re having trouble hearing, your behavior might come off as reticence to engage. It’s better to all be on the same page, rather than try to pretend you’re hearing when you’re not.
You don’t need to hold a special meeting to announce your hearing loss. If someone says something you miss, you can say, “I’ve got some hearing loss issues, can you say that again a different way?” Now the door is open for you to communicate what might be helpful to you going forward. Maybe you need to sit further away from the copier or some other loud machine. Maybe meeting in smaller groups is possible sometimes, so you’ll be sitting closer to other people and have an easier time hearing or reading lips. Maybe you need to sit closer to public address systems when those are used. If you think of something that would help you better hear what’s going on, ask for it!
Americans with Disabilities Act
Once our employer is aware of our hearing loss, we also have recourse to the rights protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if need be. Many employers will proactively fulfill the duties outlined for them here, but if certain accommodations are not already in place, you can make a formal request for them.
Small Requests for Smoother Workdays
There are a few additional steps we can take to get along better at work with our hearing loss. We can let our coworkers know to get our attention with a tap on the shoulder. We can ask for email follow-ups to important conversations. We can ask for outlines of what is to be covered in a meeting before it takes place. A few small accommodations can go a long way, and once you bring these things up once or twice, most people will catch on and start doing them automatically.
With many of us working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, online meetings have become the new norm. For those with hearing loss, this is in some ways beneficial as we can simply turn up the volume on our earphones. But we might still need to lean on lipreading and other cues, so it’s important to let our coworkers know if we’re having trouble understanding them in the online meeting room. Maybe they need more light, or to set their video device on a more stable surface. While the software we use does a good job of removing continuous background noise like refrigerators or fans, another person talking nearby can be very confounding.
Both Zoom and Google Meet also offer options for closed captioning, recording, and/or automatic transcription, so be sure to take advantage of those services if you find them helpful.
If you are having trouble hearing and you’re not currently wearing hearing aids or otherwise being treated for hearing loss, make an appointment with a hearing healthcare practitioner today. The effects of putting off treatment for hearing loss can be severe and wide-ranging, from atrophy in the parts of the brain that interpret speech, to social isolation, to physical injury from falls due to decreased balancing ability. And it’s been shown statistically that those with untreated hearing loss earn up to $30,000 less per year than those who use hearing aids. Don’t be a statistic: pursue treatment for your hearing loss today.
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