Over 40 million people are impacted by hearing loss in the U.S. This chronic condition affects various aspects of life, including job performance. If your hearing is impaired, it is imperative to be aware of your rights at work and ways you can best manage your professional responsibilities. Additionally, there are useful strategies to protect your hearing health from further damage. This is important because you may be exposed to potentially harmful levels of noise in the workplace. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- 24% of hearing loss in the U.S. is attributed to workplace exposure to loud noise
- 30 million people are exposed to dangerous levels of noise in the workplace
Working with hearing loss requires taking the measures to prioritize your hearing health which can support your effectively navigating the workplace!
Impact of Hearing Loss on Work
Hearing loss can be caused by several factors including existing medical conditions, genetic history, and environmental exposure to loud noise. Impairment typically happens gradually so it can be overlooked for quite some time. Hearing loss restricts the ability to absorb and process sound which triggers a range of symptoms that can be experienced mildly to profoundly. These symptoms include:
- Tinnitus which is a ringing or buzzing noise in the ears
- Sounds are slurred or muffled making it difficult to identify words
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, speak loudly and/or slowly
- Needing to move to a quieter area to have a conversation
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices
These symptoms can significantly strain communication; leading to missing important information, miscommunication, and unpleasant interactions. If you have missed details and did not fully hear and understand instructions, your ability to manage and perform tasks at work is impacted. Additionally, because conversations are difficult and often exhausting, someone with hearing loss may choose to avoid it altogether. This is not a helpful strategy because effective communication is needed for success in the workplace.
Disclosing Hearing Loss
You may be questioning if you should disclose your hearing loss with your employer. You may not want to share personal information, be afraid of how your employer will respond, and want to protect your employment. However, disclosing your hearing loss is a major part of creating the conditions that allow you to work effectively. Sharing your hearing loss is beneficial for several reasons including:
- Shared responsibility of communication: It invites coworkers, supervisors, and others you interact with daily to communicate in ways that meet your hearing needs. Sharing your hearing loss allows you to have a conversation about effective ways to help you hear and understand what is being communicated. This alleviates the pressure you may feel and involves others in sharing the responsibility of effective communication
- Access to Rights: provides you with access to the protections and accommodations that you are entitled to in the workplace. These benefits can provide you with the resources you need to be able to work comfortably.
Discussing your hearing loss facilitates needed conversations about what your hearing needs are and the best ways to ensure those hearing needs are being met in the workplace.
Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It also requires employers to make the necessary adjustments to create a work environment that is safe for you. There is a range of workplace accommodations that could be helpful so it is important to have conversations with your employer and establish what would be the most useful for you! Accommodations can include:
- Work area adjustments: physically relocating to quieter areas, placing a barrier between you and any source of loud noise, adjusting the layout of a room for meetings etc.
- Communication support: using speech to text devices during meetings, written memos and summaries, requesting agendas prior to meetings, and purchasing various technologies to support communication including:
- assisted listening devices or systems, telephones that are hearing aid compatible, communication access real-time translation (CART) which transcribes spoken words to text in real time, amplified phones etc.
You can navigate the workplace with greater ease by prioritizing and advocating for your hearing needs! If you suspect you have a hearing loss, it is important to take a hearing test. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.