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Hearing loss is one of the most common chronic health conditions people experience. Nearly 1 in 8 people have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. Impaired hearing reduces a person’s ability to hear which can significantly strain communication. This impacts all aspects of life including relationships and overall health. Navigating the workplace with hearing loss can be particularly challenging. But by being proactive and addressing your hearing loss, you can help yourself be comfortable and successful in your workplace!
Impact of Hearing Loss
There are several factors that contribute to hearing loss including existing medical conditions, genetic history, and environmental exposure to loud noise. Impaired hearing restricts the speech and sound a person can hear and process which drastically impacts communication in a variety of ways. A person with hearing loss may experience:
- Difficulty following entire conversation and hearing distinct words
- Needing others to repeat themselves, speak loudly and/or slowly
- Reading speaker’s mouth to distinguish specific words
- Needing to move to quieter setting to have conversation
These symptoms of hearing loss can lead to gaps of information and miscommunication. Conversations can require extra effort and energy which can be tiring, stressful, and frustrating for everyone involved. This results in unpleasant interactions and ineffective conversation.
It is critical to treat hearing loss to alleviate these symptoms and to care for your hearing health. Treating your hearing loss can significantly improve communication and the quality of your life. The first step is to have your hearing examined by a hearing healthcare specialist. Hearing tests are a relatively quick and noninvasive process that determines the degree and type of hearing loss you are experiencing. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. These small electronic devices are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound; increasing one’s ability to hear.
In addition to treating your hearing loss and wearing hearing aids, there are other useful ways to improve communication and create a productive work environment including the following:
- Disclose Hearing Loss
It is common to question if you should disclose your hearing loss to your employer. You may feel anxious about discussing this personal information and not want your ability to perform your job duties to be questioned. But notifying your employer is really beneficial! It starts the conversation about what your hearing needs are and how your employer can best support you succeed in the workplace.
- Know Your Rights
Disclosing your hearing loss also entitles you to the benefits of the Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires employers to provide accommodations for employees with hearing loss. It can be useful to do some research on workplace accommodations and what would work best for you! Accommodations can include changes to your work area and investment in hearing technology.
- Share Communication Strategies
Learning about and disclosing your hearing loss with the people you work with also helps you share effective communication strategies. These are ways of engaging in conversation that maximize your ability to hear and process what is being said. Effective communication strategies include: making eye contact, directly facing the speaker, being at a comfortable distance, rephrasing rather than repeating difficult words etc. Discussing communication strategies includes others in the work of having an effective conversation so that it is not just your responsibility.
- Plan Ahead
Anticipating and planning for your hearing needs can help you be best prepared in all environments. This could mean requesting the agenda prior to meetings, asking for notes after meetings, arranging discussions at round tables so you can see the speaker, keeping extra batteries for hearing aids at work, sitting in the front during trainings, etc.
- Be Patient
It takes time to be comfortable wearing your hearing aids, making adjustments at work, and advocating for your hearing needs. Be sure to be patient and give yourself time to acclimate to this environment with hearing loss.
Working with hearing loss requires making minor adjustments. By disclosing your hearing loss, sharing your needs, and practicing communication strategies, you can adjust to your work environment more smoothly and confidently!