How to Be Open About Hearing Loss at Work

Though they have been repeatedly proven false, stereotypes still impact how those with normal hearing interact with people with hearing loss. Many assume, incorrectly, that their colleague cannot follow directions properly and will be forgetful. In reality, the advanced technology in today’s smart hearing aids may actually put someone with a hearing loss at an advantage in a noisy workplace where you need to speak loudly just to be heard.

Although the Federal Government has passed legislation that protects the rights of hearing-impaired employees, discrimination at work is still a serious problem for those with hearing loss. In 2016, the “Deaf jobseeker and employee experiences survey report” found that out of those employed with hearing loss, more than half have experienced some form of discrimination and about a quarter have had to quit a job due to an unaccommodating or intolerant environment. Those who stay at their job don’t often have a great outcome, either—of the 16 million with hearing loss employed in the United States, the majority were more likely to be laid off or receive less pay than coworkers with normal hearing.

For many with hearing loss, these numbers are alarming and discouraging. Outside of being a pilot, there are very few jobs that would discriminate against those with corrected vision problems, and the same should be true of hearing loss. Here is some advice on how to be honest about your hearing loss and protect yourself from discriminatory action.

  • Have your hearing loss professionally diagnosed

Without an official diagnosis from a hearing care professional, you won’t be able to purchase prescription hearing aids. A hearing test will provide you with a sense of how your hearing loss may affect your performance at work, and your doctor may suggest strategies to avoid conflicts. In some instances, your employer may cover part of the costs associated with treatment, making transparency key to employment success.

  • Always wear your hearing aids

While adjusting to the hearing aid schedule provided by your audiologist may seem disorienting at first, you’ll quickly adapt to your new devices and find it easier to focus on information at a meeting or understand the person next to you in a loud cafeteria. Wearing hearing aids also signals to those around you that they may need to speak more clearly and directly, minimizing frustration that may come from miscommunication.

  • Don’t tell your boss right away

Being honest about yourself and your skills is very important during an interview, but it may be beneficial to avoid discussing a hearing loss unless you absolutely must. In fact, more than half of those with hearing loss don’t inform their potential employer, citing a fear of discrimination as the major cause.

While this tactic might help in the short-term, it will most likely lead to complications in the future. Once you have received a job offer, it is important to discuss any accommodations that you will need to perform your job—you may be surprised at the number of programs and resources that are available to keep hearing loss from limiting your career path.

  • Find a comfortable space to discuss your concerns

Your boss should be understanding and responsive to your hearing concerns no matter what, but make sure that you feel relaxed while explaining your condition to get the most out of the conversation. If possible, take notes on what you would like to discuss beforehand so that you don’t accidentally forget any major points. If you find that your employer is unresponsive to your requests, you may be able to file a complaint or discuss the issue in a mediation meeting. HR departments can also provide information on the company’s disability policies if needed.

  • Promote an environment that’s safe for hearing

Information sessions are a great way to educate your coworkers on the realities of hearing loss and to answer any questions others may have about your condition. As others learn about your condition, they’ll be less likely to become annoyed or disrespectful when you need them to repeat themselves or speak louder.

Additionally, you can ask your employer to have your workplace inspected for noise safety. If you find that you and your coworkers are regularly exposed to damaging volumes, it’s your legal right to request hearing protection devices such as earplugs. Lastly, you can encourage others to have their hearing tested, as there are likely millions of cases of hearing loss that go undiagnosed. Catching mild hearing losses early can prevent it from worsening.

  • Educate yourself

As you learn more about hearing loss, you can equip yourself with the tools necessary to overcome obstacles associated with recovery. The materials on our website can help you understand how to get the most out of your hearing aids so that you can work at your healthiest and most alert. Being an advocate for hearing health, you can fight the stigma against hearing loss in the workplace and ensure the future is a safe and welcoming place for people with any hearing concern.