Economic Impact of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss doesn’t have to cost you your job or financial security.
In 2010, an estimated 16 million people with hearing loss were employed in the United States. Across the board, these workers received less pay and were more likely to be laid off, while those without jobs were more likely to remain unemployed compared to their peers with healthy hearing. With hundreds of millions of people living with uncorrected hearing damage, the lost potential is enormous and expensive—in total, lost wages that result from hearing loss cost the American economy over $150 billion.
If these statistics scare you, they should. Fewer than one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids has ever worn them, and due to under-reporting, it is likely that the number of people with hearing loss worldwide—reportedly 360 million—is much higher than we think. Stigmas about hearing loss, in addition to the negative impact it can have on employment and economic status, often discourage people from seeking treatment at the earliest warning signs.
Never give up
The psychological effects of hearing loss may discourage some from pursuing their life goals. Without treatment, activities that were once routine may begin to feel impossible. Over time, negative thoughts will eat away at your self-confidence and make it difficult to succeed.
Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case. There are very few jobs you can’t do once treated with hearing aids, even with severe or profound hearing loss. If treated early and effectively, you may never even have to disclose your hearing loss to an employer.
Today’s hearing aids address all the major flaws of past technology and are crafted to fit comfortably in your ear all day long. Their advanced digital technology can be customized for any lifestyle, and a miniature design makes them almost invisible to others.
Hearing aids are a solution to workplace worries
Considering that 65 percent of those with hearing loss (15 percent of the total U.S. population) are below retirement age, the need for extensive hearing health awareness in the workplace cannot be exaggerated. Fortunately, the use of hearing aids has been linked repeatedly to increases in earnings and productivity. A 2005 study found that 50 percent of money wasted because of hearing loss could be restored with the widespread use of hearing aids.
A common reason people give for not treating their hearing loss is the high cost of prescription hearing aids. While the initial price may be concerning to some patients, wearers may be able to increase their income by up to $12,000 a year by wearing hearing aids. That’s more than enough money to cover even the highest-quality hearing aids. Regular visits with a hearing care professional will also reduce or eliminate future healthcare costs associated with untreated hearing loss, which can include depression, dementia, and injuries from falls.
Know your rights
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees equal employment for those with hearing loss. By law, your workplace must provide reasonable accommodations to assist hearing, offer adequate hearing protection for noisy environments, and have zero tolerance for any disability-related harassment. This policy applies both to those who are hard of hearing but still utilize spoken language to communicate as well as those who are deaf and rely on another non-auditory communication system.
Applying to a job doesn’t have to be difficult because of hearing loss, either. The ADA guarantees that employers will not ask about medical history when making a job offer, though they may ask about your communication skills and response time. If you don’t believe you will need extra accommodations to do your job, you may never even have to reveal your hearing loss in the workplace. You also do not need to ask for accommodations until after the job has been accepted. At this time, your employer may ask about the extent of your hearing loss in order to determine the best way to work around auditory obstacles. However, in extreme cases where it is discovered that a hearing loss will prevent you from completing necessary tasks even with accommodations, or that a hearing loss presents a safety threat to you and those around you, you may be reassigned to a different job or be let go if no other option is available.
A frank discussion with your employer once you’ve been hired is the best way to ensure that your hearing needs are met so you can do the best job possible. During the interview process, focus on the skills and experience that you have to offer rather than your hearing challenges.
Depending on the severity of your hearing loss, the only accommodation necessary could be wearing hearing aids. Today’s hearing aids are compatible with almost all electronic devices that stream audio, either directly or with the use of a streaming accessory, making it easy for you to participate in conference calls and meetings, speak with customers over the phone, and watch videos related to your work. Some corporate insurance plans cover the cost of hearing aids, so be sure to talk to your employer about programs that could help pay for your audiological care once you start working.
For those with severe-to-profound hearing loss, sign language interpreters, modified telephones, and quiet work environments are all solutions that an employer might offer. However, creating an environment that is tolerant of the hard of hearing involves much more than technology. All employees should work toward creating a workspace that is open, understanding, and safe for those with hearing loss. This means having open conversations about disabilities and creating a community where coworkers feel comfortable sharing their experiences, a gesture that will make the workplace more efficient and profitable for everyone involved.
While hearing aids can provide the occupational accommodations required for most types of hearing loss, it is very important to be honest about your needs once you’ve begun working. All requested accommodations must meet the criteria provided in the ADA and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to be considered reasonable for the employer. Even if you don’t wear hearing aids, workers with hearing loss should read the EEOC’s Questions and Answers about Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act for more tips and information.
Any type of workplace discrimination related to your disability must not be tolerated. If you experience discrimination, you can either contact the EEOC or an employment lawyer. Discriminatory acts may include:
- Not being considered for promotions
- Harassment by peers
- Receiving lower wages or salary than those in comparable positions
- Being fired without an attempt to provide accommodations
Tips for employers
Keeping the workplace safe for the disabled should be a top priority for all employers. Perhaps the best way to prevent discrimination at work is through education. Plan to have an information session for employees on hearing loss and/or other disabilities to demonstrate the values of your business and answer any questions people might have regarding their rights.
When it comes to preventing lost profits and productivity, accommodation is key. How you accommodate someone with a hearing loss will depend on the tasks required of the job and the degree of hearing loss in the employee. The Job Accommodation Network has provided an extensive list of recommendations for employers on how to respond to any type of hearing-related concern. For example, employees who have trouble communicating face-to-face might need to have directives written out so they can easily follow instructions.
Employers are also highly encouraged to consult the OSHA guidelines for protecting their workers’ hearing before beginning any new projects. This guide provides instructions on how to best keep volume levels safe, provide audiograms and ear protection for those in high-risk positions, and raise awareness about hearing loss in the workplace community.
While this list can help provide solutions to the most common hearing and communication complications, the most effective way to maintain a diverse workplace and ensure that hearing loss isn’t hurting your profits is by having a conversation with your employee about their disability. They will likely know what’s best for their hearing needs and can work with you to decide how to make the appropriate accommodations to adapt their workspace.
Stay secure with the help of a hearing care professional
The ADA has successfully protected and advanced the rights of the disabled, but there is still work to be done. Be a hearing care advocate in your workplace by raising awareness about hearing loss and by making regular appointments with a hearing care professional to keep your ears working their best. Your employer will thank you—and so will your wallet.