Hearing impairment is an invisible condition. In the workplace, it imposes many challenges for us to maintain our productivity and communicative abilities. The hurdles one has to face when living with hearing loss are surmountable. With the right approach, effective techniques and technology on our side we can overcome the hurdles.
Assess your workspace
Make sure that you are located in an area with minimum foot traffic. If you are seated next to a window that exposes you to outside noise ask if you can move. Your work environment is important to your hearing health and you can use sound level applications available for download on your phone. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to speak loudly to anyone within roughly one arm’s length away from you the noise level of your workspace is unhealthy.
If you are able to wear headphones while you work, keep the volume at 60 percent for 60 minutes at a time. Noise-canceling headphones are also handy for your commutes and may be necessary on the job if you are constantly around loud machinery. Be careful with the use of earbuds as they work like small speakers within your ear canal.
Establish communication with your workers
As uncomfortable as maybe, it is crucial that you let the people at work know about your hearing condition and how they can help. What are your needs when speaking to people? Disclosure and tips to others as to how they can foster communication with you is your best bet.
Speaking face to face. Getting your attention first so that you know that they are speaking and can adjust accordingly. Having enough time to jot down some notes and asking them later for clarification after a work meeting for example. Find an ally in the workspace if need be and let your boss know that you will be disclosing your needs as work situations arise to maintain communication and productivity.
Research and establish your rights
The rights you have as a worker can be found on the ADA website https://www.ada.gov/ and in it are the details of the laws and provisions that the government has established and supports you. Your employer should provide assistance dependent upon your specific needs. This could range from better seating or workspace locations, the use of an interpreter or procuring a teletypewriter. The more information you have about your rights allows you to be confident and sharing the information will help create a more inclusive work environment. Reach out and ask your audiologist or hearing health professional. They are there to benefit your overall health and better hearing experience.
Confirmation and clarification
Work meetings can be overwhelming so it is best to be preemptive in your approach. Ask for the meeting agenda beforehand and for the meeting notes after. During the meeting take notes on anything you feel you might have missed or are unclear about.
Ask your coworkers if they can also use notes to show you in the case of a miscommunication about the topics or if they are switching topics and need to keep you abreast of any changes.
Follow up with emails or in person. Your personal notes about dates and times should be confirmed so that logistics run smoothly as possible.
Control the space and flow of meetings
Physically place yourself in the most advantageous spot available. This will allow you to see everyone’s faces and you will be able to determine easily who is speaking. If things tend to get a bit chaotic and confusing you can request that speakers get your attention first and take turns before the flow of communication becomes too confusing for you. If you are using external audio devices such as microphones or laptops that have a real-time speech to text software make sure they are positioned for maximum speech input.
Technology is your friend
A loop system allows you to tune your hearing aids into an environment that allows for clear and concise sound and speech. Portable listening devices and CART or Computer Assisted Real-Time Transcription is available so that spoken words are translated into text via a projector and displayed on your laptop screen. Even something as simple as text messages to and from your coworkers can help you stay on top of your game!
Be honest and direct about your needs
More often than not, people will want to assist you. It is up to you to ask them to repeat or paraphrase something you have misheard or need clarification about. If you take on the role of an educator it will help others and yourself maintain a healthy and communicative work environment!