Dealing with hearing impairment on the job
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), approximately 20%, or 48 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss (HLAA Hearing Loss Facts). 60% of those with hearing loss are either in the work force or in educational settings, and while people in the workplace with the mildest hearing losses show little or no drop in income compared to their normal hearing peers, as hearing loss increases, average compensation decreases.
Despite this troublesome statistic, there are ways for workers with hearing loss to be successful. The HLAA's Employment Toolkit offers a number of suggestions. For example, the Toolkit suggests that even before applying for a job, persons with hearing loss should ensure that they can perform the "essential functions" of the job.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, such as hearing loss, employers can turn down an applicant if the applicant's hearing loss prevents them from performing the "essential functions" of a job or if the hearing loss is a safety concern. It is, for example, essential that a court reporter be able to hear well enough to transcribe what is said in a courtroom. If one's hearing loss is such that they cannot easily hear normal conversation, then they should probably not apply to be a court reporter.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has information on the Web for employers who employ hearing-impaired workers or are considering hiring hearing-impaired workers. ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer has general information on the ADA. The page Questions and Answers about Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (Questions and Answers about Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act) has more specific information about employing workers with hearing loss.
Succeeding on the job
The HLAA's Employment toolkit has many tips for helping hearing-impaired people succeed on the job, including:
- Hearing-impaired workers should pay attention to the situations where they do best and what situations cause the most difficulty and why.
- Maximize residual hearing, using an Assistive Listening System (ALS) or Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) whenever possible.
- Hearing-impaired workers should consider taking speechreading classes to maximize their ability to use visual clues when communicating with others.
- Anticipate problems and seek to minimize them. Think about what can be done to improve stressful situations, such as phone conversations, meetings, webinars, and conference calls.
- Hearing-impaired workers should let employers know what kinds of accommodations and communication strategies work best.
- Hearing-impaired workers should let co-workers know the best way to communicate with them: email, text, using an assistive listening device, captioned phone.
- Make sure that the workspace has minimal background noise. For example, it might work best for a hearing-impaired worker to be seated as far away as possible from the copy machine, the kitchen or other noisy places in the office.
- If using a telephone is difficult, request a volume-controlled phone, or if needed, a high-gain amplified phone or captioned telephone, IP Relay, or mobile captioning.
- Request information in writing: job assignments, meeting agendas, queries for information are best if written on hard copy or emailed in advance.
- Request accommodations for meetings large or small, such as: an Assistive Listening System (FM, Infrared, Audio loop), captioning, CART (computer assisted real time transcription,) communication strategies, visual and tactile alarms, oral interpreters, cued speech transliteration.
- If webinars are a major part of hearing-impaired worker's job, providing Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) access might be appropriate.
- If a hearing dog is appropriate for a particular situation, hearing-impaired workers should provide their employers with the information needed to accommodate your dog on the job.
A solution for workers who use two-way radios
One solution for workers with hearing impairments that are required to use a two-way radio on the job--be it a warehouse, factory, retail store, or construction site--is the RMN5114 Lightweight Temple transducer. People with certain hearing disabilities can use these transducers instead of conventional headsets because of the unique way they transfer the sound vibrations to the inner ear. In business settings, these transducers are typically used with standard two-way radios like CLS1410 business radios. Or, find more models of radios for disabilities. The temple transducer and microphone works by converting audio to vibrations that are transmitted to the inner ear via the bones in the temple.
Even if you're not hearing impaired, you may find the RMN5144 Lightweight Temple Transducer a useful accessory for your two-way radio communications. The temple transducer does not block the ear like a headset would, and users can still hear all of the important sounds in the world around them such as the beep of a forklift in reverse or the whir of factory machinery in motion. In addition, they can be worn comfortably with safety helmets and hardhats.