Age-related hearing loss is likely to become an issue for most of us at some point, and it can be especially difficult for those who have not yet reached retirement age. About 8.5% of adults aged 55–64 have disabling hearing loss, most of whom remain in the workforce. Whether you are new to hearing loss or have had a long-term hearing impairment, here are a few ways to navigate hearing loss at work.
Choose a Good Seat
At meetings that you are not running yourself, choose a seat next to the person chairing it. People tend to look to the person in charge while they are speaking, so you’ll get a better view of other attendees’ faces to help with lipreading.
Alternatively, sit closer to people whose voices are harder for you to hear. Depending whether you rely more on lipreading or not, it could be just as beneficial to be seated next to the softer voices so you can hear them better.
Finally, pay attention to the layout of the room. If there’s a noisy air vent or a window, try to avoid them, and make sure that sunlight isn’t interfering with your ability to see your colleagues’ faces.
Get it “Write”
Request a copy of the meeting agenda in advance, and a copy of the notes afterward. If this isn’t possible, keep your own notes and have someone else confirm that you’ve written the information down correctly. It’s easy for a misheard word or number to have major consequences, so be sure to double check.
Use Your Smartphone
You can use your smartphone as a live captioning device. There are apps that can use the device’s microphone and perform real time speech-to-text translation, which can be really valuable in one-on-one situations and smaller meetings. iOS devices have Live Caption and eyeHear, while Androids can use Speechnotes. The app Ava is available on both platforms.
Similarly, there are apps that will produce a text translation of a person on the other end of a phone call. Most use speech recognition software, but one even uses live stenographers. Look for apps certified by the Federal Communications Commission, such as CaptionCall, InnoCaption, ClearCaptions, Hamilton CapTel, and CaptionMate.
There are also relay apps available, which use a live operator to listen to the person on the other end, then type their words for you to read. These include T-Mobile’s IP Relay and IWRelay VRS.
Consider Hearing Aids
If you’re not already wearing them, hearing aids may be able to virtually eliminate your workplace difficulties, depending on the degree of hearing loss you have. There are also add-ons like wireless microphones, telecoils that work with loop systems, and more than can work with your hearing aids to make sure you never miss a word.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects those with hearing impairment from discrimination in the workplace, and ensures that employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” to facilitate the work done by those with hearing loss. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers expert advice—free of charge—on how to set yourself up for success at work by taking advantage of the ADA.
You’re not legally obligated to disclose your hearing loss to a prospective employer, or even once you start working, though it’s a better idea to disclose early on than have your job performance suffer as a result of unaccommodated hearing loss. Ask your boss or HR department about what accommodations your company offers for employees with hearing loss.
Common accommodations include:
- Having your desk in a quieter part of the work environment.
- Assistive listening devices (ALDs) for the workplace.
- A hearing-aid-compatible desk phone, or a captioned telephone service. A government program pays the costs for these, so your employer loses nothing.
- Hearing-aid-compatible smartphones, if your employer provides smartphones.
- Written rather than verbal direction, memos, and meeting agendas/notes.
- CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) services. A stenographer types the words that are spoken in a meeting or presentation, and their words are displayed on a computer, projector, smartphone or TV.
- Emergency warning systems for the hearing impaired.
If you’re struggling to hear at work and are not currently wearing hearing aids, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing aids can help you be at your best—at work and everywhere else you go!