Working with Hearing Loss
So what it is like to work in a professional job when you can no longer hear?
Well, it’s great!
Now it is not great as in “this party is great”, or “he’s a great guy”. It is more like parenting is great, or as in Peter the ‘Great’.
Great: an intense experience that is flanked by unspeakable horrors offset only by the occasional triumph.
When I began to experience a major change in my hearing I did what most people do – I pretended that nothing was wrong. I guess you could say that I suffered in silence.
To be honest I was so horrified once I understood what was happening to me that I considered hiding in my room…forever! The outside world had become foreign to me. It was a hostile place. At times I felt just like this:
“For me there can be no recreation in the company of others, no intelligent conversation, no exchange of information with peers; only the most pressing needs can make me venture into society. I am obliged to live like an outcast.” – Beethoven – reflecting on the social impact of his hearing loss
Even though working was a constant stress during this time, it turned out to be my salvation since it forced me to deal with the consequences of my hearing loss.
I was fortunate to have a boss who also happen to have an undisclosed hearing loss. In other words, he was a really loud-talker.
Even with my loud boss it soon became evident that my ‘avoidance strategy” at work had to stop. My hearing was just too bad, and you can’t dodge the phone, big meetings, or background noise indefinitely.
I did use online “chat”, email, texting , etc for communicating as much as I could. Still, I would get into trouble because when you can’t hear you don’t always know what you are missing. If you happen to nod at the wrong moment things can go off the rails rather quickly. I had to do something!
It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought.
When I finally got up the nerve to disclose my hearing loss to my boss I discovered that he already knew (they always do), and it was really no big deal. He only wanted to know what I needed for accommodations.
Um….let me get back to you.
So I spoke to our Disability Group – they had no clue.
Audiologist- nope, she didn’t know.
I finally found a local agency that would do an accommodation equipment ‘consult’ at work, and I went from there.
So l got a hearing aid, assisted listening, CART services (real time captioning), etc., but the struggle was far from over. There was a lot of trial/error, and false starts along the way. Also since hearing loss accommodations are often conspicuous, I routinely found myself becoming a ‘hearing loss ambassador’. I spent a lot of time educating co-workers, and answering other people’s questions about my situation. To be honest – it was awkward, but it did help me to become more comfortable talking about my hearing loss.
I started to further education myself as well. I attended hearing loss presentations, conferences, and even made some hearing loss friends 🙂 Little by little my hearing loss management skills improved.
So this is what I have learned so far about working with hearing loss.
If you have hearing loss:
- Get pass the denial stage. What? I SAID get PAST the denial stage! You know who you are! The earlier the invention, the better the outcome. I guarantee it!
- Be open – Trust me, you will find yourself in fewer sticky situations by being upfront about your hearing deficiency rather than hiding it, and trying to bluff – besides you are not fooling anyone.
- Let others know how to help – Be specific: I need you to have you sit here so I can see your face. Look at me before you start talking. I can’t hear you at that restaurant, etc. If the person really wants you to understand them they will be happy to follow your communication “demands” to make it happen.
- Can-Do – Not everything will be perfect, or work out as planned. Be kind, forgiving, and appreciative anyway. Let the people develop positive feelings around offering accommodations. Attitudes take time to change, and guess what? . Everyone gets left out sometimes. So set things up for success for the next time, or for the next HOH or Deaf person that comes along after you.
- Don’t play the victim – Yes, it is not awesome sometimes. Yes, you will be left out, or embarrassed, or treated unfairly. but professionals keep moving forward. Take responsibility to build your own support network. If your organization doesn’t have good supports for hearing loss – help them to make things better.
If you work with someone with hearing loss:
- Check In – What can I do to help you understand?
- Always get their attention before speaking, and keep looking at them while you are talking.
- Be aware of what might help them, but don’t assume.. I love it when people make suggestions for me or “advocate” on my behalf, but their efforts are not always helpful – so just ask.
- Be patient and adaptable. You don’t know how easy you have it – you hear without even thinking about it! if you really want to communication then you will take the time to find a way to “make it work”.
- Don’t say – this is so-and-so and they are Deaf, or Hearing Impaired, or whatever. Let them decide when and how to disclose, or ask them in advance about it. Even though my sensory deficit requires disclosure often – it is still personal. Please allow to people with hearing loss to control the method, or approach used for the disclosure of their private situation.
Want to know more – try here:
Strength lies in differences not similarities –Stephen R Convey