Meandering Through A Hearing World

To Work Or Not With Hearing Loss

According to statistics on the Hearing Foundation’s website, 48% of people with hearing loss are employed and 47% are unemployed. Employees with untreated hearing loss can find their incomes decreased by $30,000.00. Employees who treat their hearing loss are sometimes underemployed and have annual incomes that are $8,000.00 less than their colleagues who hear normally.

Thirty years ago, when my hearing loss went from moderate to severe, I realized I was no longer able to fulfill my duties as an executive project manager. I tried utilizing the technology of the day to no avail. It was becoming difficult to travel alone and to speak with my clients on the phone. Rather than wait for a shoulder tap, I left my position and took a job teaching in the business department of a university at a salary that was sixty percent less than my former.

A decrease in salary is only one aspect that people with hearing loss face in the workplace. I struggled to keep my classroom in order. Though I wore my hearing aids, all sorts of problems cropped up. I found that moving closer to the desk of a student who was talking created bedlam. My students perceived that I was only addressing that student and not the entire class. When standing in the front of the room, it was difficult to hear female students, seated in the back of the room. Asking them to speak up intimidated them. To solve my classroom woes, I decided to disclose my hearing loss to my students and to the department head. Though things were not perfect, my students and department head bestowed much kindness and understanding, which made my job easier.

Those who tell their fellow employees or managers about their hearing loss do not always receive such positive results, leaving some to remain silent. There are no rules regarding whether or not one should disclose their hearing loss. However, everyone should understand that the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers job applicants and employees in the workplace, thus preventing discrimination, and insuring fair pay, and equal opportunities to those with hearing loss. If you do let your manager know of your hearing loss, they must accommodate your needs.

However, it is not always that simple. It is expensive for businesses to provide phones with volume controls, captioned voicemail, and CART services for meetings. Loop systems are pricey to install. Small companies might be financially unable or unwilling to provide hearing assistive devices, leaving an employee with hearing loss in limbo.

If you have hearing loss and want to work, it is important to consider your options, your skill set, and your needs. It is best to arm yourself with affordable technology and to treat your hearing loss and wear prescribed devices. Review what a job entails and be honest with your employers about how they can help you. Recognize that you might have to work harder.

Even with management’s help, working with hearing loss is not easy, particularly if you have a profound or severe hearing loss. In such cases, you will need spunk as you meander through the working hearing world. We can all attest to the exhaustion, depression, and misunderstandings that hearing loss brings on. I applaud people who succeed in the workplace despite their hearing loss. It is an ego boost when a person is able to earn a living while dealing with workplace hearing challenges.

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Linda Bilodeau

I’ve grappled with hearing loss since 1978. Through it all, I’ve faced periods of denial, acceptance, curiosity, trust and hope. But more often than not, I’ve felt annoyed, angry and frightened. I’ve encountered despair, loneliness and envy. I’ve experienced panic attacks. I’ve met understanding people, kind souls who helped me a great deal and others who thought I had nothing short of an invisible plague. As a way of coming to terms with my hearing loss, I’ve decided to put my feelings about my disability down on paper. My hope is to better understand myself and perhaps you’ll find a little something in my meanderings that will help you, too.

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