Hearing loss and your job
steve at accessone.com
Tue Jan 30 18:35:14 EST 1996
The following articles from the SHHH Journal are posted with
permission. The SHHH Journal is published bimonthly by SHHH
(Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc.), an international
nonprofit volunteer organization devoted to the welfare and
interests of those who cannot hear well. For membership and
other information, contact:
7910 Woodmont Ave, Suite 1200
Bethesda, MD 20814
Email: shhh.nancy at genie.com (Nancy Macklin)
GETTING A JOB: LET'S PUT YOU IN THE SUCCESSFUL EMPLOYMENT PICTURE
by Brenda Battat, SHHH Deputy Director (SHHH Journal 7/95)
This is number one in a series of four articles on "Strategies
for Successful Employment" for people who are hard of hearing.
The other articles (included below) cover:
* Getting the equipment and services you need
* Getting promoted
* Getting along with your supervisors and co-workers
There is no definitive way to handle hearing loss in an
employment setting. Each individual is unique. The strategies I
offer here are based on my 32 years in the workforce in four
different occupations and four different countries. All this,
combined with my own progressive hearing loss, impacted on and
precipitated my interest in and study of laws affecting people
who are hard of hearing.
As indicated in the statistics in the chart below released by the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), getting a job is
clearly a problem for people with hearing loss. They believe they
encounter more discrimination in the hiring process than do
people with other disabilities. Although EEOC statistics do not
separately itemize deaf and hard of hearing populations, the
problems these populations encounter and cite indicate that such
discrimination is a serious, ongoing problem.
With the above facts in mind, here are some criteria for entering
and succeeding in today's competitive job force:
Only Apply for Jobs for Which You Are Qualified-
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law
to prevent discrimination on the sole basis of disability in a
qualified employee. It is not an affirmative action law, and does
not require employers to establish quotas for hiring people with
This may seem like common sense, but, when job hunting, make sure
that the essential functions of the particular job and your
skills are a good match. You can request a list of the essential
functions of any position you are interested in.
The EEOC refers to four principal issues to consider when
determining if a function is essential:
* Does the job exist to perform one specific function? For
example, a telephone operator's position has only one essential
* What is the degree of expertise or skill needed to perform the
* Could another employee(s) perform the marginal tasks that are
* What is the work experience of other employees in this job?
Focus on Your Skills and Not on Your Hearing Loss-
We can get so obsessed by our hearing loss and the barriers it
creates to employment that we lose sight of how skilled we are
and what we can bring to the organization/company. It is
essential to spend time to remind yourself of the positive
contribution you can make with your particular assets, training
and background by listing your specific job-related skills and
experience. Be sure to also include skills which you may have
developed through pursuit of a hobby as well as direct job-
related skills. Examples of valuable capabilities which can be
transferred from job to job and are an asset for an employee to
have, may include organizational skills required as a homemaker
and mother, or record-keeping skills acquired as scorekeeper of
your local basketball team.
Plan How You are Going to Hear at the Interview-
Plan well ahead of time how you are going to hear and handle the
interview. Get as much information as possible about the
interview. You need to know how many people will be present,
where, how many, and what type of interview will be held. You
might be able to get some details from a secretary or
receptionist about the environment of the room which will be
used, such as level of background noise from an air conditioning
or heating system.
Use assistive listening devices at the interview only if you are
comfortable with them. Practice ahead of time if you are new to
them. If you don't own the necessary ALDs, look for places to
borrow them -- a friend, your local SHHH affiliate, the library,
the state Technical Assistance Center, a university speech and
hearing center, or an assistive devices demonstration center. If
you are a client of a vocational rehabilitation facility, a
device may be provided if it is found to be integral to your
being able to participate satisfactorily in the job interview,
get the job, and, later on, the job itself.
According to the law, you can request that the employer provide
accommodations for the interview. My own personal feeling about
this is that I want to provide everything myself for the
interview if at all possible. It gives you the chance to show how
resourceful you are, and gives management the chance to see you
in action and get to know you before being confronted by requests
for accommodations. You need to maximize the opportunity of the
interview to show that you can take control to manage your
hearing loss. It is far more effective to do this by example than
by lengthy explanations.
The interview is the opportunity to showcase you, your
assertiveness, and your skills and qualifications. It is
definitely not the time to get into a tussle over accommodations
which may or may not be provided for the interview by the
potential employer, and the added risk that they may or may not
work properly at the last minute. You need to be in control at
this early stage.
Practice being assertive in handling the interview. Be prepared
to make any necessary on-the-spot changes to the interview room
setup. If your seat faces the window with glare, be prepared to
ask for a rearrangement of seating or to ask to pull down the
blinds. Do it in a matter-of-fact way without making a big issue
of it. Briefly explain the reason without too much detail at this
Psych-Out Your Interviewer-
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer, and,
insodoing, establish a mutually beneficial, calm atmosphere. Be
sensitive to management's attitude. It will be related to their
comfort level of being around a person with a hearing loss. They
may not know how to behave. They may not be sure if the same
ground rules apply, whether they need to make things harder or
easier. They may be wondering if the presence of a worker with a
hearing loss will affect the "chemistry" of the department -- is
the worker with a hearing loss going to be less efficient,
slower, more dependent, more demanding, less capable? Can the
individual with a hearing loss really do the job? How will this
job candidate, co-workers and management communicate on a regular
basis? Will necessary accommodations cost a lot of money? Why
hire you when there is a lot of extra effort involved and they
have other equally qualified applicants?
Remember, the management team is human, too, and must consider a
lot of elements in the decision-making process. If several
applicants on the short list are equally qualified, there comes a
point at which the decision is based less on objective criteria
and more on the overall impression of the individual. This is the
same for any person interviewing for a job, hearing or otherwise,
and this is where your inventory of skills, resourcefulness,
assertiveness, and general presence come into play. You've got to
convince them that they want you!
Keep all this in mind as you prepare to interview. Know what the
law is on interviewing strategies for employers. They cannot ask
about the existence, nature or severity of a disability. Among
the questions they may not ask, for example, are:
* Are you taking prescription drugs?
* Are you HIV positive?
* How many sick days did you take last year?
* Have you filed for worker's compensation?
* Do you have a disability that would interfere with this job?
An employer can ask:
* Can you perform the functions of the job?
* Can you meet the attendance requirement of the job?
* Describe how you would perform this job?
* Do you have the required experience for this job?
* Are you using illegal drugs?
Your own attitude will also color the way you behave in the
interview. Obviously, you have to deal with your hearing loss but
don't make it the main focus. If you are still in the denial
stage, then you will bring that denial into the interview and
find it difficult to be open about your hearing loss and handle
it in an easy, light way. And, if and when you do start to tell
that you have a hearing loss, you may end up belaboring the issue
so much that you scare off the interviewer. Another self-
inflicted injury could result if you are not ready to reveal your
hearing loss, and try to bluff your way through. This is
counterproductive. Although you did not disclose your hearing
loss, it will be obvious that something is strained in the
conversation. The interviewer may not suspect you have a hearing
loss, but may attribute the difficulty to poor communication
skills which is considered a disadvantage in many jobs.
Hearing loss strips away our self-confidence. Day in and day out
we deal with communication difficulties which can make us feel
inadequate. Gradually, like peeling away the layers of a wound,
we are stripped down to a very sensitive inner core. This is
particularly true in the employment arena. Sometimes an
individual with hearing loss may not even be personally convinced
that he or she is really capable of doing the job well or moving
upward on the job ladder. As a result, they may elect to stay
underemployed for years because they feel lucky just to have a
job, any job, not necessarily one where they can fully utilize
their talents and be compensated equitably. Others retire early,
no longer able or willing to continue to face the hassles
associated with their hearing loss.
When do you reveal you have a hearing loss? Each individual
should decide based on his or her own unique situation and
comfort level. I personally prefer to have it up front from the
very beginning. The last job I applied for I even put it on the
application form. That was before the ADA, and employers were
allowed to ask prospective employees about any physical
conditions. It did not stop me getting an interview or finally
being hired. Maybe that was luck, but it suits me best to be open
from the very beginning.
I was interviewed for that job in a very old, noisy office with a
window air conditioner. I was interviewed by five people, one man
and four women, and I used an FM assistive listening system for
the interview. I briefly explained why I was using it and, after
a few seconds, I think everyone forgot it was there. I was able
to position the microphone in the center of the table we were all
sitting around, so we did not have to keep passing the mike.
I continued to use the FM system the whole time I worked at that
job, which was counseling freshman students at a major state
university in the Midwest. My office was in one of the older
buildings which had very noisy ventilation systems. I had a
caseload of 200 students, and felt, everyday, that I was
educating someone new about hearing loss and assistive
technology. Using the FM in my office, I used to position the
mike propped up in my in-box which I placed right in front of
where the students would sit when they came in to see me. Some
students thought I was recording our sessions. Once they knew it
was to help me hear them, they were very accepting of the
technology. I also used the staff newsletter to write an article
about my hearing aids and the FM system for the benefit of all
the counselors on staff. I did not have day to day contact with
many of them but we would meet at a weekly staff meeting and
during summer freshman registrations when all hands were on deck.
Get Hold of Your Fear-
Job seeking is a stressful process for anyone but doubly
stressful for people with hearing loss. The thought of the
interview becomes a nightmare because we are so worried about
hearing. Put all your energy into good planning and identifying
your skills which will help to boost your confidence. Don't be
modest about yourself. Sit down and list your strengths; ask
friends to help you discover other strengths you hadn't even
thought about. Be ready with concrete examples of your
accomplishments both on-the-job and in other areas of your life.
Don't wait until you are in the interview to try to come up with
these on the spur of the moment. By having some ready, you can
use examples which are most appropriate to the position you are
appling for. Keep your focus on why you are very employable and,
therefore, of value to some organization. It's just a matter of
finding the right fit.
Practice stress-relieving activities -- relaxation, exercise,
positive thinking, or whatever works best for you. Relaxation and
stress-reducing activities should be a continual part of our
lives as we are subject to the state of ambiguity on a daily
basis, and ambiguity has been shown by research to be the most
stressful state any human being can be subjected to.
Try to detail what your real fears are and work through how to
handle each one. "What is the worst thing that could happen" can
often help us to get things in perspective and greatly reduce our
Take Courses in Resume Preparation and Cover-Letter Writing-
Initially, you will be judged by your resume and cover letter.
You have to find a way to make yours stand out among all the
others which will be received. Assess how well prepared you are
to look for a job and, if necessary, take a course of study to
improve your job-seeking skills such as resume preparation and
Do Some Interviews for Practice-
Start out by applying for jobs which you are only marginally
interested in. If you get called for an interview for a job which
might not be your first choice, go along and use it for practice.
It will be a good learning experience and get you ready to
interview for the jobs that you really want.
Get Experience Through Volunteering-
There is always the Catch-22 situation for people coming new to
the job market. The position calls for experience, but you don't
have any yet and you can't get it because you don't have it. This
is particularly true for displaced homemakers, and newly
graduated or trained students. An excellent way to get experience
is to offer to volunteer. It can boost confidence for someone who
has been away from the workforce for years raising children, for
instance; or someone who has never worked but now finds it
necessary to work or wants to work.
For someone with a hearing loss, a volunteer job can provide a
chance to realistically assess just what the problems related to
their hearing loss are likely to be in an actual job setting.
Some can be predicted but not all. It offers the chance to try
out assertive skills needed to get the reasonable accommodations
you are going to need. And, most of all, volunteering provides an
opportunity to develop new skills. For someone not quite sure
what work they want to do or can do well, this type of work is an
excellent aid in making that decision. Volunteering is not always
an option, of course. It depends on the situation; but if you
have the time and some financial support, it can be an excellent
stepping stone to employment.
Be Your Own Boss-
Being able to control your own environment has lots of advantages
for people with hearing loss. Setting up your own small business,
perhaps starting out in your own home, eliminates a lot of the
struggles associated with getting reasonable accommodations
approved. It could be worth enrolling in a course in how to set
up your own business and plunging into it if you feel your skills
lend themselves to such an approach.
There is no single totally encompassing, infallible way to handle
hearing loss in an employment setting. But, there are a number of
practical, tried and proven strategies listed here. I have
1. Only apply for jobs for which you are qualified.
2. Focus on your skills and not on your hearing loss.
3. Plan how you are going to hear at the interview.
4. Psych-out your interviewer.
5. Get hold of your fear.
6. Take courses in resume preparation and cover-letter writing.
7. Do some interviews for practice
8. Get experience through volunteering.
9. Be your own boss.
Make them your own. Personalize them. Add to them.
And, when you have done so, share with us and with others.
Some years ago, 1988 to be exact, the theme of an SHHH Journal
was, "All that is missing is YOU!" Let's put YOU in the
successful employment picture.
Selected ADA Charges by Issue: Comparison of Data for Individuals
with Hearing Loss and Total ADA Charges
Issue; Hearing Loss: Number of Charges, Percentage of Charges;
Total ADA Charges: Number of Charges, Percent of Charges
Discharge 436 38.3% 18,425 50.3%
Reasonable Accommodations 299 26.3% 9,280 25.4%
Hiring 240 21.1% 4,036 11.0%
Harassment 137 12.0% 3,857 10.5%
Discipline 91 8.0% 2,671 7.3%
Promotion 82 7.2% 1,920 5.2%
Layoff 73 6.4% 1,403 3.8%
Benefits 20 1.8% 1,380 3.8%
Total Charges 1,138 36,604
Period: July 26, 1992 to October 31, 1994
GETTING THE EQUIPMENT AND SERVICES YOU NEED
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which covers
discrimination in the workplace, went into effect on July 26,
1992, for companies with 25 or more employees, and for companies
with less than 25 employees, on July 26, 1994. The law defines
disability as "a physical or mental impairment which
substantially limits one or more life activities."
The ADA specifies that employers cannot discriminate against "a
qualified individual with a disability who, with or without
reasonable accommodations, can perform the essential functions of
the position that such an individual holds or desires."
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment that
provides an individual with hearing loss equal benefits and
privileges of employment. What is reasonable is determined on a
case-by-case basis. You may have a preferred accommodation but
employers do not have to provide the exact accommodation request.
They may substitute a similar accommodation that will enable you
to accomplish the essential tasks of the job. You may provide
your own accommodation, but the employer is obligated to provide
something if you are unwilling or unable to supply it. The law
does not cover personal devices (for example, hearing aids.) The
request for accommodations has to come from the employee.
Be Willing to Disclose Your Hearing Loss
The fact that the request for accommodations has to come from the
employee puts the ball in your court. To ask for an amplified
handset to hear on the telephone or a flashing light so that you
know when the buzzer goes off on a machine, requires that you
make known that you have a hearing loss. As we all know, this is
not easy for many people to do, especially in the workplace.
There is a real fear that our jobs may be threatened if we
disclose that we have difficulty hearing, and that we will be
seen as less competent. By avoiding dealing with our hearing loss
directly, we are fooling ourselves. People around us probably
know or suspect the problem. Or even worse, they may attribute
miscommunication to a lack in communication skills or an
unwillingness to be a team player, both of which would be a real
deterrent to promotion.
We need to separate the fact of our hearing loss from the skills
and abilities we bring to the job. If an assistive device will
enable us to have access to important information in staff
meetings at the same time as everyone else does, then, clearly,
this is contributing to our productivity. We could get the
information later, but this is playing catch up and is a waste of
Know Exactly What it is That You Need
The first step is to go through a period of on-the-job
communication problem identification. Basically, you need to do
an inventory of your work situation and where you run into
difficulty hearing. Make a list of:
* What functions you carry out on a daily, weekly, monthly, and
* Who you interact with in the course of your work.
* Where you interact both on and off-site.
* What difficulties have arisen, or ones that you can anticipate.
For example, the types of situations you might include as
requiring accommodations are: meetings, training, telephone use,
hearing a warning signal on a machine, communication with
supervisors and co-workers, and communicating with clients.
Do All the Leg Work
Next comes an analysis of how to overcome these barriers which
you have identified. Research what is available as possible
solutions. This could be some type of assistive listening device,
change of behavior on the part of you and or those with whom you
work, restructuring your job, or relocation of your desk or
Whatever the options are, have them ready to present when you
make your request for accommodations. If it requires some form of
equipment, find out where to get it and how much it costs, so
that you can present all the information at the same time. When
you provide complete information, it will greatly simplify the
decision-making process for your supervisor or whoever is in a
position to authorize the accommodation.
If you don't have all the information you need, consult with
resources that are available. If you work in a large
organization, there may be an office responsible for working with
employees with disabilities and they could work with you to
develop a plan of action. Otherwise you might seek help from your
human resource officer or outside resources (see the list at the
end of this article).
Advocate on the Basis of Productivity
When requesting the accommodations you need, do not base the
request at the outset on the law alone. Show how these
accommodations will enable you to be a more productive employee.
Demonstrate how you will be able to better perform the essential
functions of the job. Only if you meet resistance should you then
bring up the mandates of the law.
Seek Out Tax Incentives for Your Employer
There are some tax credits available for employers who
accommodate an employee with a disability. Examples of these are
the Targeted Tax Credit and the Disabled Access Credit. Get the
details on these from the Office of the Chief Counsel, IRS and
the Local Employment Service Office, and provide this information
to your employer. This is a way to help your employer while at
the same time getting what you need.
Keep a Paper Trail
Be sure to follow up all verbal requests for accommodations in
writing and keep a file. Requests don't always go smoothly so if
you hit resistance, you will have documentation which you can use
if you decide to file a complaint with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC.) You have 180 days to file.
Job Accommodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) was established in 1984 by
the President's Committee on Employment of People with
Disabilities. JAN is based at West Virginia University in
Morgantown. They keep a database of what accommodations are most
appropriate for different situations in the workplace for
employees with disabilities, including hearing loss. It is a free
service for employers.
Toll-free numbers for JAN:
800-526-7234 (Voice and TTY, outside West Virginia)
800-526-4698 (Voice and TTY, within West Virginia)
800-526-2262 (Voice and TTY, throughout Canada)
State Technical Assistance Programs (TAP)
Each state has a program to improve access to assistive
technology to people with disabilities. These programs are funded
by the Tech Act of 1988 and administered by the Department of
Education. A list of TAPs in the country can be obtained by
sending a stamped self-addressed envelope to TAP List, SHHH
National, 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1200, Bethesda, MD 20814.
Assistive Devices Demonstration Centers
There are centers across the country, many of them run by
volunteers, where you can view and try out different kinds of
assistive technology. This is an effective way to find out what
is available to help you in different situations including the
workplace. A list of demonstration centers can be obtained from
the SHHH National office by sending a stamped self-addressed
State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies
Each state has vocational rehabilitation offices which provide
counseling to people who are trying to find a job or to remain
employed. Counselors work with you to develop a plan which could
entail selecting assistive technology and other strategies to
help you cope with your hearing loss in the workplace. These
offices can be found in the state government section of the
Meeting other people with hearing loss who are in the workforce
can be a good way to get new ideas on how to handle certain
workplace situations. There may be an SHHH group or chapter near
you. If you would like a list of the SHHH chapters in your state,
contact SHHH National.
Exchanging Workplace Information Online
Another way to network with people with hearing loss is through
computer online services. SHHH's new service on GEnie, SHHH On-
Line, went live in June 1995. In addition to the software library
where a GEnie subscriber may find articles relating to
employment, there is also an employment category in the bulletin
board area. Here, one can not only read postings of job
announcements, but may also post questions and comments which
others on the service may read and respond to.
For your free GEnie software and User's Guide, contact Nancy
Macklin, business manager, at the SHHH National office.
President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities
1331 F Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004-3470
(202) 376-6200 Voice
(202) 376-6205 TTY
Works with corporations toward expanded job opportunities.
National Center for Law and Deafness
800 Florida Avenue, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002-3695
(202) 651-5373 Voice and TTY
Legal Network for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People
ATTN: Leonard Hall
P.O. Box 1541
Shawnee Mission, KS 66222
(913) 791-6203 Fax
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer
may not deny an individual with a hearing loss a promotion.
* assume the individual is not interested or qualified;
* deny promotion because an accommodation may be needed;
* put employee in segregated units or locations that limit their
chance or promotion.
In a 1993 National Focus Group Report, Virginia Johnson of
the University of Arkansas' Research and Training Center for
Persons who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, looked at employment
issues and found that, nationwide, people who are hard of hearing
express frustration with underemployment in entry level jobs with
little chance for advancement.
Her report researched and noted numerous instances showing
that employment success and job retention depend on the worker
demonstrating his or her value to the organization from the onset
The possibility for promotion starts from our first day on
the job. Right from the beginning, it is up to us to show that we
are promotional material and that we are motivated to achieve. We
can demonstrate our work commitment in a variety of ways. The
amount and quality of the work we perform -- in addition to work
ethics such as punctuality, and attendance and safety records --
are all indications that we are serious about our work and care
about how we perform on the job. These, in turn, justify our
being considered as candidates for promotion.
The way we react to supervision, our ability to follow
instructions and carry them out, and our level of flexibility and
willingness to adapt to change are areas that management monitors
to determine an employee's future. In today's work world,
teamwork is common so the ability to function as a team player is
a key element in successful employment. So, too, are the degree
of initiative demonstrated on the job, and the ability, when
necessary, to work without supervision.
Interpersonal skills -- evidenced in effective social
interaction with co-workers, supervisors and clients -- are
another important aspect of being successful on the job.
As you can see, many of these factors present no
difficulties for people who are hard of hearing. The amount and
quality of work and work ethics should be something easily within
our own control. Other areas, however, such as following
instructions, teamwork and interpersonal skills, many need
creative approaches by the employee who is hard of hearing to
ensure a smooth outcome. We have to work at them and find ways to
eliminate the barriers which prevent us from demonstrating our
capabilities in these areas.
Following verbal instructions, whether face to face or over
the telephone, may require different approaches to ensure the
instructions are clearly understood. Confirm the instructions
right after they are given. For example, one might say: "My
understanding is that I am to draft an outline of the proposal by
August 26, and distribute to the sales team ready for a
department meeting one week later."
Other approaches could include asking for instructions in
writing, or writing them up yourself for a sign off, or asking
for them to be relayed to you through the company e-mail.
The method you use is not important as long as there is a
certain comfort level on both sides with your chosen method; that
there is no ambiguity in the instructions; and that you are
perfectly clear concerning what you are expected to do. The
communication required in teamwork also requires that you take
the initiative and work with your co-workers. Together you can
devise a satisfactory way for you and them to communicate
satisfactorily with each other, and thus enable you to hear
everyone on the team, whether one-on-one or when you meet as a
group. In a group situation, technology such as an assistive
device or computer-assisted notetaking may not be the best
Consistently Upgrade Your Skills
Skills count and so we should take advantage of any and all
staff development opportunities both off-site and on company
premises. It means advocating and pushing for accessible
training. In this regard, note that the ADA mandates that all
public accommodations, including conference and convention
centers, be accessible. Let the training coordinators know of
your specific communication-access requirements. Do this well in
advance of the event.
There are a variety of accommodations which you can consider
to enable you to participate fully in training, which is vital to
promotion. Just for starters, consider these options:
* Discuss your needs with the trainer prior to the classes.
* Request technology or services such as an assistive
listening device, an interpreter, computer-assisted real-time
transcription, or a notetaker (this could be a colleague taking
the same training who might volunteer to serve as a notetaker or
* Ask for printed handouts such as a course outline or
* Request seating to accommodate your needs for
* Ask if training could also be videotaped and captioned so
that you could view the tape both in advance of the class and
thereafter as needed.
Other factors which affect the accessibility of a training
class would be lighting, and the communication style of the
trainer. Trainers should be encourages not to pace when
presenting, to always face the class and speak clearly ad slowly,
and to rephrase the idea rather than repeat verbatim when a point
is not heard. (A brief, printed or typed card incorporating this
last suggestion, and presented to the trainer beforehand, is an
excellent, continuing reminder.)
Also, on your own, take classes independently, outside of
your place of work to keep upgrading your skill level. Skills
attract employers, make you a valuable employee, and, more
importantly, gives you self-confidence. Today's workforce is a
demanding one, and more and more skills are needed all the time.
Keep Working on Attitudes
No matter how capable and skilled you are, some decision-
makers may have stereotypical attitudes about what people with
hearing loss can and cannot do, often focusing more on the
hearing loss than on the abilities. Although, this is unfair and
frustrating for the employee, it still happens even today, and
can affect the promotion process.
SHHH has accounts of employees who have been successfully
employed only to experience a change of manager and a sudden turn
of events where they and their abilities are trusted less and
less, and the employment situation becomes intolerable to the
point where individuals feel forced to seek employment elsewhere.
The best way to deal with this is education: keep educating
everyone we come into contact with about hearing loss. In
addition, work to achieve a comfort level on both sides in
communicating; and, finally, let our employers and co-workers see
our abilities in action.
It's a proven fact there is a variation in attitudes of
managers within the same company. This supports the importance of
someone with a hearing loss developing a mentoring situation in
the workplace. In this way, we have a constant in our work lives
and we have the backing of someone who understands our abilities
and needs, someone in a responsible position who can offer
support and motivation when the going gets tough.
Nip Communication Difficulties in the Bud
If difficulties in communication are happening, don't let
them drag on and drag you down in the process. Do something about
them quickly, resolve them and put them to rest. Unresolved
communication difficulties -- whether with your co-workers, boss,
or customers -- can hinder productivity and make you look
inefficient and incapable of carrying out your required
It's really important to be up front so take the initiative
if you get into a situation where you cannot hear well. Take
action quickly to try to resolve the problem immediately, on a
temporary basis if necessary, or preferably and if time permits,
on a long-term, permanent basis. Try not to let the problem get
to the point where it would make you seem vacillating or totally
inept to suddenly state that you have not been able to follow
what has been going on for the past ten minutes or one hour, or
You need to do a quick inventory of what is creating the
problem. Is it acoustics? Is it background noise? Is it the
speaker's communication style? Is it the distance from the
speaker? Is this a situation that can be resolved with a request
for behavior change or seating relocation? Or, would the only
workable option be an accommodation such as an assistive
Half the battle is figuring out what we need in any given
situation and then being assertive enough to set it up.
GETTING ALONG WITH YOUR SUPERVISORS AND CO-WORKERS
Make it a point to confirm all verbal instructions
immediately with the person giving them. If necessary, double-
check all instructions in writing or with E-mail. It is up to you
to make a determination of whom you usually can hear and whom you
cannot. And it is up to you to set up a system so that others
with whom you interact can know ahead of time that they will need
to give you instructions in writing or over the office E-mail.
Misunderstandings can happen and communication lines break
down if you are sloppy. Be disciplined. Take charge of the inter-
communication effort from the start. Never bluff on professional
issues. There is too much at stake for your successful employment
and promotion prospects, not to mention your relationships with
your co-workers and supervisors.
Keep Hearing Loss in Perspective
Keep a sense of humor about issues that may arise related to
your hearing loss. Try to stay light. If you show that you are
comfortable with your hearing loss, this will help others also to
feel more comfortable working with you. Try to build up a buddy
system, one or two people that you like and trust and who can
help you out in a pinch when other accommodations are not working
Generally speaking, for people who are hard of hearing, the
more structured the situation the easier it is to make the
necessary accommodations to enable you to hear. For example, to
position yourself to hear a speaker during a training session, it
is relatively easy to sit at the front of the class and use an
assistive listening device or real-time computer assisted
notetaking. On the other hand, in unstructured situations -- such
as keeping up with the conversations of your co-workers in the
employee lounge, the cafeteria, or across desks and between
cubicles -- it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to
accommodate. Since the information being exchanged under these
circumstances is most likely to be "soft" information, you can
ask for an update from one of your "buddies."
Seeing others holding a conversation, laughing, perhaps
enjoying a joke, and not being able to hear well enough to join
in or to share in their camaraderie can sometimes lead to
insecure, almost paranoic feelings. Although you may try to
reason with yourself that it is not rational to feel like this,
and, on the surface, recognize that your associates have
absolutely no reason to be talking about you, nonetheless, you
may have these feelings. The longer you stay out of the
conversations, the longer you feel left out, and the worse the
feelings of paranoia tend to get.
Face the situation; don't hide from it. Try to find ways of
showing that you would like to be included and that you are
interested in what is going on, and what is being said, even if
it is merely a joke or interoffice exchange and not some earth-
shaking event. Be open with them, explaining briefly that you
cannot follow the conversations, and then go a step further and
take the initiative in looking for cooperative ways to be
Many people who are hard of hearing report feelings of anger
which they take out on those around them both at work and at
home. If you recognize that you do have anger beneath the
surface, seek help to deal with it. Anger can be a great
motivator as it creates energy. The key is to be conscious of how
best to direct that energy and how to use it positively, to
create, and not to destroy.
Lots of "Thank You's"
We make a lot of requests of those around us in order to
hear better. We should try to say an equal number of "thank
you's." Most people respond well to positive feedback, and the
chances of their continuing to do what helps us are increased if
we show our appreciation. So, remember to say "thank you" often
and show your appreciation to someone who is obviously going out
of his or her way to communicate with you.
Be Specific About Communication Needs
Just saying "I am hard of hearing" is not enough. You need
to be specific about what you need the other party to do. For
example, "I need for us to move away from the copying machine to
continue this conversation in a quieter place." Or, "When you
face me and speak more slowly, it is much easier for me to hear
you." Or, "Raising your hand when you begin to speak in a
meeting orients me so that I know who is speaking now."
In a word, educate.
Use ALDs to Participate in Social Functions
Get involved. Don't avoid social functions. That's an
important way for co-workers to gel. Use assistive listening
devices (ALDs) at the company picnic...at holiday
celebrations...at a favorite restaurant with a co-worker... when
traveling to an assignment. One of the biggest complaints of
employees with hearing loss is that they feel left out of the
social give-and-take of the workplace -- the fun, the gossip, the
relief of letting your hair down after a particularly busy
period. Accommodating the social aspects of work life is an
important and rewarding element of being a contributing,
valuable, and valued member of the job force.
Remember Your Hearing Colleagues Have Needs and Frustrations Also
People with normal hearing are sensitive to noise and loud
voices. These can interfere with their ability to concentrate on
the work they are doing, or their ability to carry on a telephone
conversation. So, think before you slam down the telephone
receiver. Make sure you are not driving everyone mad with the
feedback from your hearing aid. At the same time that you are
asking others to speak louder for you to hear, learn to monitor
how loud your own voice is. In this regard, too, your own sense
of awareness and courtesy should remind you, when you are holding
a conversation, to move away from other co-workers who are using
the telephone or immersed in other work.
We can all be independent now on the telephone, thanks to
the telecommunications relay service and text telephones. There
really is no need to ask someone else to take or place our phone
calls. So long as we have a text telephone (TTY), used in
conjunction with the telecommunications relay service, we now
have access to all callers whether or not they have a TTY.
Telephones with volume controls and which are hearing aid
compatible are other accommodations which are reasonable to
request under the ADA.
Remember, monopolizing the conversation is a negative coping
strategy that we all tend to employ from time to time. We need to
take the time to listen to others, even though it may be a
struggle. It is easy to become a bore if we do all the talking,
especially if it's about our hearing loss most of the time.
Worth mentioning again is the fact that even though we
cannot overhear conversations in other offices, or down the hall,
or over the noise of office machinery, our hearing co-workers
can. We need to keep that in mind when we are talking on the
telephone or holding a conversation.
When using ALDs in meetings, let things get started for a
bit before jumping in and asking for reorganizations. If someone
is not familiar with using the microphones (which are often
directional and need to be held close to the speaker), be
considerate about how you remind the speakers to use the
microphone. Getting angry with them will most probably be
counterproductive. Again, educate...educate...educate.
In the final analysis, the key to coping with hearing loss
in the workplace is to be open about your hearing loss and aware
of how you can be helped to achieve your highest potential. Once
that first door has been unlocked, use the same key to open the
understanding and cooperation of others, and, in this way, create
an atmosphere of mutual creativity, productivity, and respect.
Brenda Battat is the deputy executive director at SHHH National.
Before coming to SHHH seven years ago, she earned degrees in
physical therapy and counseling and worked in those fields. As
part of her own adjustment to progressive hearing loss, she
coordinated a self help group in Bloomington, Indiana, where she
lived with her husband, Joe, and their two children, Anna and
James. She also volunteered in her community to improve access
for people with all disabilities.
When interviewed for an SHHH Journal article in 1990 after
assuming the position of deputy executive director, she
commented, "When each one of us is convinced of our own self
worth and the contribution each of us can make, then, and only
then, will we be able to convince others and enlist their
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