Managing hearing loss in the workplace can be challenging. Hearing loss stigma may make you worried about disclosing your disability, and even if you do, others may not know the communications best practices required to help you hear your best. You may struggle in some work situations, but thrive in others, confusing your co-workers and clients. You company may not be aware of the many new technologies that can make communication easier for people with hearing loss. The good news is that there are many strategies for success, but much education is needed.
So, when Goldman Sachs’ Disability Interest Forum invited me to speak on a panel highlighting hearing health in the workplace at one of their four Disability Awareness Month events, I jumped at the chance! I was thrilled that a leading global firm like Goldman Sachs chose to prioritize hearing health in the workplace in such a public and impactful way.
My co-panelists included Holly Cohen, a hearing health advocate and former President of the NYC Chapter of Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), Vanessa Kelley Smith, a Vice President in Goldman’s Engineering Division and a member of the Disability Interest Forum Steering Committee, and Paul Reichert, a member of the Goldman Sachs Wellness team. Holly, Vanessa, and I all have hearing loss. We are also all members of the NYC Chapter of HLAA, which is how we met.
Hearing Health Strategies for the Workplace
Our hour long presentation included several topics. For each section we shared both actionable tips and personal stories of our own hearing health journeys to help reinforce the message.
Hearing Health Overview
This introductory section provided hearing loss facts and statistics to set the stage and highlight the prevalence of hearing loss in the population. Most people are surprised to learn that of the 48 million people in the United States with hearing loss, 65% of them are under the age of 65, meaning the vast majority of people with hearing loss are active in the work force.
Strategies for Optimal Hearing in the Workplace
We shared best practice tips for three common, yet challenging for people with hearing loss, workplace events, — an in-house meeting, an off-site social event, and a conference call. I covered in-house meetings and shared the story of the time an important CEO had a cold and sequestered himself at the far end of the table, making it impossible for me to hear him. It was the first time I needed to publicly disclose my hearing loss in a work setting in order to do my job effectively. It was stressful, but the positive outcome made me wish that I had been more open about my hearing loss at other times too.
Inclusive Communication Best Practices
While most communication best practices rely on conversation partners to make accommodations, there are also things that people with hearing loss can and should do, including understanding our hearing loss and asking for what we need in very specific terms. Holly discussed communication tips for people who are hearing to use when communicating with people who have a hearing loss.
Hearing Health Resources
Goldman Sachs provides many internal resources for people with disabilities of all types. Vanessa shared the variety of accommodations that she receives from Goldman to help her do her job successfully. And the firm’s health care plans all cover hearing aids!
Holly and I shared the importance of external advocacy communities like HLAA. HLAA helped us understand that we were not alone in our struggles with hearing loss. Here we learned many of the tips and tricks we use on a daily basis to thrive despite our hearing difficulties.
A big thank you to everyone at Goldman Sachs who helped to arrange this talk. We hope other companies will host similar events as they work to better understand and meet the needs of their employees with hearing loss.
Readers, what strategies help you manage your hearing loss in the workplace?
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27 thoughts on “Hearing Loss in the Workplace: Strategies for Success”
After I knew I really had hearing loss, I was very open about my hearing aids and my hearing issues. It took all of the stress off my shoulders and made it easier for me at work. I was never looked down on for having a disability, and I was given the added help I needed in the way of phone connectivity.
My job was stressful enough seeing I was doing Phone support for a Computer Software at the very highest Technical level.
I am saying we all just need to be honest about our disabilities, hiding them is just way to stressful on everyone.
Great advice! Thank you for sharing what worked for you.
When I worked in the business world, conference calls were the problem. Other participants relayed to me the contents of the call . I’m curious as to how others handle conference calls. Thanks Shari for all that you do . Much appreciated.
Conference calls are tough, but today technology is very helpful. There are phones with volume control and captioned telephones as well. Skype now has auto-captioning although the accuracy is mixed. Partnering with the others on your team to find solutions that work can be very empowering. Good luck to you!
Can you elaborate—“Skype now has auto-captioning….”?
or write another blog on this topic?
I use Skype at work, but never be aware of its auto-captioning feature.
Good topic idea. In the meantime, here is some information. Hope this helps! https://support.skype.com/en/faq/FA34877/how-do-i-turn-live-captions-subtitles-on-during-a-skype-call Thanks for your questions.
Just love this so helpful I can relate to this so much. I ama nurse and work in a busy ward and have to answer the phone but avoid.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
Excellent blog as always.
Here in the UK we have an annual Deaf Awareness Week run through a national charity, Action On Hearing Loss.
They produce a lot of information, all year round, but there is extra emphasis on hearing issues during the week.
There is material aimed specifically at employers and hearing employees to help them understand more about the issues that we who are deaf or hard of hearing face in our daily working lives.
Sounds like a wonderful way to raise awareness. Thanks for sharing the information.
Mahalo for your informative blog!
I am a subsitute teacher for Hawaii DOE. My hearing loss is moderate to severe. I do have digital aids yet,are most challenging in the classroom environment when trying to understsnd students when surrounding distractimg sounds take over.
Have tried having conversations with students regarding my disability and many are very understandind and try to speak up. Yet there are those quiet kids who don’t, or feel intimidated when I get closer to hear them.
I love my work with the kids…but it truly gets overwhelming at times and hearing exhaustion often takes over. I need quiet escapes during recess and lunch breaks.
As I work through these issues, I understand I’m probably not alone with these concerns. So any resources or possibly a blog for educators who have hearing loss would be most valuable.
Thank you for sharing your story. You are definitely not alone in your struggles with hearing loss as an educator. Thanks for the topic idea as well!
I remember how hard it was to work in a Highschool with hearing loss. Ultimately I left my job because of it. I had chronic ear infections due to an immune disorder at that time so my hearing was in and out. It was awful and it was exhausting to try to work. Eventually, after I retired I found someone who helped me get the right kind of device. The doctors were giving me Hearing aids and what I really needed was a bone anchored hearing device since my eardrums were not functional. Now I am able to advocate for people in my community and help large groups understand about hearing loss. I have been blessed!
Thank you for your advocacy work! It is so important!
Thanks so much for this post. It is so relevant whether you are working for an employer or for community service.
Very true. Thanks for you work in this area.
Great topic ! I’m 57, and worked 40 years in the hearing workplace with a profound hearing loss. I chose professions that would not require phone use or heavy communication skills because back then there were no relay operators or Captioning available. I eventually went back to school and became an accountant , I was pretty good with detail and it paid really well and if I found the right companies , which I did , and they were very accommodating with providing services such as CART when the service became readily available . In the 80s and 90s , companies were very employee oriented , college degree workers were not as plentiful as now , and companies really cared very much about the well being of their employees , offered fabulous perks , and were very pleased to hire people with disabilities. (Maybe they got a tax write off back then , hmmmm). But even though I’ve been extremely blessed in the career field , I still hit many bumps in the road where I worked with a manager or two who was just downright rude and discriminating due to my hearing loss . The ADA act wasn’t well know just yet . It became a test of tolerance and endurance getting through those times . Now the times are fantastic with all kinds of new technology . Captioning is readily available, you can go see all movies ! But you will still always come across rude and discriminatory humans !
This is great perspective. Thank you for sharing!
“We shared best practice tips for three common, yet challenging for people with hearing loss, workplace events, — an in-house meeting, an off-site social event, and a conference call.”
What were the best practices?
Stay tuned. More details coming in future posts. Thank you for your question.
Thanks for posting this Shari. It certainly brings back memories of when I was teaching in a high school. I always wore aids & coped sort of ok but background noise & meetings were challenging. I missed a lot I am sure & probably fudged it many times. Funnily enough I felt fine about disclosing my hearing loss with my classes & we used effective communication techniques in the classroom but I was hesitant to make it widely known to my peers. In retrospect this was a big mistake & I think life would have been far easier for everyone if I had been not so shy about it. I thank my involvement with Hearing Matters Australia (formerly SHHH) & which I now lead, for empowering me with the confidence to speak out about hearing loss & to be able to advocate for others. There’s not too many people you meet who don’t know of someone close to them with a hearing disability. From my own experience I think being able to accept & manage your hearing loss goes a long way towards having the confidence to be more open about it & is a stepping stone for better communication between everyone.
Well said! Thank you for sharing your perspective and your good work at Hearing Matters Australia!
Shari – Although I disclosed my hearing loss in the job interview process, I did not formally request accommodations at my place of employment until this fall. I am happy to report that my employer is now finalizing a workplace accommodations plan. You can read more here: https://lipreadingmom.com/2019/11/16/it-took-two-years-before-id-let-this-much-of-myself-show/. Blessings!