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?