Monday, July 11, 2011

How to deal with hearing loss on the job

One of the workshops that I went to during the HLAA convention last month was called, "The Art of Telling: How to Tell Your Date/Boss/Friend That You Have Hearing Loss." The gist of the presentation was that it's important to not shy away from revealing your hearing loss because it helps you facilitate communication, which is foundational to any relationship.

When I have more time, I hope to blog more about this particular workshop because it was fantastic, but for now, I wanted to talk about how to deal with your hearing loss at work. The speaker made some excellent points, including:

1) Those of us with hearing loss should focus on our assets rather than be distracted by what we can't do.
2) If we are comfortable with our hearing loss, others will be comfortable with it as well.
3) It's our responsibility to tell our employers what we need in the workplace.

Here's what that means in my head:

1) When you're in an interview, never portray your hearing loss in negative terms. Don't give any indication that it will hold your back or hinder your ability to do your job well. Your hearing loss will only limit you if you let it. While it's true that your hearing loss may make you unavailable for certain types of jobs (for instance, I will probably never be a receptionist because that's just too much with the phones or a server in a restaurant because I would not be able to hear everyone's orders in a bustling environment), there are so many more that you are well-equipped for. If you're organized or detail-oriented or have an aptitude for technology, say so. If you need to work on your time-management skills or find it difficult to relate to customers, tell your prospective employer that you're working on them. Focus on your job-related strengths and be honest about your weaknesses - but just know that hearing loss is not one of those weaknesses! If you think your hearing loss will be a problem on the job, your prospective employer will think so, too... and probably won't make an offer.

2) When I was interviewing for my current position, I had a phone interview with the manager of the department. I was using a CapTel phone and, for those not familiar with the technology, there is a two or three second delay while the captions catch up. Because of that, I made the decision to tell the manager about my hearing loss and explain briefly how the phone worked. Then I moved on with the conversation. It was important to me that I was honest with him about who I was so that there were no surprises when we met in person. I didn't spend too much time on the subject of hearing loss because I wanted to show him that it would not affect my success on the job and I wanted to have plenty of time to share about my time on the campus newspaper, my English degree and the leadership roles I'd taken on in college, things that had far more to do with the position than what kind of phone I was going to need to do the job. I didn't make my hearing loss an issue and as a result, neither did they.

3) Generally speaking, if you need any kind of accommodations on the job, it's your responsibility to identify what you need in order to do your job well and then ask for it. I don't remember if my needing a Captel phone came up in my interview or not, but it was a point of discussion within the first few days of working there. I had to explain how the CapTel was different than a TTY and why a CapTel was a better fit, not just for me, but for the position (in this case, my clients needed to be able to call me directly so a TTY was not a viable option). Employers need to be educated about hearing loss just like anyone else. Be patient, explain (nicely!) what you need  and work with them to find solutions. Advocating for yourself at work by knowing what kind of accommodations you need and asking nicely for them will also help fulfill the other two points - it will show your boss(es) and co-workers that you are comfortable with your hearing loss and that you're not allowing it to deter you from doing your job well.

What else would you add? What issues come up when you're looking for a job? How do you deal with hearing loss in the workplace after you've landed the job?

1 comment:

  1. I am glad your employer is so cooperative!

    I cannot actually speak about the whole accommodation issue right now (I am in the middle of a violations case), but one thing I'd definitely recommend is that people with hearing loss take the first step in explaining what they can/cannot do in terms of the job.

    I find that there may be many misconceptions (especially if you are able to "get by" communicating with lipreading/speech etc). And many people are hesistant to ask for fear of seeming rude. It's wonderful when communication is open and people feel comfortable asking what works best for you!