Hearing loss impacts a large percentage of the workforce. It’s simply a numbers game. Consider that one in eight Americans over the age of 12 have demonstrated a hearing loss in both ears. That’s 30 million people. The odds increase as we focus on older workers. One in three people over the age of 65 has hearing loss.
In 2019, more than 20% of Americans over 65 years of age were either working or looking for work. These huge numbers of older Americans in the workforce are the highest in 57 years — and there is no reason to suspect that the trend will decrease. We can assume as the Boomer generation continues to age, a large percentage of older people will remain working well into their senior years.
Attitudes toward hearing loss at work
Some people with hearing loss live in anxiety that their condition carries a stigma with their co-workers and bosses. In a 2021 survey conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 37% of respondents noted that they were concerned that their hearing difficulties could impact their employment. 44% were worried that their hearing loss would reduce their effectiveness at work.
Remember that the odds are you are not the only person in your workplace who deals with hearing loss. Speaking up for yourself and asking for your employer to work with you to find solutions may empower your colleagues to do the same. In the end, we will all benefit from seeing one another’s vulnerabilities and working together to find win-win solutions.
Surviving meetings with hearing loss
Without fail, one of the more challenging workplace environments for people with hearing loss is their experiences during meetings. When so many people are present, it can be difficult to break the flow of conversation and ask someone to repeat themselves. It’s not just a difficulty for people with hearing loss, people with healthy hearing sometimes struggle, too.
There’s an entire meme about ‘this meeting could have been an email.’ Use that sentiment to your advantage and see if smaller, one-on-one meetings could be turned into written communication.
Larger meetings can be tricky because seating arrangements rarely let you look directly at everyone speaking, plus conference rooms tend to be large, echo-y chambers. If you missed a point from a colleague, you might stop by that person’s office later and ask for the cliff’s notes. You can also arrive early to get a seat at the center of the table, where you are more likely to have a better listening environment.
Embrace video conferencing
Zoom meetings are great for people with hearing loss. They often spotlight the person speaking so that you can see facial expressions and watch the movements of the speaker’s mouth. And, you can adjust your volume, too! Some video conferencing apps either have a closed captioning option on their own or allow for a third-party auto-closed captioning software to integrate. Inquire with your workplace if that is an option for your team and look into enabling closed captions on all of your Zoom meetings.
Using hearing aids in the workplace
About one-third of people with hearing loss wear hearing aids. As the current generation ages within the workforce, and in light of the advancements made in hearing aid technology, we can expect that number to increase.
If you’ve been on the fence about hearing aids, but think they might come in handy in your professional life, then take the leap. The vast majority of people who invest in hearing aids are pleased with their purchase and would recommend them to a friend.
Know your rights
Your employer is mandated by federal law to make reasonable accommodations for your hearing loss. When the American Disability Act was signed into law in 1990, it also ensured that people with disabilities in the United States would not face employment discrimination. If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your hearing loss, you are well within your rights to pursue further action. Visit ada.gov for more information.
In terms of what ‘reasonable requests,’ you can make of your employer, they can be large in scale, like installing a hearing loop in the conference room, to fairly minimal, like asking to be sat in the front row of large meetings and trainings. If your workplace holds conferences you are required to attend, you can request that they be held in venues that have hearing assistive devices or technology in place so that your hearing loss is accommodated. While it can be difficult to advocate for yourself, the payoff can be enormous!