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10 Ways to Manage Hearing Loss at Work

Strategies, tips and the right technology to make your workday efficient and audible

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    Hear and Be Heard at Work

    En español | When you have hearing loss, navigating the workplace can be tough. But with the right technology and the right attitude, you can ease the burden substantially. Follow these tips to help yourself thrive on the job.

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    Know Your Rights

    The Americans with Disabilities Act requires your employer to provide reasonable accommodations for all employees with hearing loss. Whether you need, say, a sign language interpreter or simply a seat in the front row to follow training courses, all you have to do is ask. Barring special circumstances, your employer must furnish what you need to do your job — and that will benefit both of you.

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    Assert Yourself

    Be positive, polite and forthright when you tell your employer and your coworkers what you need to facilitate communication, says UCLA audiologist Alison Grimes. When starting a conversation, say, “I really want to hear what you say. So can you face me and speak a bit more slowly?” If you’re shy or self-conscious about your hearing loss, practice being assertive with a friend or a sympathetic coworker.

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    Be Prepared

    This goes for everyone, but it’s even more important when you have trouble hearing. Before a meeting, request a written agenda so that you can review what will be covered. This will make it much easier to follow the discussion, says University of Arkansas audiologist Samuel Atcherson. Also, make sure to ask for minutes of the meeting (or ask your employer to arrange for a notetaker prior to the meeting) to be certain you didn't miss a thing.

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    Seek Accommodations

    Make group discussions easier to follow by asking that they be held at a round table. That way you can see everyone as they talk, which is crucial if you have trouble hearing. Also, ask the meeting leader to remind everyone to talk in turn and to corral the conversation if everyone starts speaking at once. Finally, be sure to point the directional mike in your hearing aids, implants or other device right at the speaker.

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    Take Advantage of Tech

    Larger groups can be trickier, but there’s plenty of technology designed to help. Request that your company install a loop system in meeting rooms; this uses wireless technology and magnetic signals to transmit sound from the speaker’s microphone to a wire that encircles the room. Your hearing aids or cochlear implants can then pick up sound no matter where you sit. FM systems, which use radio frequencies, are also helpful.

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    Get It Write

    Ask your employer to invest in tech that translates spoken words to readable text. Computer Assisted Real Time Transcription (CART) projects words onto a large screen or your laptop as they’re spoken — ideal for meetings. Portable devices like the UbiDuo 2 allow you and a coworker to type to each other face-to-face. And video-captioned telephones put your callers on-screen so that you can see them speak as well as read their words.

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    Don’t Pretend

    Understanding your coworkers may not always be easy, but do make the effort, rather than smiling and nodding along to a conversation you can’t follow, says Grimes. That will only lead to trouble, so instead, politely stop the conversation and ask the speaker to rephrase what was said. Also, when possible, move the discussion to a quieter room. Finally, consider switching to email or text message whenever practical.

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    Be an Educator

    Your coworkers really do want to know the best ways to communicate with you, says Oregon Health and Science University hearing specialist Timothy Hullar, M.D. Suggest that they tap you on the shoulder or otherwise get your attention before they speak. Tell them you can read lips more easily if their face is well lit. And, if necessary, politely request a text message or email if circumstances would make that easier. “Help them help you,” Hullar adds.            

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    Revisit Hearing Aids

    If you last tried hearing aids five or 10 years ago and found them lacking, you’ll be surprised at how advanced they’ve become — and how much smaller many are. Directional mikes block surrounding noise, allowing you to focus on who’s in front of you. Adjustable channels, which can be programmed for different circumstances, amplify certain sounds and reduce others. And you can sync and control your aids with your smartphone via Bluetooth.            

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    Get Comfortable

    Sounds in the workplace can be more than just background noise — they can be uncomfortable distractions. If you sit near the photocopier, for example, ask to be moved. Also, negotiate nonessential duties so that you are not asked to perform tasks for which you are ill-suited, such as filling in on the busy and noisy reception desk. Tell your boss you want to pull your weight, and work out alternative duties.

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