Whether you’ve been hard of hearing all your life or are adjusting to life as a late-deafened adult, navigating the workforce with hearing loss can be a challenge. How can you manage job interviews, communication challenges on the job, and determine appropriate accommodations?
GET THE JOB
There is much debate about whether or not to disclose your hearing loss when applying for a job. For some people, it’s not really an option — your hearing devices are visible, or your communication needs are such that your hearing loss is apparent. For others, disclosing hearing loss may be “optional.” However, it is my opinion that it is in your best interest to discuss your hearing loss upfront with potential employers. Why? Because then you control the conversation and set the tone with your attitude toward hearing loss and how you will manage it on the job. Remember, the best defense (against incorrect assumptions about hearing loss) is a good offense (being proactive). This doesn’t mean you have to stamp “DEAF” in big red letters across the top of your application, but think about good self-advocacy strategies you can use to present yourself (and your hearing loss) in the most positive light:
If you have difficulty speaking on the phone, indicate your preferred contact method (email) on the job application. Remember, if email is going to be your primary form of communication with your potential employers, it’s important to use good grammar, punctuation, and spelling in your electronic communication, just as you would speak formally over the phone. Avoid slang and use your spellcheck!
Make your needs known without making the hearing loss seem scary (remember, we know it’s not, but many employers have limited experience with people who are deaf/hard of hearing). For example, “I sometimes have difficulty using the phone, but moving to a quiet area to make calls and using the telecoil setting on my hearing aids usually makes things clear,” “I have hearing loss and sometimes rely on lipreading to help me understand. Would you mind moving away from the window so there’s not as much glare on your face?” or “It would be helpful for me to have a written agenda for staff meetings so I don’t miss any important information.”
Know your responses to common concerns. Maybe your employer is worried about how you will understand customers, or hearing instructions, or perform other essential duties of the job. Think through what the job requires before the interview, and brainstorm your answers. How can you show that you are just as capable of performing this job with the right accommodations?
ON THE JOB
Once you’re on the job, think about ways to help yourself be a success. This could include adaptive equipment, communication partner training, or other strategies to help you become the best employee you can be.
Adaptive telephones can be a lifesaver for people who work in positions that require a lot of telephone communication. You have several options, including Innocaption (captioning for smart phone calls), CapTel (a captioned landline phone), or telephones with extra amplification capabilities.
Read up on strategies to help you navigate difficult listening situations, like team meetings or noisy offices.
Make your needs known and do some basic “communication partner training.” If people don’t know to face you when they speak, speak slowly and clearly, or to get your attention before beginning a conversation, they may mistakenly think you’re spacey or rude.
Hearing and understanding during meetings can be a challenge. Make sure to position yourself well (best ear toward the speaker), and use adaptive devices and strategies if necessary: FM or soundfield systems, get a written agenda, have a colleague sit next to you and take notes, request CART services, or use the remote microphone and streaming capabilities offered by many cochlear implant and hearing aid brands.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlines your rights as a person with disability in many areas, including employment. According to the ADA, employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities in terms of hiring (as long as the PWD is equally capable of doing the job) and are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” at no cost to you, the employee. HERE is a great fact sheet that outlines the law and includes some frequently asked questions about disabilities in the workplace.
JAN, the Job Accommodations Network, is another helpful resource that can help you navigate the world of “reasonable accommodations” as outlined in the ADA. JAN provides free, confidential technical assistance on matters related to ADA accommodations, and you can contact them by phone, TTY, email, or live chat with a representative on their website.
People with disabilities may be eligible for state-administered Vocational Rehabilitation programs, which assist with job training, placement, and mentoring.