Standalone Accessible Element

Hearing Loss

International Symbol for Deafness

For employees with a hearing impairment, the presence of sound in the workplace can be a daily challenge and a source of frustration. Wherever you work, and whatever your role, there is a strong chance that you are routinely bombarded by noise from a variety of different sources. Telephones ringing, printers whirring, music playing on the shop floor or the constant hum of colleagues talking in an open-plan office, the world of work is full of sound.

Around 1% of employees experience deafness, ringing in the ears or other ear conditions caused by excessive noise at work.

It is estimated that around 1.5% of the population are severely or profoundly deaf, but this is a small proportion of the circa 17% of people with some form of hearing loss – around 12% of the workforce.

There are no exact figures on the numbers of people who use sign language to communicate, but the estimate is around 1 in 600 of the population.

An employee’s hearing can be impaired in many ways; there is a whole spectrum of hearing ability and there are lots of different causes of hearing loss, as well as a variety of possible implications in the workplace.

Types of hearing impairment include:

  • age-related
  • temporary or permanent
  • progressive
  • environmental factors.
  • Impacts of a hearing impairment

As hearing is not something we can “see”, it can be difficult to determine whether or not a colleague’s hearing is impaired. This can make it difficult for line managers to know who to help, and when.

In meetings, presentations, networking events or interviews, a hearing impairment could have an impact on an employee’s ability to do their job, if they are not properly supported or if the working environment is not inclusive of their needs.

There can also often be an emotional response to hearing loss, which impacts on the social and wellbeing of the employee. If you are unable to hear what colleagues are saying clearly, you might miss out on vital information needed for your role, or you might miss the latest bit of office gossip, which makes you feel isolated and excluded, having a negative impact on morale.

Reasonable accommodations

Employers are required to remove the barriers that deaf and other disabled people experience in the workplace. There are a number of different ways to ensure that an organization is accommodating the needs of deaf or hearing-impaired employees.

Benefits of technology

We are all using technology in the workplace, without really thinking about it, as part of our day-to-day communications. How much of the information you share with colleagues or clients is via the phone, email, your intranet, website, a PowerPoint presentation or a short video? The answer is, of course, nearly all of it.

Technology can work as an enabler as well as a disabler. A message from your organization’s CEO via video on your corporate intranet can be a really powerful way to communicate with your workforce, but if that video does not have subtitles or captions, you are excluding a proportion of your staff – not just limited to those with a hearing impairment but also potentially people with a different first language. Similarly, a transcript (even an auto-generated one) can assist plus, if made available afterwards, becomes a searchable record of what was said.

A variety of technologies can be used in the workplace to support employees with a hearing impairment.

There are some specialist programs available that are specifically designed to support people with hearing loss, but many of the mainstream programs and equipment that your organization already uses could also be adapted at little to no cost.

They include:

  • text messaging, and email
  • amplified sound alerts built into PCs
  • a flashing screen on a mobile device when a sound alert is triggered
  • Bluetooth to connect to hearing aids
  • captions for videos
  • Automatic captions on video conferencing platforms
  • On-demand signing services
  • video calling for signing or lip-reading
  • palantypists and stenographers – often known as captioning or transcription services
  • Dictation software.

Sometimes the most effective accommodations are made by simply utilising existing resources in a different way. For example, if important company announcements are often given over a PA system, which would be difficult or impossible for someone with a hearing impairment to hear, you could also issue the same message via email or text message.

There are also times when specialist accommodations, such as using a captioner or signer, need to be arranged. It is important that the individual employee gets the accommodation that they require, when they require it – because no two people with a hearing impairment are the same.

Lastly, individuals often prefer different terms to describe their hearing loss. Common terms used include hard of hearing and deafness. The correct use of these words is crucial as both signify different ends of the scale of hearing impairment and so it is important to ask the employee for advice on how they would like to be referred to and similarly for the employee to offer that information.

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