If you find hearing loss is affecting your job performance or preventing you from finding employment, see if you qualify for vocational rehabilitation. Qualified individuals may be eligible to receive free or reduced-cost hearing aids and other employment training services related to hearing impairment.
Vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs are funded by federal and private sources and provided through workers’ compensation programs, private insurance, and other state programs. Additionally, the Department of Veteran’s Administration (VA) provides similar services for qualified veterans and their dependents.
Private medical insurance typically doesn’t cover costs associated with a hearing evaluation or hearing aids; however, VR programs can help with these costs if the individual needs them in order to perform their job responsibilities. Some states require proof of financial need and pro-rate the contribution required from the client accordingly.
In order to become eligible for VR, individuals must first provide documentation of their disability, verify that their disability interferes with their ability to work, then provide a determination that VR services will improve their ability to function on the job or – in the case of an unemployed individual -- lead to employment.
Hearing impaired individuals often qualify for VR programs because communication is an important element of many jobs. Daily communication responsibilities such as face-to-face and phone conversations, staff meetings and training sessions can be affected by hearing loss.
Employees who travel frequently can be affected if their impairment prevents them from hearing gate changes or other related announcements in airports and train terminals. Those with jobs requiring long periods of standing or balance-related activities may be affected by a hearing impairment which causes vertigo.
Individuals applying for vocational rehabilitation benefits are assigned a counselor and must complete an Eligibility Assessment and Vocational Needs Assessment. This counselor works to determine whether or not their client meets eligibility criteria and sets outcome goals along with the services required to achieve them.
Since both assessments rely on information provided on the hearing evaluation, it’s important to see a qualified audiologist who is familiar with the VR programs available in your state. In addition to administering the hearing evaluation, the audiologist can help the counselor assess the specific job-related impact of your hearing loss as well as recommend the best way to address your disability as it relates to job performance.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provided employment training services for the deaf and hearing impaired; however, many Americans with hearing loss fail to take advantage of these services. When they do, statistics indicate individuals with hearing loss typically move through the VR process more quickly than other disability groups and at the least cost.
Each state monitors its own VR programs.
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