Hearing Loss in the Workplace: It's All in a Day's Work
With the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, unemployment in the United States is skyrocketing. So it is understandable that the competition for the jobs that do exist is fierce.
Let’s say you are looking for work and are confident that you have all the required qualifications. But there is one glitch – you have hearing loss. How do you optimize your chances of getting the job you want despite what some employers still perceive – erroneously of course - as a disability?
From the interviewing process (can you hear and respond to the questions in a clear and confident manner?) to the actual employment (are you able to listen to and follow all the instructions?), challenges abound, but, thankfully, help is available to maximize your chances of landing that job.
Listen to this…
Good listening skills are crucial for any employee. As a matter of fact, 73 percent of employers surveyed by ACT, a leading college and workforce planning organization, ranked listening among "extremely important" job skills.
Of course, if you are one of approximately 31.5 million Americans who have hearing loss, you can’t lend an ear to what your boss is saying, especially if your hearing loss has been left untreated. That is why it is very important that you do what you must to treat this condition.
"Treating hearing loss early is no longer an option. It is a career imperative," says Dr. Sergei Kochkin, executive director of the Better Hearing Institute (BHI). "Great workplace communication is critical to both job performance and to getting a job. Great communication starts with great listening. And great listening starts with the ability to hear."
The message here is simple: if you haven’t yet considered getting hearing aids, now is the time to visit a licensed hearing professional. Not only will you increase your chances of getting and keeping a job, but your overall quality of life will improve as well.
Before going in for a job interview, consider the following to ensure you are prepared not only for the interview but your new job:
- If you suspect you have hearing loss (see signs of hearing loss), make an appointment with a hearing professional (audiologist or licensed hearing aid dispenser) to have your hearing tested.
- If you have a hearing loss that can be treated with hearing aids -- and according to BHI, 95 percent of hearing losses can be improved with hearing aids – consider purchasing them. Although a significant investment up front, they will prove to be a worthy investment by changing your life.
- Begin wearing your hearing aids immediately according to your hearing professional’s instructions. The sooner you are wearing them full time, the more comfortable you will be with them. And most importantly, you will begin seeing what a difference they make.
- Work closely with your hearing professional by scheduling follow-up visits to ensure the most optimal and successful fitting is achieved.
More help thanks to HLAA
Still not sure how to navigate the work market where you have to compete with the hearing (and possibly much younger) job seekers?
A good resource is the Hearing Loss Association of America’s (HLAA) Employment Toolkit, which lists valuable tips for persons with hearing loss seeking a job and those who have already landed a job.
Among the information included in the Toolkit is advice on tackling workplace challenges such as communication with bosses and co-workers, as well as special devices you may need that are guaranteed to you under the law (see below).
“There are ways to be successful at the workplace with a hearing loss,” the HLAA says. “But you need the right tools, do your homework, find out what’s right for you and for your employer, and find ways to successfully advocate for yourself.”
However, to be pro-active in the workplace, you first must know what your legal rights are.
Laying down the law
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as its amended version, ADAAA, a person with hearing loss – provided he or she is qualified for the open position – can’t be discriminated against by an employer. Under this law, disability is interpreted as an impairment that “substantially limits a major life activity.” Difficulty communicating – which applies to many people with hearing loss – falls under this category.
This is the federal law, and most states also have separate legislation safeguarding people with disabilities – including severe hearing loss. Go to your state’s website to see what regulations are in effect.
As HLAA points out, there is also additional legislation on the books aimed at protecting people with hearing loss from workplace discrimination. Among them are Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Telecommunications Act, and Section 508.
The Job Accommodation Network, a service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is a good resource for information about the current laws.
To sum up…
Remember: your hearing loss should not be a stumbling block on your career path. There are many laws that protect your from discrimination and you should take time to acquaint yourself with all of them. After all, knowledge is power.
However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that most cases of hearing loss are treatable. Hearing aids will make your entry (or re-entry) into the workplace so much easier.
And treating your hearing loss may just earn you a few extra dollars, In a 2005 study titled "The Impact of Untreated Hearing Loss on Household Income" by the BHI, it was shown that untreated hearing loss results in a loss of income per household of up to $12,000 per year, depending on degree of hearing loss.
The support is there. Now it is up to you to make the change.