Hearing loss is one of the most common forms of sensory impairment in the western world. Based on survey work conducted by the Action On Hearing Loss charity over 9 million people in the UK have from some form of hearing loss, most commonly age-related and noise-induced hearing loss. If you are considering employing a person who is hard of hearing, you may find it helpful to understand how hearing loss occurs and how you as an employer can help your employee manage the condition on a day-by-day basis.
How does hearing loss occur?
Our ability to hear, like our ability to see and smell, relies on capturing sensory triggers that are sent to the brain to interpret. When parts of organs responsible for either capturing or translating these inputs are damaged, sensory impairment can occur. In the case of hearing loss, damage or blockage in any of three parts of the ear can result in a reduction of sensitivity and clarity to sound. Tiny hair-like sensory cells that are situated within the inner ear aid our hearing sensitivity. These cells (thousands and thousands of them) help capture information within sound and deliver them to the brain through the hearing nerve for interpretation. When they damage or die, a reduction in hearing sensitivity can occur. The extent of any resulting hearing loss varies person to person, as other factors such as genetic factors, the amount of prolonged exposure to noise and the general health of the hearing system.
How can employers help?
At this time, modern medicine cannot cure age-related or noise induced hearing loss. The effects of the hearing loss on the person’s life need to be managed through other means. These include the use of hearing aids and other amplified devices. These useful aids together with the correct approach from employers ensure that hearing loss will not become a barrier to productivity. You may find the following tips helpful:
- Ask the person who is hard of hearing how they prefer to communicate and what can you do to help. They may be hesitant to ask for help, so try to take the initiative.
- During a conversion, ensure that you are positioned in front of one another so lip reading is possible.
- Ensure that the room is well lit and where-ever possible find a meeting space with as little background noise as possible.
- Before starting to speak, ensure that you make eye contact.
- Try to keep your hands away from your face particularly when meeting around a table to allow people to see your lips and expressions.
- There is usually no need to raise your voice, in fact that is often counterproductive. When a voice is raised, speech actually becomes distorted as well it may cause facial expressions that may seem aggressive to the hard of hearing. Finally, it may lead to unwanted attention from the nearby environment
- Ensure that the employee has the necessary tools for effective communication – this may for example involve investigating whether an amplified phone or headset for their desk should be purchased.
Remember, hearing loss should not become a barrier to productivity.