Hearing Loss in the Working Environment

Deaf sign

This blog was written by Denise Watson (bio below).

When we come across a new situation for the first time, that ‘I can’t cope with this’ feeling often etches its way into our thoughts.  Look no further than moving from the ordinary mobile phone which offers only calls and texts to the higher and more advanced models, which do everything imaginable.  That is, once you know how to.

And so it is with handling hearing loss and deafness.  If you’ve never tried to communicate with a person with hearing loss, how do you rate your chances of making successful communication?

Well, to start off, while there are as many as nine million in the United Kingdom with some degree of hearing loss, a big portion of that number relates to old age and only a small number relates to sign language users.  It’s fair to say that each person with a hearing loss is very individual and so, in the employment field, we may work alongside someone who simply needs you to speak a little louder, through someone who needs to read your lips and on to someone who uses sign language, in our normal day-to-day work activities.

While many jobs may not need perfect hearing for them to be performed to a high standard (e.g. computer work, warehouse positions, modelling and gardening), most jobs will need regular communication for meetings, appraisals and other employment-related get-togethers.  So what does your employee need, what does he or she already have and, lastly, what could enhance the work environment, not only for the person with a hearing loss but for all that person’s close colleagues?  The easiest way to get this information is to ask the person with the hearing loss, as they will know exactly what will help or hinder.

The person who uses a hearing aid may benefit from a loop system being installed in the room in which they work, or in a room where meetings take place.  Consisting of a microphone, an amplifier and a cable, this simple device is pinned, at about waist height, along the whole perimeter of the room space, both ends coming to meet in a small box which simply sits on a table.  Switch on the loop system and, once the person switches their hearing aids on to ‘T (which stands for tele coil)’ via a little switch on the hearing aid itself, standing within the confines of loop of cable that has been created will allow the hearing-aid user to hear only the sounds within that room itself.

Depending on the type or severity of hearing loss, the person may also be relying on reading lips and there are certain rules which can be applied to make reading lips easier: 

  • When speaking, keep your head still and make sure the lipreader can see your face at all times.
  • Make sure there is plenty of light in the room and also that that light is not shining into the lipreader’s eyes.  Ideally, the light should be coming from behind the lipreader, lighting up the conversation for easier reading.
  • Refrain from chewing a pencil, chewing gum, or anything else, when speaking, as such an action distorts the word shapes somewhat and makes it difficult for the lipreader to hold on to the flow of the whole conversation.
  • Speak at a normal volume and pace, as stretching words and shouting do not help the lipreader, who is gaining information via the context of the conversation and its whole sentences.
  • Allow only one person to speak at a time.  For the person with little hearing, this point can be a great hindrance, as the lipreader can only read one person’s lips at a time and may miss out on important pieces of the complete communication.

For long meetings, an employer could hire the services of a professional lipspeaker, someone who is trained to address all of the points mentioned and who, with other skills at his or her disposal, can help clarify some of the words spoken by the simplest of head orientation or facial expression, whilst also indicating the direction from which each speaker’s voice is coming.

As already stated, sign language is a whole language and hiring a sign language interpreter / communicator will work in the same manner as a lipspeaker, providing the profoundly deaf employee with the same full communication received by everyone else present.

Whatever method suits the employee with hearing loss, the feeling of ‘I can’t cope with this new learning’ felt by those working alongside the person with hearing loss will soon wear off, with positive effects felt all round.

Lastly, but equally as important, while reading lips or reading signs, the employee with hearing loss will not be able to take notes at the same time, so think about having someone dedicated to the task of providing such a record in team meetings.  This could be simply a member of staff who is recording the same information for him- or herself, or someone who has been asked to sit in on a meeting (confidentiality recognised and applied), to provide information solely for the individual with hearing loss.

While information about lipspeakers and sign language interpreters / communicators can be found via your local social services department, a supportive employer may also consider sending one or two members of staff to learn the basics of communication support, making the working environment feel natural to everyone, at all times.  And, in a noisy working environment, where hearing protection is donned by all workers, who knows who could benefit from such training?

Denise Watson

BIO:

Originally from the north-east area of England, Denise Watson now lives in North-West Spain, where she draws information from her years of employment in the fields of health and disability, to provide articles which give meaning to others’ lack of understanding of everyday health issues and disabilities.  When not writing, she falls into the nearby trade of editing and proofreading.  She can be contacted at denise-watson1@hotmail.com

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