Personal tools

Interested in disability history? Check out what happened Today in AT History!

Employees with hearing impairments

From ATWiki

Jump to: navigation, search

Deafness and Hearing Impairment

"Hearing impairment" or "deafness"? Which term to use is not as important as understanding more about this prevalent, often unseen disability. According to the National Center on Health Statistics, 4.5 million Americans already use assistive technology (AT) devices to accommodate for hearing impairments. Since these impairments are often under-reported, the number of individuals with hearing loss is certainly much higher. Whatever terms are used, the varying loss of the ability to distinguish sounds usually results in some loss of the ability to hear and speak, thus, often effecting overall communication.

It is important that communication with coworkers and supervisors be addressed as one aspect of a job accommodation. The needs of persons with deafness or hearing loss are wide-ranging, and preferred communication strategies and accommodation options vary significantly. For people with some functional hearing, assistive listening devices, such as hearing aids, which typically amplify the intensity of sound, are one of the oldest and most familiar types of AT. New developments have improved the performance of hearing aids and also have introduced alternatives such as cochlear implants that can improve hearing for some individuals. One of the problems that I have encountered when working with persons with hearing loss is simply forgetting to ask whether everyone can "hear" what is being said. A very nice woman in South Carolina, Ms. Nettie Allen, would often take me to task when I would periodically forget to use a closed loop or infrared hearing system to help her participate more fully in meetings. Her perseverance and patience, and that of many others like her, have helped raise the awareness of many rehabilitation professionals, employers and the general public. When the closed-loop system was provided, she was able to fully participate in all discussions. For people with more profound hearing loss, signing can work quite well with other persons who know sign language. This can be less effective, however, in general work settings where not everyone will have these skills. Sign language interpreter services can be very effective, but due to their expense, these services are usually provided only through special arrangements at meetings, conferences and special events.

Some examples of other accommodation options include:

  • Simple accommodations to make it easier for someone who reads lips have face-to-face contact (i.e., seating with a swivel base, arrangement of desks and work areas).
  • TTY/TDD devices, volume amplification aids, or telephones with text messaging to make telecommunications accessible.
  • The Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS), now available in all states, to make it possible for TTY users to communicate with almost anyone.
  • Vibrating pagers with text messaging.
  • Signaling devices to alert someone to alarms.
  • Safety devices such as ear protection to avoid further loss of hearing. (Ear protection has become a standard safety device for all workers in many work settings.)
  • Reducing background noise so that a person who uses an assistive listening device can focus better on conversations.
  • Web-based captioning to help make audio-conference meetings and training sessions accessible to people with hearing impairments as well as to persons with speech impairments or learning disabilities involving auditory processing.

For persons with hearing loss, accommodations in the workplace at first appear simple and relatively straightforward; however this often is not the case. Many individuals try to apply the technology (such as hearing aids) or strategies (such as lip reading) that they use in their personal lives to conduct conversations, and hope that this will be effective in work settings. Due to the number of essential work functions and changing conditions in most work settings, the techniques that work well with family members at home may not work effectively in the work setting. Accommodation efforts that only look at the individual and focus on selecting the "appropriate" assistive listening device will often fail to take into account environmental factors, cultural and interpersonal considerations. Consumer involvement in decisions to select strategies and devices is very important. These factors will very likely determine whether the accommodation is successful, especially considering the hidden nature of hearing impairments. Awareness and sensitivity training for supervisors and coworkers, regarding deafness and hearing impairment is also recommended. Depending on the individual’s preference on disclosing disability information to others, this type of training can often help to overcome many of the oversights that frequently effect acceptance and feeling part of the workplace.

For more information on deafness and hearing impairment:

This personal website, created by an individual with a profound hearing loss, provides answers to common questions about hearing impairments and describes the AT and strategies that he uses.

Author: Tony Langton
Affiliation: Originally published in the April 2002 TC Direct Newsletter for the NIDRR-funded Tech Connections project.