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Accommodating Hearing Loss in the Workplace

Accommodating Hearing Loss in the Workplace

Editor: I subscribe to about a dozen email lists related to hearing loss. I rarely post to them, but I do try to read or skim everything people post. A person on one of the lists reported that her recent hearing loss was causing communications problems at work. Trudy Zahn (zahn@primary.net) responded with a wonderful list of tips for people with hearing loss in the workplace. She has generously allowed me to share her thoughts with you.


First of all you’re not being stupid with your hearing. What you’re doing is a well-known mannerism in the Deaf culture. It’s called the “Deaf Nod”. We “Deafies” all do it at some time or another. I find myself doing it when I can’t understand a Deaf person’s signs or when I can’t understand a hearing person. It’s REALLY a big problem when you do it with people who you have an ongoing relationship with … like co-workers or bosses(hint, hint).

Here are my suggestions, but it’s important to use whatever works best for you.

1. Practice what you will say to who, and when, at home before situations occur. It will give you more courage to follow through with your plans.

2. When you find yourself “Deaf nodding” tell yourself that you are “Deaf nodding” and to stop it. It sounds crazy but it usually works for me.

3. If you haven’t already mentioned your hearing loss to your co-workers and boss, you need to find the courage to do that as soon as you can. Be as upfront as possible … say something like this … “Recently my doctor found scarring on my ear drums. It’s effected my hearing and I’m now hearing impaired” (or Deaf or Hard of Hearing or whatever … use the term you are most comfortable with)

4. Explain that your hearing loss is more of a problem in some situations than others. Tell them it’s a big problem where there is a lot of background noise, such as your office.

5. Offer people suggestions of how they can help you hear, such as … “Would you please tap me on the shoulder or bang on my desk or even wave in front of my face to get my attention before you talk to me. I don’t want to miss what you say.” Or, “I would really appreciate it if you would, etc…

6. Make it clear that if they don’t do those things then you won’t be able to hear them. NOTE *** Many people will forget the information you give because Deafness if an invisible condition. They will have to be reminded often, so be ready to repeat it over and over and over in different ways.***

7. When a situation happens and you find out you’ve already missed the first part of a conversation … stop the person immediately. Say something like, “OH, were you talking to me? I’m SO sorry! I didn’t hear you, because you didn’t get my attention first. Would you please repeat what I missed?”

8. Many people won’t repeat what you missed … don’t let that bother you, unless it effects your job somehow. It’s discrimination if it does. In that case you need to keep a journal of what happened, who saw it, who was involved the date and time AND later on what transpired because you weren’t given the information in an accommodating way. You might need that journal if you’re ever asked to account for yourself because of something you didn’t hear.

9. You will notice that some people are doing what you need or trying really hard to do what you need them to do … don’t hesitate to let those people know you appreciate their efforts. Praise them and thank them. It’s not easy for some people to tap someone on the shoulder or bang on a desk or wave in someone’s face. It goes counter to the way they were raised.

10. Re-arrange your work station so that you can see people while you are working. Or get a clip on rear-view mirror like the bike rider’s clip on their heads (you can make a joke about it being to keep an eye out for the geek patrol LOL) In other words do whatever you need to do to make it easier for you to see when people are talking to you.

11. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help of others.

12. AND Above all remember this: All you can do is adapt your environment, as best you can, inform people of your situation and tell them what you need. The rest is up to them. Good luck kiddo!