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Hearing Loss and the Workplace – Part One

Hearing Loss and the Workplace – Part One

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Syndrome

Editor: Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH) recently held their national convention in St. Paul, MN. I was unable to attend, but all indications are that it was a wonderfully successful event! Cheryl Heppner of Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC) was in attendance. She did her usual excellent job of recording the proceedings. She also graciously encourages us to share the fruits of her labor (with appropriate credit, of course). Here’s the first of Cheryl’s reports on the SHHH convention.

BTW, if any of you were in attendance and would like to share your impressions of workshops or the conference generally, please let me know.


This workshop had a great deal of interaction with the audience sharing their experiences and ideas. Dr. Carren Stika of the Rehabilitation Research & Training Center in San Diego and Brenda Battat, Deputy Director of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, were the presenters.


– Very little is known about the implications of hearing loss for hard of hearing people, other than some reports on psychosocial implications.

– Even less is known about employment and the lives of workers who are hard of hearing.

– The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center in San Diego has been studying employment with the assistance of SHHH.

– Most hard of hearing workers reported hearing loss had an impact in the workplace.

– Most did not feel openly discriminated against, but felt that employers and coworkers questioned their capability.

– This questioning of their abilities led to stress, feelings of incompetence, and diminished self esteem.

– Part of the problem is that hard of hearing people themselves do not understand their hearing loss.

– The feelings of incompetence sometimes resulted in hard of hearing persons stepping down from a higher position or retiring early.

– A 1991 study showed workers with hearing loss often refrained from taking advantage of promotion opportunities as a way of coping and avoiding demanding communication situations.

– In a pilot study, over 72% of people said hearing loss makes them feel stressed at work and half said it prevented them from getting the job of their choice.

– When asked “have you told your employers and coworkers you have a hearing loss?” they were disturbed to find most said no, because these were SHHH members who tend to be more informed and aware. Most people also reported that they did not ask for accommodations. The reason? People feared stigmatization or did not want to be seen as different or deficient.

– If you don’t tell your employers and coworkers about your hearing loss or try to hide it, it will lead to further problems, because you will miss or misunderstand things. People may also think you are not paying attention, stuck up, rude, or don’t care.

– Often employers have good intentions but do no know how to help.

– Carren and Marcia Finisdore had a booth at two Employee Assistance Program conferences. They asked counselors what they did to help hard of hearing people with employment problems. Most said they provided interpreters. Ninety percent said that they had contact with a hard of hearing person who came to them for assistance in the last 5 years. Yet 98% felt they did not have the information or skills to help these people.

– Brenda was planning to work with the Employee Assistance Program professionals for the federal government. She had a seminar all set up for hard of hearing employees, but had to cancel it because not enough people registered.

– People said that hearing loss prevented them from building social skills that made them part of the gang, and they were sometimes seen as aloof because they couldn’t make “small talk.”

– In questioning audiologists, they found that most don’t discuss adjustments at work, and most people with later-onset hearing loss don’t go to vocational rehabilitation agencies for help.


– Comment: It’s difficult to participate in team exercises in a corporation because with hearing loss, it takes time to put together what others are saying and respond.

– Question: Is there any research showing whether more people with hearing loss are blue collar workers?

Answer (Brenda Battat): No, only a study that showed less people with hearing loss were in managerial positions.

Part Two