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Hearing Loss in the Workplace: 2007 and Beyond – Part 1

Hearing Loss in the Workplace: 2007 and Beyond – Part 1

Presented by Mary M. Clark and Dean Olson

This is part one of two parts.

Mary Clark started this workshop by noting that she has given it before with various partners. The last time was three years ago, so she thought it was time for an update. She also noted that Teresa Burke was scheduled to participate, but was unable to attend the convention. Finally Mary mentioned that this workshop is not intended for beginners. It’s really more for people who have admitted their hearing loss and “come out of the closet” at work.

On a personal note Mary noted that she was born with severe hearing loss, and it has remained constant throughout her life. She has a sister with hearing loss and believes that having that companionship and support growing up was very significant in the development of her attitudes towards hearing loss.

Dean Olson works for a hospital in Seattle; he wears a hearing aid and a CI.

Mary stated the following goals for the workshop:

1. Learn new skills for adapting to hearing loss in the workplace

2. Recognize when to “go for it” and when to be patient

Telephone Technology

Dean noted that, where applicable, suggestions would be grouped into technological solutions and behavioral solutions, and the topics would be considered separately. He began with the discussion of telephone technology as it relates to the workplace. He noted that in the old days, the only option was one of the portable phone amplifiers. But we now have a variety of phone devices and services to consider.

Cell phones are becoming commonplace for both personal and employment use. It’s important to verify that the phone is compatible with your telecoil, if you use one. Also he finds text messaging to be a very useful feature. Bluetooth headsets can increase the utility of a cell phone by making them it easier to use.

Some people find that the use of a headset with a telephone is quite helpful, because it enables them to listen with both ears. A standard audio headset or headphones may suffice, or people may prefer to use a neckloop and their hearing aid or CI telecoil.

Some people prefer speakerphones, stating that they are better able to understand speech with a speakerphone than using the handset, even with a telecoil. But he noted that the quality of speakerphones varies a lot and it’s important to have a good one.

Perhaps the most recent innovation is the explosive growth of IP-based telephone service, which uses the Internet to communicate, rather than the traditional telephone lines. These services compress the audio signal to save bandwidth, and some people may find that they don’t hear as well on an IP phone as on a traditional phone.

Behavioral tips for using the telephone include:

– use the telephone when your energy level is high

– take some down time to recover after a lengthy telephone call or session

– negotiate job tasks to minimize your use of the telephone

– use email or IM rather than the phone whenever possible

– get good equipment


In the old days meetings were face to face and used a minimum of technology. Today we have distance meetings, the heavy use of projectors, darkened rooms, speakerphones and conference calls.

Technical solutions for making meetings more accessible include:


– remote CART

– FM and other assistive systems

Mary then discussed behavioral solutions for making meetings more accessible. She suggested several options.

One is a “Lights on” policy. People may want to turn the lights down to make their PowerPoint presentations more visible, but low lighting is disaster for those who are trying to lipread. Convincing people to leave the lights on can make meetings much more accessible.

Another good policy is to be careful with the agenda and minutes. Having an accurate agenda before the meeting is very helpful, because knowing the topic is a huge help when trying to piece together the pieces of conversation that we sometimes hear. Also accurate and timely minutes help fill in anything that might have been missed and serve as good preparation for the next meeting.

Have a buddy who is aware of your hearing loss and willing to help. If you miss a topic change or a particular piece of information, your buddy can bail you out!

Request face-to-face meetings and encourage people to attend them. One of the unfortunate effects of teleconferencing is that people in the same building may just call in rather than walk down the hall to the meeting. For a person with hearing loss, a person in the room is much easier to understand than one on the phone. One way to enforce an “in the room” policy is to not publish the call-in number locally.

If the meeting table is rectangular it’s generally best to sit at one end of the table, because you can see everyone in the same field of vision. Even if you’re not a good lipreader, body language and visual cues are very helpful.

Coach people to facilitate the best participation. If you have a good relationship with the participants and have established good communications protocols, you might bring scrunchies to the meeting to throw at those who violate the protocols (as a good-natured reminder šŸ˜‰ Mary noted that if someone seated next to her is speaking with their hand near their mouth, she’ll actually reach over and move the hand! And she now has other people at the meeting doing that!

Here’s Part Two