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Hearing Loss Issue at Work

Hearing Loss Issue at Work

Editor: Several years ago I started an email list to discuss workplace issues related to hearing loss. Exchanges are a bit sporadic, but we have had many wonderful discussions on employment issues. (To join the group, send an email to:

Here are two emails from a recent exchange. Shirley (Blondieeng@aol.com) describes a recent situation at her work, and Randy Collins (Randy.Collins@NAU.EDU) provides a thoughtful response. As always, your thoughts on this article are encouraged. Send them to larry@hearinglossweb.com


October 2004

Shirley’s situation:

I am still plugging away at my job. I’m currently on a temporary assignment because my manager yanked me from a perfectly good working relationship to put me with two people who turned out very toxic towards me.

Putting a regular employee with a contractor, then demanding the contractor “train” the regular employee was nothing but a recipe for disaster. After carefully documenting the details leading up to a horrible Sunday afternoon (we’re working six days a week) sent the note off to my manager who then shipped me off to a NEW group within an hour of receiving the facts.

One fact was my SideKick pager was a “distraction” and was asked to leave it behind in my desk as I worked in the lab.

EXC– USE ME?!!!!

I have a Deaf housemate and she communicates with me via the pager. It was VERY tempting to request that all telephones be removed from the lab because those communication devices are also a large distraction (and one I cannot use).

The reason for this request was the contractor complained he was making an important point to me when I consulted my pager.


He was playing Fantasy Football online but apparently got upset when he couldn’t see what I was doing but I could see his misdoings online while we were supposed to be working.

The list went on but not having access to MY pager is what pissed me off the most. My manager knew he crossed the line on that issue. In fact, he did not have the courage to make that request formally. He made the email to me but didn’t send it. Rather, he printed the note and handed it to me.

HR now has a copy of the note.

You can bet if I have further problems regarding my communication device I’ll fight them all and win. My careful use of MY device will not stand in the way of a good job being completed, or an employee who is out to get me win any battles against me.

Randy’s response:

I am beyond swamped but I haven’t posted here in a while and I miss it. Work can wait for a minute or two. Good to hear from you. Like everyone else here who read your post my blood is boiling. Don’t get me started on the two sets of telecommunication rules for the world:
1. Rules for people who hear.
2. Rules for everybody else.

Telecommunications rules must be equal. No Sidekicks or text pagers aloud? Then no cell phones and rip those desk phones out of the wall! Make it equal, that’s all I want.

Not always but there are times when I honestly believe these issues of control are actually an attempt to show hoh people their place. Dr. Harlan Lane in Mask of Benevolence wrote about the unspoken social contract between people with disabilities and TABS (temporarily able-bodied – no offense intended to the able bodied among you – and “temporarily” because sooner or later all of us develop a disability). Lane said that the social contract is that TABS (in general terms) will agree not to treat people with disabilities like prostitutes, drug addicts, or thugs and in return disabled people will act needy and accept help and direction – agree to perpetuate paternalism.

If the description of the social contract makes anyone uncomfortable you are not alone. When I first read Mask of Benevolence it was like riding an emotional roller coaster from hell. There were violent twists and turns of emotion. Lane received a lot of feedback about that book and you can imagine it wasn’t all pleasant. I’ve read the book 4 times and have referred to it often because it makes me think. I didn’t like the idea of a social contract, and I damn sure don’t like paternalism. The description didn’t fit my self-image and still doesn’t. By the same token I have many hearing friends and some in the profession who are simply fantastic. They handle my hearing loss exactly the way handle my balding scalp, it’s just another facet of what makes me unique. So Lane’s description doesn’t apply to a number of hearing people I know. But you know what, it does apply to TABS and people with disabilities in general.

It is unfortunate but not uncommon for us to experience people who don’t appreciate it one bit when someone like you Shirley voids the social contract by daring to act independently. Heaven forbid fair lady; you went so far as to view yourself as an equal, or more. <shocked> LOL! No doubt your fantasy football playing antagonist felt that it was his duty to call your social responsibilities to your attention. We know this because he chose your Sidekick as the manifestation of your hearing loss to remind you of your position within the social contract. “You are disabled, you have an assigned place in the world, you have stepped over the line.”

Those people bring out the worst in me. But bravo for Shirley, that social contract is changing and people are getting the message. People with disabilities do have a place in this world and that place is anywhere we want it to be. Hard of hearing people have always been equal; technology has now removed the reason for any doubt.

Good going Shirley. That was a great story and one to remember. I’m glad things are better now. We all need to hear those stories once in a while. I like the ones with happy endings.