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Accessibility Advocacy ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) Assistive Listening Device Captioning CART (live captioning) Employment Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss State Agencies Workplace

Hearing Loss at Work

Requesting accommodations for hearing loss at work can be daunting. This blog post will give you some guidance.

We also recommend visiting the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) as a valuable resource. They have an Employees’ Practical Guide to Requesting and Negotiating Reasonable Accommodation Under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guideline with examples to get you started. One thing to note with hearing loss is that in some instances there isn’t a lot of room to negotiate, as we need the most effective communication access accommodation when doing our job depends on getting information right.

What are Reasonable Accommodations for Those with Hearing Loss?

Chelle: These days there are so many accommodation options for the HoH these days. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t well known to either the employer or the employee. We know this; employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations. Reasonable being the key word. What do we need to do our job successfully and what do employers view as reasonable? What do we request and where do we start? Accommodations at work can look a little different for everyone.

Messy desk with stacks of notebooks and books. Computer monitor faces away from the door. The empty chair is facing the door.
Desk with computer and monitors not facing the door.
Same office with the desk facing the door.
Desk facing the door.

These pictures represent a request I made for an accommodation at work. I have a thing about not being able to face the door. People scare me half to death because I can’t hear them coming. I feel much better, and safer, when I can face the door.

CART as an Accommodation

CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation, or live captioning) was well known where I worked, at the state Deaf and Hard of Hearing services office. However, it was mainly used for clients needs. I was the first employee to request CART consistently. In the beginning, they forgot to schedule it half the time so they let me know it was part my responsibility to remind the office manager. Planning ahead, I looked at my calendar the last week of each month for the upcoming month. Then I’d list all the meetings I’d like to have CART and email it to the office manager so we were both on track. This taught me to be proactive with my accommodation.

Inclusion

Sometime later, the office revised their strategic plan to embrace equality and inclusion. The Deaf staff stepped up in making sure my communication needs were being met. While CART is the gold standard, there is often a two hour minimum requirement in hiring CART. The staff began to schedule CART for one-on-one, small, or side group meetings. Awesome, right? We were all learning to accommodate each other.  

However, some meetings would be forgotten, or were only 15-30 minutes. There would be an hour and a half of paid CART unused. Waste drives me nuts so I wrote up guidelines on what is reasonable sharing in a document with the staff, as follows:

CART vs ASR

(Automatic Speech Recognition, artificial intelligence)

  • I need CART for staff meetings. I need that information and to be able to participate freely. CART does that for me.
  • I need CART for any meeting that’s an hour or more.
  • I can do the short, casual meetings with ASR that are under an hour. I would like it to be Google Meet because their ASR is better than Zoom. Warning: While using ASR, you might see me smile or laugh when captions go wrong. I’m not laughing at you.
    • It has to be a group of 5 or less. If it’s more than 5 people, CART is preferable.

When requesting accommodations for my hearing loss at work, or in public, I’ll try what they suggest then work my way up. As I go, I document. I’ll share reasons, and examples, of why it didn’t work. Also, I share the joys of success and give my thanks.

Certain Jobs Might Not Be Ideal

Michele: At sixteen, working as a waitress was a struggle during peak hours when the noise level was deafening. After high school, I worked in office jobs—bookkeeper, legal receptionist/secretary—where I was required to answer the phone, to take dictation using shorthand, and transcribe audio from cassette tapes. Yikes, why did I think I could do those jobs well with hearing loss? Taking phone messages was torture. Meetings and transcribing audio were a nightmare. I missed things and made mistakes, and it made me feel incompetent, which wasn’t true. I simply couldn’t hear as well as I needed to for those jobs. 

1st Accommodation Request, Flexibility

My first hearing loss accommodation at work was with a finance company. I disclosed my hearing loss in the interview and was hired. My employer had a volume controlled telephone installed for me which worked until my hearing loss progressed. At that point, I offered up another solution: I would manage fax intake in exchange for being taken off telephone rotation—not a huge deal, as we were an email-driven company. I was grateful that my manager was agreeable and flexible, though some saw it as special treatment.

Even with a flexible manager and boss, I encountered others who were the opposite. Example: During an office remodel I requested that my cubicle be configured so the entrance was visible from my desk to alleviate being startled by people approaching me from behind. “No, that’s not possible,” was the answer. I didn’t know that I had the right to push it further.

Using State Services

I left the finance company to move to another state. Looking for work, I was introduced to the Minnesota Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (DHHS) office by my CareerForce rep, where I qualified for job seeker services. I had no idea that such agencies existed until then. State services can be a valuable resource.

Finding your state agency to see if they offer workplace training for your employer and coworkers is a good idea. They also should have equipment and technology for you to try at work. And remember, one size does not fit all. You may have to explain to your employer that what works for someone else with hearing loss might not be the best solution for you. Having your state DHHS in your corner as a co-advocate can help assure employers that there are solutions to help people with hearing loss perform their job well.

Employers Getting in the Know

Julia: Over the years I have heard all sorts of horror stories about accommodation requests going right and wrong. 

When it failed:

  • The business didn’t know what accommodations were available and refused to find out what could be tried.
  • The employee didn’t want to make a fuss.

And when it went right:

  • The employer worked with the employee to find the correct reasonable accommodation(s).
  • The employee knew they needed accommodation(s) and may or may not have known all available tools. And was proactive with requesting accommodations.

As a person with hearing loss, start with knowing your rights as an employee. While at work, be proactive by researching and reaching out to others on what they use at work. Our Talk about it Tuesday is a great place to do this. Go through our Glossary page for resources. Be sure to visit JAN, the Job Accommodation Network. They have great online tools that can help employees and employers with respect to accommodations at work those with hearing loss.

Accommodation Options

Businesses: Most of you know and understand ASL accommodations for an employee, awesome! You’ve met 2% of the hearing loss community needs… Now here are other accommodations you should be able to say you know about:

  • ALDs – assistive listening devices
  • Caption landline services
  • ASR – automatic speech recognition
  • CART – communication access realtime translation
  • Typewell
  • Cell phone caption apps

If you are able to put a check in each of the boxes above, thank you for being a proactive employer ready to meet your employees every need. If not, there are many places that offer education with online CEUs. And, if you want to understand more about employees with hearing loss contact us at Hearing Loss LIVE!

Changes Can Be a Good Thing

Sometimes employers are resistant to providing accommodations and you might have to push or make your request higher up in the chain of command. The ADA is on your side. However, we don’t recommend beginning the process in a threatening way.

Give your employer a chance to come through. Share resources and help educate them when necessary. Try using state services to arrive at solutions that work for you both. Making changes can be a painful process, but it’s a good feeling when it all comes together and you get what you need for optimum performance in the workplace. Remember, you aren’t just helping yourself, you’re making a path for others who will surely come after you.

Do Your Own Research

Before making the request, check in with your tribe—peer support groups for Hard of Hearing come in all forms now—to ask what they have tried and what worked for them. Include options in your request and give as much information as you can about possible accommodation(s) to help educate your employer to help them with their own research. When you’re ready, start with your supervisor who will go up the chain of command from there, which will include Human Resources (HR). Remember, it’s all in the asking. Be as polite as possible and true to yourself and your needs.

View Our Companion Podcast

We talk about more accommodations for hearing loss at work here. You can also find us on Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, Overcast and more, just search for Hearing Loss LIVE! A transcript can be found at BuzzSprout here.

If you liked this post, check out our posts on Interviews and Requesting CART/Live Captioning.

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