There is a chain of command for requesting accommodations at work. Do your research before making the request, check in with your tribe—peer support groups for Hard of Hearing [HoH] come in all forms now—to ask what they have tried and how it 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 before they do their own research. When you’re ready, start with your supervisor who will go up the chain of command from there. Remember, it’s all in the asking. Be as polite as possible and true to yourself and your needs.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has 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.
Chelle: 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. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations. What is reasonable? Is it what the employer decides or what the person with hearing loss decides? What it comes down to is what do we need to be successful in our job?
For myself—it’s different for everyone—I’ll try what they suggest and work my way up. I document as I go sharing reasons when and why something didn’t work. Also, I share what works.
Here’s a scenario from my last job. I worked in the state Deaf and Hard of Hearing center and they were great about providing the accommodations I needed. I was the first person to request CART (live captioning) consistently. At first, they forgot to schedule it half the time. They told me it was part of my responsibility to remind the office manager. I started looking at my calendar the last week of each month and listed all the meetings I’d like to have CART for the upcoming month. It taught me to be proactive with my accommodation.
We had a strategic plan meeting where equality and inclusion were embraced. The Deaf staff stepped up in making sure CART was provided. While CART is the gold standard, there is often a two hour minimum requirement in hiring CART. The staff scheduled 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.
- I need CART for staff meetings. Always. I need that information and can’t guess at it, it’s my job.
- I need CART for any meeting that’s an hour or more.
- I can do the short, casual meetings with ASR (automatic speech recognition) that are under an hour. It has to be Google Meet because their ASR (automatic speech recognition) is better than Zoom.
- It has to be a group of 5 or less. If it’s more than 5 people, CART is preferable.
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, 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.
My first accommodation in the workplace 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. As my hearing loss progressed, I offered the solution that 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.
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 or about any of the accommodation available to the HoH.
Contacting 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. 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 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.
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.
Start with knowing your rights as an employee. 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. On our Glossary page we have an organization listed, JAN, Job Accommodation Network. They have great online tools that can help employees and employers with respect to accommodations.
Businesses: If you know and understand ASL accommodations for an employee. Awesome! You’ve met 1% of the hearing loss community needs… Now here is what else 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
☐ 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, sign up and meet with us here at Hearing Loss LIVE!
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, help educate them when necessary, and use the services available to you and your employer 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.
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