Accommodating Hard-of-Hearing Employees

By Greg Santi, SPHR Sep 20, 2010

Question: How can employers adapt their work environment to meet the needs of those with hearing loss?

Answer: Despite the availability of cutting-edge technology, employees with hearing loss can have difficulty with personal interactions, telephone-based communication and meetings—meaning that their ability to participate and work effectively with others can be compromised.

However, a number of accommodations and solutions are available, depending on the work environment and the individual’s needs, such as:

Optimal seating -To improve face-to-face communication during business meetings, employers can encourage those with hearing loss to select a seat that will maximize their hearing and communication capabilities.

Office design and desk arrangements - Employers can place an employee with hearing loss in an environment that will provide the best listening situation possible, particularly if the employee has to have conversations on the phone. Though a space with a closeable door might not be possible, efforts can be made to position the employee away from sounds such as machinery, copiers, printers, air conditioning and heating systems, and loud voices, which might interfere with the employee’s ability to hear.

Telephone add-ons Determine if the organization’s phone system is compatible with hearing instruments, amplified handsets or personal phone amplifiers.

Assisted Living Devices (ALD) or other technical interfaces - ALDs allow employees with hearing loss access to greater information by the means of a small transmitter that directs an FM signal to a listening device located on the employee.

Video conferencing - Built-in computer webcams make it easier to leverage online video conferencing services such as Skype in an effort to improve communication. Such services augment the spoken word with facial expressions and other visual cues and, for some employees, make it possible to use a headset that can be coupled to their hearing instrument/cochlear implant.

Written communications - Written materials can be used to reinforce information shared verbally to be sure that important details are not lost. Examples include e-mails highlighting key points of a phone call sent prior to and following the call and documents summarizing important topics discussed during a meeting.

Other technology - Instant messaging and text messaging systems can be used to relay information to employees with hearing loss, such as names of restaurants, buildings and addresses, names of customers or meeting participants, and phone numbers and appointment schedules.

By using a few resources like these, employers can help those with hearing loss improve their ability to communicate effectively in the workplace.

Greg Santi, SPHR, is director of human resources for Widex Hearing Aid Co. in New York.

Related Resources:

Employees with Hearing Loss, Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

Questions and Answers About Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission


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