When it comes to filling out a job application, for majority of Americans, by the time the disability disclosure section is reached, the hardest part of the survey has been completed. A good portion of people breeze past this question easily, effortlessly clicking the, “no, I do not have a disability” button, and continue going about their day without a second thought. However, for about 40 million Americans, this question may be one that provokes more stress than others. While about 13% of the American population has a disability, a significant amount of them suffer specifically from hearing loss. It is estimated that 60% of people in the US workforce are affected by hearing loss, and 24% of them struggle with this as a result of something that happened in the workplace. With the growing numbers regarding this issue, it is important that the amount of discussion revolving it, and ways to combat and work with it grow as well.
Hearing loss in the workplace has two main causes, which are loud noise exposure, and exposure to ototoxic chemicals, which are ones that can damage the inner ear when coming in contact with it. In a lot of cases, the issue tends to be a combination of the two. Some common careers where these are prevalent include, construction, painting, spraying pesticides, and furniture making. Operating tools like jackhammers, and others that produce loud noises for extended periods of time can place people in danger of hearing loss. The loudness and intensity of the noises is measured in units called “decibels” and generally speaking, anything above 85 decibels is usually considered too loud.
OSHA states that any workplace that exposes workers to over 85 decibels of sound for 8 hour periods or longer must have the sound monitored by the employer. This regulation, also known as the Hearing Conversation Program is in place to ensure the safety of workers when it comes to hearing loss. There are multiple different tools one can use to monitor sound, and the flexibility of the program allows employers to do such using the method that they most prefer. This is not only implemented so that noise issues can be sought out, but also so that employees that may have been affected already can be as well. If it is found that the noises are in fact too loud, there are prevention practices in place, which can be as simple as finding quieter, more efficient machines to get the work done, and wearing ear protective headphones.
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities such as hearing loss from being discriminated against or even terminated in the workplace. In fact, most employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for workers affected, which are adjustments and modifications that will allow members to complete work as well as their counterparts that do not have the disability. While accommodations can vary depending on the career, one of the most popular is assistive technology. This accommodation is directed mainly at people who work with phones, and it can be seen as a tool that allows the speakers words to be turned to text on a screen, to ensure that the individual with hearing loss can completely understand. Additionally, having meetings in places that are well lit are another accommodation commonly used, making it so the one hard of hearing can clearly see and read the lips of the person speaking in the meeting.
Tips for Managing Hearing Loss
Contrary to popular belief, an individual with hearing loss has the same ability for success in the workplace as their counterparts who do not suffer from the disability. With the numerous practices in place to prevent and accommodate, along with some basic tips to manage it, anyone who has trouble hearing can make it far in their career.
Simply being prepared and taking initiative is all it takes to ensure success in the workplace with hearing loss. This can be seen as asking employers to give a written out copy of the work plan for the day, or requesting to move to a more quiet area while doing work. Communication is key in this scenario, as asking for help and informing coworkers of the best way to speak and converse can be one of the most effective forms of help. Additionally, seeking assistance from accommodations offered, or even utilizing tools like hearing aids can make a huge difference.