Making Co-Workers Comfortable with Hearing Loss

Getting the Job is Only the First Challenge

Deaf Coworkers Talking Together
Loretta Hostettler / Getty Images

 After getting hired, deaf and hard of hearing people often face a new challenge on the job: how to make supervisors and co-workers comfortable with their hearing loss. This was the topic of a useful forum discussion. Selected and edited postings follow.

Still Struggle With It

I have been in the work world for many, many years, and to be honest, I still struggle with this! I am honest and open with my bosses, and willing to try accommodations they suggest even when it is silly, and I know from past attempts will not work...I am still trying to train my co-workers to face me when they talk after over 5 years in my current position.

I think they mostly just forget since deafness tends to be an "invisible disability." I have found that being open and not embarrassed about being deaf is the easiest way to go. I also encourage questions if they have them, even dumb ones.
- KarenEloise

Hearing Person's Perspective

I am a hearing person who works with one deaf person...I am also the only one who can really communicate with her while she does lipread & talk I am the only one that can sign with her. Everyone else in the office always says that they would love to learn how to sign but they never do/have no matter how much encouragement I give them to do so.

It's sad but some people have come up to me and said that they would like to talk to her but they don't know how because they can't understand her when she talks so If she happens to be talking to her they just smile & nod even though they have no idea what she said. I haven't told her (I don't even know if I should) and I don't know if she knows or not.

I keep telling them to just try and if they have huge problems then write the message down or come & find me if they get desperate.
- listenswithheart

Carry a Pad and Pen

KarenEloise replied to listenswithheart, with advice:
I think you should talk with her and while you do not have to be blunt, she should know that her co-workers have trouble understanding her.

Perhaps she should take a pen and pad with her and write her messages. It would be the same if she spoke Spanish or French and they could not speak that language. It takes a lot of commitment to be able to go to sign classes and learn even a few basic signs. I wonder if there is any way to at least have some people learn to finger spell? I have posted a fingerspelling chart at my work station, and some of my co-workers are learning by seeing that up and trying to make the shapes.

Don't Be a Parrot Head opinion is that you could maybe tell these people that are just nodding when they are acting like they understand (referred to as a parrot head where I am from) that they could try a little bit harder to communicate like that other post suggested (paper and pen/ fingerspelling etc...), but at the same time let them know that some Deaf people are very understanding and patient and are smart enough to know that there is a language barrier present! In my experience, the deaf person would rather see someone try than act like they understand right away. Believe it or not....many times the Deaf person knows you aren't getting it, but just gives up at that particular time due to lack of effort.

I used to be a parrot really makes the situation more embarrassing when you act like you understand, but don't really have a clue. They will catch you! Some will acknowledge and drop it and some will embarrass you by pointing out that you really didn't understand...
- ilyangel

Are They Really Willing?

listenswithheart replied:
I have to say that what really frustrates me is that there are so many people who have come up to me asking how I learned sign language and how long it took, then they say that they have always wanted to learn so I encourage them to do so but they NEVER do ... and they never bother asking how to sign even hello or learn the alphabet...

Teach a Sign Class

ilyangel suggested teaching a sign language class:
Maybe you could get together enough people and teach a small class of just basic signs. You could charge if you want to, but more people would probably be interested if it was free. :)

Signs of Progress

listenswithheart responded:
Thanks for that idea however given the amount of time it would take I doubt my boss would approve of it ... and it takes a lot for people in my office to do things outside of work hours and at lunchtimes .... I'll give it some thought though and see what happens.

I wouldn't charge because like you said it might turn people off.

One good thing is that this week I have to attend a course on customer service ... and when I looked at the schedule of when I had to attend I noticed that my deaf colleague wasn't on there ...

I found out yesterday that my company has decided to get all the deaf/hearing impaired people that work for my company altogether and let them do the course themselves .... I think they are going to modify the course so that it relates to them as our deaf employees don't use the phone; it's pretty pointless sending them to a course that focuses on telephone technique so hopefully they will bring in an interpreter (fingers crossed) ...

my colleague couldn't tell me what they are going to do (personally I don't think they do either).

Similar to School Experience

Being "alone in the workplace" (the only deaf or hard of hearing person) is very similar to being the only deaf or hard of hearing person in your school or classroom.
- GinaOliva

Gently Remind Them

Management was happy to purchase an amplified telephone for me. Educating co-workers proved more of a challenge. Even the sympathetic ones kept "forgetting" I was impaired and forgetting the tips I gave them to communicate better with me. People in today's work environment are very busy and stressed so an invisible handicap is quickly shifted to the back of their minds.

All you can do is gently keep reminding them of the techniques and try not to cross the line into irritating them. Also, people with normal hearing have a very hard time relating to what it is like not to be able to hear well and the kind of impact and stress it puts on the impaired person.

- Banjos1

I have a hearing impairment that is getting worse. People at work didn't even know I had one at first, but then I let on because I had a popping sound in my ear and other problems that resulted in more hearing loss. Now I wear an amplifier along with my hearing aids. It's more of a visible sign that I have a hearing loss and a good reminder that they need to look at me when speaking.

I work with children and they have also been good about speaking up. We now also have a hearing impaired student and I do all of the things that I would want my co-workers do for me, such as getting their attention before I start communicating with her. By setting the example with her, now my co- workers have taken the cues and are communicating with me better. Because of that now I feel more comfortable in telling them what I need and what does and doesn't work for me and they have been very good about it.I purposely made my hearing impairment visible with the amplifier. New co-workers ask about it, I explain why I use it and their response is just like they are learning a part of their job. Fortunately, I found a job where people feel that I'm doing whatever I need to do to get the job done and being respected for it.

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