Make a Referral

Accommodating Hearing Loss: Understanding, Communicating, and Adapting

accommodation Jul 06, 2023
Accommodating Hearing Loss: Understanding, Communicating, and Adapting


Hearing loss is a common condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. From the moment we wake up to the time we go to bed, our ability to hear shapes our interactions, communication, and overall well-being. Accommodating hearing loss requires a comprehensive approach that involves understanding the types and impact of hearing loss, implementing effective communication strategies, utilizing low-tech and high-tech devices, and exploring available resources. By embracing these strategies, we can create inclusive environments that empower individuals with hearing loss to thrive in both personal and professional settings.


Understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can occur at birth or gradually over time. It may be temporary or permanent, stable or progressive. It can also vary in severity. Mild hearing loss may make it difficult to hear soft voices, speakers at a distance, or conversations in noisy environments. Moderate hearing loss poses greater challenges, and individuals may require louder speech. It is characterized as loss at 41 to 55 decibels. Severe hearing loss significantly impedes hearing in all situations and may necessitate alternative communication methods.

The three main types of hearing loss are conductive, sensorineural, and mixed (a combination of conductive and sensorineural). These types can affect various components of the auditory system, including the outer ear, inner ear, ear drum, bones, cochlea, vestibulocochlear nerve, and the brain. Individuals with conductive hearing loss may experience reduced volume, muffled sounds, or difficulty hearing soft sounds. This hearing loss can often be temporary or medically treatable. Sensorineural hearing loss, resulting from permanent damage to the sensory cells of the inner ear, has a significant impact. Beyond making sounds quieter, it can jumble sounds which leads to difficulties in understanding and communication in ways that garble speech.

While technologies like glasses can restore 20/20 vision, restoring hearing to its natural state is more challenging, especially when the inner ear's sensory cells have been damaged by noise exposure, medications, or wear and tear through aging.


What’s In a Name?

Deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing are terms used to describe different degrees of hearing loss. Deafness refers to individuals who cannot understand speech using sound alone, even with the assistance of hearing aids or other devices. Deafened individuals have experienced hearing loss later in life and may not identify with either the deaf or hard of hearing communities. Hard of hearing is a medical and sociological term which encompasses a wide range of hearing loss, from mild to profound, and refers to individuals whose primary means of communication is speech.


Prevention Strategies for Hearing Loss

Prevention is crucial for preserving hearing throughout one's life. Taking proactive measures such as protecting ears from loud noise, avoiding prolonged exposure to noisy environments, and wearing protective earmuffs in workplaces that warrants 85 decibels or higher can help maintain hearing health. Additionally, employees can avoid sitting near speakers at loud performances, utilizing earplugs when needed, and keeping the volume down when listening to recorded audio sounds when listening through earphones.


Communication Strategies in the Workplace

Accommodating individuals with hearing loss in the workplace requires thoughtful communication strategies. Some recommendations include the following:

  1. Lip reading: Although it is often inaccurate and does not detect accents, some individuals with hearing loss may rely on lip reading. However, it is essential to ensure clear face-to-face communication for lip reading to be effective.
  2. Face-to-face communication: Facing the individual when speaking, avoiding occlusion of the mouth, tapping the person's shoulder or desk for attention, and speaking clearly are simple yet effective strategies.
  3. Utilizing technology: Accommodating hearing loss involves utilizing both low-tech and high-tech devices that can enhance communication with others, minimize distracting environmental noises, and improve employee function and productivity in the workplace. Low-tech options include using pen and paper, texting, ASL interpreters, signage to notify others of hearing loss, mirrors at workstations to alert individuals of approaching colleagues, and email communication. High-tech solutions encompass voice-to-text technologies, devices like Ubiduo and Colorado or ACS closed captioning, video relay services, FM systems, and hearing aids equipped with t-coils and Bluetooth capabilities. While hearing aids and communication devices can be costly, various funding options and programs, such as the Assistive Devices Program (ADP), can provide financial support. Additionally, resources like the Canadian Hearing Society, translation companies, and audiologists are valuable sources of information and assistance.
  4. Group communication: Choosing quiet meeting spaces, allowing one person to speak at a time, communicating with round tables, avoiding mouth occlusion, and using body language cues can enhance group communication for individuals with hearing loss.
  5. Written materials and training: To effectively train individuals with hearing loss to ensure instructions are effectively and accurately communicated, provide employees access to demonstrations, concise written instructions, written agendas, and scripts for videos, and confirm information through emails.
  6. Strategies for safety: There are multiple ways to ensure that employees that face hearing complications may be alerted to and aware of safety protocols in the workplace. This includes an alternate sense fire or other emergency alarm, back up plans, and pagers or other alerting devices.


How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

To accommodate hearing loss effectively, it is vital to focus on functionality, analyze job demands, identify gaps, research solutions, and involve stakeholders in decision-making. It may require multiple attempts to find the most suitable accommodation, and documenting the process ensures continuous improvement. Additionally, education and communication about hearing loss within the workplace are important so that employees can feel included and supported as they receive their necessary accommodations.

Gowan Consulting’s Occupational Therapists can help your organization by completing an accommodation assessment to determine the specific needs of an employee with hearing loss. The Occupational Therapist can then recommend tools and strategies to assist the employee in completing job tasks accurately and efficiently. Gowan Consulting can also provide training to employees in the workplace on how to provide accommodations, how to communicate more efficiently, how to reduce stigma around disability in the workplace, and more. Contact us to learn more about how we can make your workplace healthier, safer, and more productive.