Hearing loss can affect your work, family, friendships, and love life – and these relationships could suffer if you try to hide or ignore that you have a hearing loss.
Hearing aids go a long way to help people with hearing loss to better communicate. But even with the most advanced digital hearing aids, there can be situations where it is important to point out that you have a hearing loss.
We have come up with some tips to help you talk about hearing loss with your friends, family, and coworkers. Chances are that you behave a little bit differently around each of these groups of people, so the conversation you have about your hearing loss should be catered to each group.
Hearing loss tips for Friends and Family
American author Alex Haley once said that, “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” Family members can help to understand how and why your hearing loss developed and support you in finding solutions to your hearing loss.
Similar to family, friends are often the people who know you best – and they may have already noticed that you have a hearing loss. It’s in their best interest to help you communicate, because communication the basis of a good friendship!
But sometimes it is hardest to talk about these things with the people we are close to. You might not want your family to worry about you or meddle in your personal life. But the truth is – your family and friends may have been aware of your hearing loss long before you were. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America:
One’s family and friends are likely to be the first to notice some difficulty hearing, long before the person does. Typically at this stage, the individual will deny a problem. This is understandable, since there is usually great variability in how the person functions in various situations and with different people. In some situations and with some people, he or she may do pretty well.
Bringing up your hearing loss may be a way to unleash the “elephant in the room” that your close family members knew about but never mentioned. That’s how it was for Reina, who says the best way to talk about hearing loss is to be direct.
Hearing loss tips for family members
Your family and friends probably want ways to help you hear better, but aren’t sure how.
Try to offer these tips for family members:
- “Try to catch my attention before you speak to me. It’s easier for me to understand when I am looking at you.”
- “Speak clearly and at a moderate pace – but don’t go overboard. I’ll let you know if you’re going too fast.”
- “Use body language to show what you are saying.”
- “Repeat yourself if it doesn’t seem like I heard you.”
If you haven’t sought professional help for your hearing loss, family members can help by finding a local hearing professional, accompanying you to your first hearing evaluation, and helping you choose your hearing aids.
Talking to your boss or coworkers about your hearing loss can be more difficult than speaking with family or friends. You may be worried that your boss will see your hearing loss as a weakness that could affect your work. The Hearing Loss Association of America surveyed their members about their workplace experience with hearing loss in 2013. Here are a few of the responses:
Q: What are your experiences interviewing for a job?
A: It was very stressful and many of the social situations that went with the interviews were less than ideal for somebody with hearing loss. However, since I had to give a talk every time I interviewed, I let people know then about my loss. I did not worry too much that possible employers would discriminate against me, as I work in academia, and find most academics pretty open minded.
Q: Are your co-workers sensitive to your communication needs?
A: Yes, but they often forget, or don’t realize just how many types of situations are impacted by the hearing loss.
Q: Does your employer and/or co-workers know you have a hearing loss?
A: Yes. It is something I try to make everybody aware of. I point it out also to my students when I teach and audiences when I give a talk.
As you can see from the responses, your experience with hearing loss in the workplace can vary based on your specific job and your coworkers. Here are some general tips to use in a conversation about hearing loss with your employer:
- Stay positive: Address your hearing loss and tell your employer how you cope with it. If you wear hearing aids, tell him/her how the technology helps you to hear. Point out specific times when your hearing was particularly good on the job.
- Ask for help: After you have pointed out the positives, tell your employers about your challenges and how they can be helped. If you require assistive listening devices, explain how they would work in your workplace.
- Offer Tips: Tell your coworkers how they can help you to better communicate by emphasizing the communication tips above. These tips work for anyone, not just family and friends.
- Know your rights: Many countries have laws to protect people with hearing loss in the workplace. Read up on what sort of accommodation you are entitled to and be prepared to explain this to your employer in the most non-threatening way possible. If you have noise-induced hearing loss that you feel was caused by your work environment you may also be entitled to compensation.