A recent article in Forbes shed light on the unique challenges that those who have difficulty hearing have when it comes to working remotely because they can no longer rely on some of the ways they have adapted by by learning to read lips, pick up on speech patterns and build support networks with peers to help them keep pace with their coworkers.

With 60% of people with hearing loss working in the workforce or in educational settings and many older Americans are staying in the workforce longer, the article points out how critical it is that we all participate in building an inclusive environment for those with hearing challenges, especially in this climate of remote work.

We wanted to share a few excerpts from the article that are especially insightful given the fact that many of us may have hearing difficulties ourselves or face the challenge of working remotely with colleagues who may be hearing impaired.

Challenges And Solutions For The Hard Of Hearing In The World Of Remote Work

The hard of hearing community has been contributing to the success of business globally in all kinds of industries. They’ve navigated the challenges of building connections even when dealing with the issues of fast paced conversations and multiple speakers in meeting settings.

Jill Gardner, a learning solutions leader who has worked at companies such as The Walt Disney Company, Deloitte and Farmers Insurance, is no stranger to the world of being hard of hearing community. She has lived with profound hearing loss for most of her life and, with use of hearing aids, has navigated situations from overcrowded conference room meetings where high risk decisions are being made to traveling internationally dealing with various cultures and languages. But working remotely has caused her to take a pause.

“I’ve always found a way to make sure being hard of hearing didn’t get in my way. I’ve even managed teams remotely. But in that scenario, I have the ability to get to know each person’s speech patterns. It helps decipher what they’re saying when trying to read lips on a video screen.” But now, like the many others in her similar situation, she has been flung into operating 100% through remote platforms.

The challenges that crop up for the hard of hearing employees goes beyond what the rest of us are experiencing.

Below are some examples of how those who are fully hearing capable have more than a leg up on those that are hard of hearing through this work from home shift:

  • When the video freezes but the audio continues, hearing participants can bypass the minutes lost and go off the audio. Hard of hearing participants cannot.
  • If the platform crashes and the call is moved to audio only, hearing participants can move on with business as usual while the hard of hearing participants have to struggle to keep up.
  • If there are several people speaking at once, hearing people can pick out what to listen to and what to ignore while hard of hearing people are stuck with a garbled mess to pick through hoping to find the right thing to focus on.
  • When someone turns around or steps away from the camera, hearing people can pick up on what they’re saying even if they can’t see them. Hard of hearing people have to hope someone repeats what they say or may not even be aware that something was even said.
  • Since hearing people are still the majority, they don’t have to think about the hard of hearing workers’ experience the way that hard of hearing people absolutely have to study and adapt to the hearing world.

Below are tips Jill Gardner shared from the perspective of a hard of hearing employee, leader and HR professional.

  • As senior leaders and HR professionals, you are front and center for leading the charge to ensure inclusivity during this sudden shift to working from home. You should be focused on investigating, providing and allowing for reasonable accommodations in the home similar to the workplace. For example, allowing employees to purchase or take-home key equipment. Companies would also do well to understand and implement accessible and assistive technologies. This includes live captioning or subtitles and screen readers during web conferencing and video calls.
  • Managers should get to know the individuals on their team. This will help them understand what all their employees, but in particular, what their hard of hearing team members need to do their best work. This includes being flexible to how they prefer to communicate (e.g., phone/RTT/TTY, online textchat, text message, email, etc.) and how often. They should also demonstrate and encourage empathy to all team members to help balance the unique needs of each and the impact of that. Connect frequently with individual team members, as well as the entire team – you cannot over-communicate with remote workers.
  • Peers can and should reach out without stressing out. Use video vs. an audio call with your hard of hearing team member. Don’t assume you have to rely on text messaging or email with the team member who is hard of hearing. Find what works and use it. Help enable them to be part of the discussion and decision making.
  • Individuals who are hard of hearing need to speak up and be honest about their needs. Not only does this encourage others to do the same, but it also sets people up to stop tiptoeing or avoiding the topic and tackle it head on. Engage with your manager and team to identify inclusion solutions for your organization.

Everyone can take the initiative with these meeting best practices that can help everyone.

  • Use a video conferencing platform that provides instant or live closed captioning, ensuring that meetings are set up ahead of time with this feature enabled.
  • Ensure one person is speaking at a time.
  • Call on anyone who hasn’t had a chance to participate.
  • Assign a facilitator to ensure the meeting stays focused and on track.
  • Use video to engage visually and, ensuring encourage people are looking atto face the camera when speaking.
  • Send Follow up with a written summary of key points discussed and decisions made.

If you or someone you know have any specific occupational or personal communication needs please contact us to see if we can help.  We also have hearing accessories that can help patients keep their social distancing, yet allow them to hear their friends and family.