Would You Ask for Help With Hearing Problems at Work?

Accommodations for Hearing Loss at Work Dealing with the stigma of both hearing loss and aging at work can keep some employees from asking for accommodations — Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Older workers with hearing problems face a double whammy: They’re dealing with the stigma not only of hearing loss but also of age. If they ask for accommodations on the job for hearing loss, they fear attention will be drawn to their age as well.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of workers to ask for accommodations at work to help them hear more easily. However, research out of Oregon State University has found that older workers are less likely to feel there’s support for them to ask for that kind of help, because of worries they’ll be perceived as old by coworkers and managers.

Other research has shown that people with disabilitiesrefrain from requesting accommodations if they think coworkers would find the request “normatively inappropriate” — meaning not in keeping with the office culture. For instance, an office environment with a focus on maximizing profits like that in The Big Short or The Social Network is perceived as being much less likely to understand and tolerate a disability than would a nonprofit that prides itself on a more inclusive culture.

Research by David C. Baldridge and Michele L. Swift of Oregon State University’s College of Business, published in the journal Human Resources Management, studied the effect of age on such requests. Workers’ fear of seeming old, they found, may trump their fear of seeming to have a disability. Their findings were based on an email survey of 242 workers ages 18 to 69. Most had moderate to severe hearing loss.

Age itself has a negative stereotype in many workplaces, including the perception of “lower productivity, resistance to change, reduced ability to learn, and greater cost,” the authors wrote. “These stereotypes are often associated with fewer promotions, less training, lower performance ratings, and lower retention.”

But add disability to age and the stereotypes multiply. The older the person with a disability, the more likely they are to fear that others will attribute the request not to the disability, but to their age.

“Simply put,” the authors wrote, “people with disabilities appear to face a straightforward yet troubling question, ‘If I ask for a needed accommodation, will I be better or worse off?'”

In their discussion, the researchers advised managers and human resources personnel to realize that while many older employees may be eligible for and would benefit from disability accommodation, “these employees might also be particularly reluctant to make requests,” especially if they work in for-profit organizations or if the organization appears not to have others with disabilities.

When the disability is hearing loss, managers should make sure telephones have adjustable volume (and, I would add, be telecoil compatible). Large meetings should routinely include open captioning, which can also help employees with normal hearing follow what’s being said.

In an email interview, Baldridge said managers should think about the inclusion of persons with disabilities as “a normal aspect of diversity management.”

As the workforce ages, disability increases. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 26 percent of those ages 65 to 74 are in the workforce, and the majority are full-time workers. It’s in a company’s interest to have employees working at full capacity. If people are reluctant to ask for accommodations for a disability, their output and effectiveness are likely to suffer.

Please share your workplace experiences in the “reply” section below.

For more information about David Baldridge’s studies of disability and the workplace, email him at David.Baldridge@bus.oregonstate.edu.

For suggestions on workplace accommodations for hearing loss see HLAA’s Employment Toolkit. 


This post first appeared on AARP Health on June 3, 2016

Living Better jpegshoutingwonthelp

Katherine Bouton is the author of “Living Better With Hearing Loss: A Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends … and Hearing Aids,” and a memoir, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You”. Both available on Amazon.com.

14 thoughts on “Would You Ask for Help With Hearing Problems at Work?

  1. A separate question: Are you hearing any complaints from people about hearing aid batteries not lasting as long as they did in the past?
    thank you.


    • HI Richard, so nice to hear from you. I haven’t personally had any trouble with batteries and I haven’t heard that from others either. I do know that the battery life depends on what you’re asking the hearing aid to do. For instance, if you’re using a stream for the phone or other Bluetooth devices, the battery will drain faster.


  2. Today there is the ADA (American Disabilities Act) and if you need a hearing aid compatible telephone is must be provided. However to use one you must have telecoils installed correctly and turned on in your hearing aids or cochlear implant. Hearing aid compatible telephones should have a volume control and tone control. In 1975 I answered questions concerning food borne illnesses, well water contamination and microbiological question from consumers. I requested a volume and tone control phone but was denied. I bought one of those attachments with an elastic band that you add to the telephone. In 1993 I was automatically provided with a hearing aid compatible phone with a volume and tone control. In 1993 I retired after working 34 years as a microbiological lab supervisor. The point I want to make is become a member of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) so you can speak up for your hearing loss accommodations.


  3. Hi, I am finally asking for accomodations at work after decades of not doing so. The results are wonderful simply because it is now easier to communicate with coworkers and clients. The best help came from my ADA request for a Phonak Roger Pen which I place at strategic places in meetings. It has an uncanny ability to vacuum up voices from around it and send it to me across the room. Listening in meetings small and large is now so much easier I cannot begin to describe all the benefits.

    I requested an Oticon streamer for my work cell phone. It has better sound quality on phones than the roger pen and usually works well, but not always. Next steps: Figure out speaker phone conference call options. Figure outhow to more smoothly make requests for captioning and/or quality recording of distant meetings and trainings. More skill in how to request ahead of time that speakers repeat answers of questions, wear the Roger Pen, etc.

    Knowing what to ask for would help so many people with hearing loss at work. Partnering with voc rehab and assistive device people at the state to build their capacity considerably would be a good idea. Currently, they do not know much beyond ASL and pocket talkers. Being hard of hearing does not come with a manual. We need to make it easier for adults to learn what requests to ask for and how. We need to teach self advocacy skills that are now taught to children, such as per Karen Anderson.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for this detailed reply.
      I agree that people don’t know what to ask for. I think most people don’t even know what a Roger Pen is, they probably don’t know what CART is, and they may not know about streamers.
      Audiologists are often slow to mention these devices and consumers are reluctant because they add more $$$ to the cost.
      I’m curious. Since this post was about age and reluctance to ask for accommodations among older people, how old are you?
      Are a member of HLAA? I’ve learned much of what I know about assistive devices from HLAA.


  4. We recently got a new phone at my office. The other phones had a volume control and I asked for volume control on the new ones. Unfortunately, it can only be turned up so far and some people with softer voices are still hard to hear and its frustrating. I recently discovered one of the phones had a telecoil but have been unable to find out if mine has it. I checked out the phone on the internet and the information is not very clear and I have a feeling it does not have a telecoil. I have telecoils in my hearing aids and they will be activated the next time I see my Audiologist. I joined HLAA and learned that those of us with hearing loss must advocate for ourselves.


    • Yes, we do indeed have to advocate for ourselves. First step is to make sure the telecoil is activated. If it is, and the phone still doesn’t work, ASK for a telecoil compatible phone. I believe it’s required by federal law.
      Thanks for writing. HLAA is a tremendous resource for those of us with hearing loss.


  5. I sent a reply before but apparently it didn’t work so I am doing this again. This is in reply for asking for help with hearing problems at work. They recently installed a new phone system at my office. The old system had volume control which was for the most part helpful. I asked for volume control with the new system and they said it came that way. Unfortunately, the volume control only goes up so far and its still hard to hear some people and its frustrating. By accident I discovered that another employees phone had a telecoil. I tried in vain to find out if my phone had it. I checked the phone manual on the internet but don’t believe my phone has the telecoil. My hearing aids have telecoils and they will be activated at my next visit with my Audiologist. I joined HLAA a year ago and it has been very helpful. One thing I learned we have to advocate for ourselves and educate others on the needs of the hearing impaired.


  6. Just a note to remind my hard of hearing friends when we turn up the volume control on our telephones most hearing people can hear the conversation from the person we are having a conversation with.


  7. This is a timely post and something I blogged about on my site LipreadingMom.com. Here is the blog post link: https://lipreadingmom.com/2016/09/01/should-you-disclose-your-hearing-loss-during-a-job-interview/. After working from home for 12 years, I re-entered the workforce and fully disclosed my progressive hearing loss to employers. During the application/interview process, I chose to be open with prospective employers about my hearing loss from the very beginning…even in my application cover letters. Out of four job interviews, all interviewers were open and accommodating of my hearing loss…except for one. As more people advocate about their hearing loss and communication needs, I believe more employers will realize that hearing loss is a major health issue in need of workplace accommodation and acceptance.


    • I totally agree. The more we talk about it the more normal and accepted it becomes. But I do think if you’re looking for a new job, the question of when and how to reveal your hearing loss can be a tricky one.
      Glad to see you’re back to blogging!

      Liked by 1 person

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