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.

“Sounds that Punch Right Into Your Hearing”

Are we out of our minds? Just when you think awareness of the dangers of noise might be beginning to catch on, you get a New York Times review of a pop concert headlined “Finding Balance in Braying, Shattering, Crackling Electronics.” (Yes, The New York Times.)

In case you think that’s a rhetorical flourish, the critic Ben Ratliff gets specific in his review of the concert series, called Tinnitus, which concentrates on “composers of extreme sound” and “has some kind of relationship with volume and aggression.”

One group in the series, Container,  emphasized “sampled drum sounds that punch right into your hearing and tons of feedback.”

Another, Vessel, “used bullying low-end blots, wild arcs of pitch-shifting and intricately flickering background layers, barely audible under the braying or shattering top lines.”

Are we completely oblivious of our hearing? I sure hope Container, Vessel, the audience and Ben Ratliff were all wearing noise-cancelling earplugs.

AARP Focuses on Healthy Hearing.

AARP is making a big foray into the hearing loss field, which is great for those of us who have — or will have — trouble hearing.

Even now, more than half of those with hearing loss are under the age of 60 — that means 24 million of us are already not hearing as well as we could be. By the time we reach age 75 two-thirds of us will have hearing loss. With 8000 baby boomers reaching 65 every single day, that’s going to be a lot of people with hearing loss.

As part of AARP’s effort, I have a new blog on the site, called Healthy Hearing, which will appear at least once a week. The first post is up today. To encourage AARP’s efforts in this direction, please link to the blog and also go to their Hearing Resources Center.

With the support of an enormous and influential group like AARP, people with hearing loss will have a strong advocate, to join the advocacy work done by the Hearing Loss Association of America, the National Institute on Aging, and other groups.

But AARP needs to know we care about this issue. So please click  on the link, tweet it, email it, and tell your friends. And follow it!

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to blog on this site whenever I have something to say!

What’s With the Purple?

Why purple?

I like it, for starters.

But it’s also part of the color scheme of the logo of the Hearing Loss of Association of America. I’m a fan of HLAA, and a member, and a member of the board. I’m grateful to it for advocacy and support on the national and local levels. And for the many friends I’ve made through the organization.

For more information, and for the location of chapters, go to Hearing Loss Association of America.imgres

You might also want to look at the websites for The Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA), The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), AG Bell, and Gallaudet University. They all have useful information, local chapters, and many resources to offer to the deaf and hard of hearing.

An Invisible War Wound

An Invisible War Wound: Out of sight, and mostly out of mind.

When we think about the injuries our servicemen and -women endure, on this Veterans’ Day, we naturally focus on major life-changing injuries like Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We worry about suicide in veterans. We see veterans struggling to learn to walk again with prosthetic limbs or learning to hug a child using a prosthetic arm. These are all horrifying consequences of war and no one would minimize them.

But there is a war wound we don’t see, and for the most part don’t think about. Hearing loss and tinnitus are the two largest categories of disability in the military, and have been for some time.

These are not comparable injuries in terms of the scale of destruction, and they are not life-threatening. They are often secondary to TBI or other debilitating injuries. But they’re permanent. And long after a veteran has begun to recover from these other wounds physically and emotionally, he (or she) begins to realize the hearing loss or tinnitus is not going away.

Captain Mark A. Brogan of the United States Army was injured in a suicide bomb attack in 2006. He spent months in a coma at Walter Reade Medical Center. It was not until his traumatic injuries had been treated that he began to think about his hearing loss, and to realize how it and his TBI were entwined.

At a panel discussion with other veterans earlier this year, he talked about the lasting effect of the TBI on his hearing. The part of the brain that controls speech perception was injured in the blast, and combined with the injury to the ear itself made speech very difficult to understand.

Hearing loss and tinnitus also combine negatively with other injuries. Trouble hearing in a noisy place can trigger his PTSD, said Sean Lehman, US Air Force,. The PTSD in turn exacerbates the tinnitus. “It makes my brain get irrational, you know? It makes my PTSD more difficult to deal with.”

Sgt. Lehman sustained third-degree burns over 40% of his body, and his physical injuries obscured the fact that he’d also lost his hearing — for almost two and a half years. “Things I considered unimportant turned out to be important,” he told the audience. It was only when his three-and-a-half year old daughter was impatient with her father’s inability to hear her that he sought help for his hearing loss.

In June Captain Brogan and a panel of other veterans gave a workshop at the annual Hearing Loss Association of America Convention. They are part of a group called Heroes With Hearing Loss, and they’ve banded together not only to raise awareness of hearing loss in veterans but also to give veterans the opportunity to talk about hearing loss to another vet.

“I was 25 years old at the time,” Captain Brogan recalled when he realized the severity of his hearing loss. “I don’t want to wear these [hearing aids], you know. Are you kidding me? You, know, I’m young, freshly out of the military.” The others nodded in agreement. “It was a battle to accept it. Kind of a grieving process. It’s something that visibly says, ‘Hey you’ve got a problem.’”

Sean and the others all talked about the issue of credibility, how important it is for an injured vet to hear from other vets ways to come to terms with it.

Master Sgt., Donald Doherty, a retired Marine and veteran of Vietnam, lost his hearing as a result of gunfire and artillery noise. “Noise is an occupational hazard for warfighters,” he said.

“Marines, and anyone in the armed forces, have been instilled with a sense of pride, the need to act independently, to do it yourself. It’s a sign of weakness if you reach out for help.” But, he added, you begin to realize you do need help. You realize it’s affecting “not only yourself but everyone around you.”

Sgt. Lehman was the first to use the word “credibility” about the trust soldiers put in each other. “Dr. Jones [Amanda E. Jones, Aud-D, CCC-A)] can tell me what works, and I’ll listen. But if Mark tells me, I’ll take his word for it.”

Don Doherty, who is also now on the Board of Trustees of HLAA, points out that “Veterans recognize the noise hazard but make the sacrifice willingly because it’s their duty and mission.” But, he says, “My brothers in arms need to reach out to the VA and get tested. Too many of them don’t.”

Sean Lehman asked Dr. Jones what differences she noticed between “normal” patients and veterans, who, he added – getting laughs from the others on the panel, “we all know are not normal.”

Dr. Jones estimated it took an average of 15 years for a veteran to address the issue of hearing loss. It’s partly a question of dealing with other medical conditions, she said, but it’s also a matter of pride. Eventually, she added, it becomes a matter of acceptance: “I’ve got an issue and I have to do something about it.”

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These invisible injuries take on a larger significance not only because it is difficult for veterans to come to terms with the loss — but also because society is likely to ignore it.

“‘I would love to hire a veteran with a disability; they will get top priority when I hire new associates,” a potential employer might say. Joyce Bender, who runs a search firm that helps place people with disabilities, says that what they really mean is, “Send me a veteran with a visible disability,”

This is not to say that an employer should not go ahead and hire the veteran with the visible disability – it’s good for the soul and it’s good for business. But don’t ignore the vet with a hidden disability: PTSD, mental illness — and yes, hearing loss.

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Both the Hearing Loss Association of America and the Hearing Health Foundation have online resource centers for Veterans.

Heroes for Hearing Loss travels nationwide and can be contacted at HeroesWithHearingLoss.org

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Originally published on November 10, 2014 by Katherine Bouton in What I Hear, Psychology Today.

The Walking Deaf

As I get this blog up and running, I’ll be republishing some of my favorite posts from my other blog, What I Hear, on the Psychology Today Website. You can also click on that link to read many earlier posts, dating from early 2013 when I started that blog.

This post began as a lament but as I wrote it I came to realize that it was actually a celebration of something I had gained from my hearing loss. In this case, the gain was reflection, appreciation of my surroundings, a chance to meet new people. My hearing loss has brought me other benefits as well, which I’ll write about from time to time.

But for now, here are some thoughts on walking — alone with your thoughts, your dog, the park, nature.

If you have had a similar experience where you found your hearing loss has brought you unexpected benefits, please tell me about them in the comments section below. I’ll comment on your comments. I want this blog to be a conversation.

 

For many years, my favorite form of exercise was a long walk, usually two or three miles a day. I live near a park and there’s a perfect 3-mile loop, which helps keep me going to the end point and back.

From time to time I have had a walking partner, someone I would usually meet at a fixed point along the way. We’d walk and chat, and the time passed quickly. I had two walking partners in fact, one in the city and one in the country. Both walked at my pace and both had lots to say and because we were in motion conversation came easily. (Have you ever noticed how much more voluble your teenagers are in the car than when you try to talk to them at home.) For a while I walked with another friend, who was recovering from cancer, more slowly but still lots of good talk.

When a walking partner wasn’t available, I listened to books or music. Mostly books. The very first recorded book I listened to was Moby Dick. As you can imagine, even at three miles a day (about 50 minutes) it took months to finish Moby Dick. But I couldn’t wait to get back to it in the morning, even when I was in the long section about different types of whales and whaling, and I rarely missed my walk. I also listened to Anna Karenina, a book I had read when I was young and found intensely romantic. This time around I had far less sympathy for Anna, who seemed like a classic narcissist. Sometimes I listened to Carl Hiassen or Elmore Leonard and found myself laughing out loud.
But then I went deaf. Or, more accurately, deafer. I no longer could hear with headphones. Around the same time, my walk partners dropped away for one reason or another and so I was often left walking alone with my thoughts. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I’d even take a notepad along in case I thought of something particularly brilliant.

But thinking – brilliant thoughts or not – was not enough to get me out day after day. So I got a dog, a puppy. Suddenly I was walking four or five or six times a day. As he got older we resumed my long morning walk, with shorter ones in between. I still have plenty of thinking time, but now I have a reason to go the whole three miles. The dog would happily go five or six and I can rarely persuade him to turn around and go back before the 1.5 mile mark.

A dog prompts ad-hoc conversations and despite my hearing loss I’ve made new friends and a slew of new acquaintances. It’s always easier to hear in the open air, and sometimes we strike up conversations sitting on a bench at the dog park, sometimes while the dogs romp, sometimes just a wave and a hello.

Now that I’m one of the Walking Deaf, I’m much more in touch with people – and the environment — around me, no longer isolated by my headphones. I miss the recorded books but it’s more than made up for by new friends, dogs, cherry trees in the spring, bare branches glittering with ice in the winter, sitting on a park bench with a casual acquaintance in the heat of the summer. And by the creativity and intellectual energy all that thinking engenders. I may be deaf but I’m more alive mentally than I ever was when I could hear.

Talking About Hearing Loss

Or not, which is more often the case. I didn’t talk about it for the first 30 years I had it, except as a joke, a distraction from the fact that I actually couldn’t hear what someone said to me. That’s okay. We all need to talk less about our various ailments and more about literature and politics and art and the Higgs boson.

But that doesn’t mean we should deny it, to ourselves or to others. Because if we do, that means we aren’t going to hear — or participate in — that conversation about the Higgs boson. (The Higgs is on my mind because I just saw “Particle Fever,” which I can safely say is probably the most fun and interesting and thought-provoking movie you’ll ever see about particle physics).

We also shouldn’t deny it, as a society, because if we do we’re going to end up — in the not so distant future — overwhelmed by a disproportionately large segment of our population who can’t hear, who can’t or won’t correct it, and who therefore can no longer be productive members of society.

So that’s the subject of this blog. Or the main subject anyway. If we talk about hearing loss, if we acknowledge it both personally and as a society, we normalize it. And it IS normal. Twenty percent of our population, from teenagers to nonagenarians has hearing loss. Teenagers themselves have hearing loss in astonishingly high numbers — 19% of them. Most of them don’t realize it, or don’t care, but by ignoring it they’re setting themselves up for hearing problems they won’t be able to ignore — at a much younger age than that should be happening.

My hearing loss is not normal. It began when I was 30. Nobody could figure out why I went from hearing perfectly one day to being practically deaf in one ear the next. They still couldn’t figure it out as I progressively lost almost all the hearing in the other ear as well. But what was normal was how I reacted to it: with jokes, with denial, with a refusal to get hearing aids. And then when it got really bad, when I couldn’t do my job or understand what anyone said to me most of the time, I also got seriously depressed. That’s normal too. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

It was only when I began to speak honestly about my hearing loss that I was able to overcome that depression, to find my life again.

I was good at denial. I fooled a lot of people for a lot of years. Most of them didn’t know know I had hearing loss. But (as I learned when I started being more open about it) they did think something was off. Was I going senile? Was I drunk? Burned out? Bored? How could any of these impressions be preferable to acknowledging a physical disability? A disability that can be treated, that should not be incompatible with a healthy productive life.

Once I acknowledged the severity of my hearing loss – to myself and to others – I began to learn to live with it. And the more open I was about it, the better I seemed to hear. The better I DID hear. In this blog I want to share some what I’ve learned about living well with hearing loss.

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For other information about me, go to katherinebouton.com. That site includes archives of the blog posts I’ve written over the past 18 months, as well as reviews of my book, “Shouting Won’t Help,” information about public appearances, and references to other sites and sources about hearing loss.