According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, about 24 percent of hearing loss in the United States is caused by occupational exposure. This is particularly common in construction, aviation, and other industrial sectors, where workers are exposed to damaging sounds daily.
There are also many people who are well qualified for white-collar jobs though ultimately denied the opportunity due to hearing loss.
Unfortunately, while a large percentage of the population experiences hearing loss, many of them still struggle in the workplace due to communication challenges. In fact, those with hearing loss are two times more likely to be unemployed.
Nonetheless, many of these employees are talented and capable of meeting demands in an altered environment. Therefore, here are some steps to create a friendlier workplace environment for the hearing impaired and allow all employees to thrive.
Encourage Alternative Communication Tools
One of the best ways to help hearing-impaired employees is to encourage alternative communication tools such as Slack, email, and text messaging.
If employees must talk to clients, consider providing a captioned telephone or using software like Zoom, which captions the calls.
In addition, if you conduct in-person meetings, offer written summaries for the entire company. These summaries will also increase your meetings’ efficiency and provide a resource for employees to refer back to at a later date.
Improve Workplace Environment
The environment has a huge impact on the comprehension skills of hearing-impaired employees.
First, most hearing-impaired individuals usually rely on a combination of lip-reading and sound.
Therefore, it’s important to create a well-lit environment so that employees can read lips and facial expressions. In fact, about 55 percent of communication is non-verbal.
If there is any unnecessary background noise like music, turn it down before communicating.
Unfortunately, noisy workplaces, such as construction sites, don’t always allow you to turn down the sound. Therefore, establish non-verbal communication signals that everyone adopts.
For example, OSHA offers the following non-verbal communication guidelines for industrial workers:
- Installing flashing lights
- Using vibrating pagers
- Create traffic patterns with tape
If you have to call a meeting, conduct it in a quiet conference room away from loud noises and have the speaker always face the audience. If a microphone is available, use this when you’re addressing the audience.
Educate The Team
While using these guidelines yourself is a great start, it won’t help if you’re the only one following them. Therefore, offer basic educational materials to team members to help them understand how they can better support team members.
For example, send them resources like this one to better educate them on personal communication etiquette.
If you work in an industry like construction, emphasize hearing protection, and encourage the use of earplugs.
Finally, realize that while there is no reason for someone with hearing impairment to be embarrassed, many hesitate to speak up. Therefore, rather than making them come to you for support, check in with them occasionally to see if there is anything else you can do to help. Your employees are your most valuable asset, so take some time to research how you can support them to perform their best.