Employers Guide to Hearing Loss

thumb up

Signs and symptoms

According to Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) data, in the UK there are 12 million adults with hearing loss greater than 25 dBHL meaning they are unable to hear sounds quieter than 25 decibels. Common sounds below this level include birdsong, running water and footsteps. Softly spoken conversations will also be difficult to follow.

Common signs and symptoms:

  • difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say, especially in noisy places
  • asking people to repeat themselves
  • listening to music or watching TV with the volume higher than other people need
  • difficulty hearing on the phone
  • finding it hard to keep up with a conversation
  • feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening

Sometimes, other people notice your hearing loss before you do.

tinnitus

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the name for hearing noises that are not caused by an outside source. It’s common as around 1 in 7 adults experience tinnitus continuously or regularly. Tinnitus is often a symptom of hearing loss as the brain attempts to fill the gaps left by sounds no longer received by the inner ear.

It can exacerbate existing hearing loss as you are trying to hear sounds over the noise or in some cases, it can be the reason for hearing loss. For example, if your tinnitus is a high-pitched noise, it can prevent you from being able to hear sounds at a certain pitch.

Most often, tinnitus is linked to hearing loss or other ear conditions.

If the tinnitus is a heartbeat, and pulsing in time with the person’s pulse, a GP appointment is recommended. Find out more at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tinnitus/  

The person may initially describe it as pulsating. Please visit https://tinnitus.org.uk/understanding-tinnitus/what-is-tinnitus/types-of-tinnitus/pulsatile-tinnitus/ for more details

Visualise Training and Consultancy

Who are we?

Visualise Training and Consultancy Ltd is a team of dedicated people devoted to improving inclusion and accessibility for people with sensory loss. It was founded by Dan Williams who has retinitis pigmentosa which means his eyesight is gradually deteriorating. Dan’s challenges inspired him to make a difference to other people in similar situations, so using his invaluable personal experiences and passion, he cultivated a team of professionals that share his determination to support people with sensory loss and promote acceptance and inclusion in the workplace.

He has devised interactive training programmes and tailored support services to help employees overcome challenges in the workplace. These include Deaf and hearing loss awareness training for colleagues and customer-facing staff and workplace assessments for employees with hearing loss to help them work more effectively.

Visualise Training and Consultancy also provides consultation services to organisations to help them become fully accessible to everyone. The company began by focusing on visual impairment but has now developed to encompass hearing loss.

What sets Visualise apart is the fact that they provide holistic assessments so the person as a whole is considered in the consultation and not just their barriers in the workplace, as difficulties outside the workplace can impact performance.

The Visualise Mission

  • To empower organisations with the skills and knowledge to deliver inclusive services to customers and employees with sensory loss.
  • To encourage confidence within the employer-employee structure in the delivery of inclusivity.
  • To foster within wider society a commitment to deliver total inclusion and equality for everyone.
hearing losss

The Emotional Impacts of Hearing Loss

Communicating with other people is something we often take for granted so when hearing loss occurs, it can have a significant emotional impact. Some people are quite open about their hearing loss and will happily explain their challenges to others. However, there are others who it difficult to do this. For them, having to ask someone to repeat themselves over and over is often embarrassing and frustrating. Subsequently, people with hearing loss can begin to isolate themselves; they may avoid situations, such as going to restaurants or parties because they don’t want to face the barriers these noisy environments can bring.

Until you have experienced hearing loss, it can be hard to understand exactly how stressful and draining it can be. Lip-reading becomes part of your daily life and you have to work extra hard to understand what is being said. Often, you hear the wrong word and become confused and are no longer able to follow the conversation. If it is a stranger, you may not feel comfortable asking them to repeat what they said because you are worried the person might think you weren’t listening properly. Other times you worry that it might make you appear stupid and incapable of understanding. People can lose patience with repeating themselves, which is upsetting and this can impact your confidence. It becomes demoralising having to apologise all the time for not hearing what someone has said. As a result, many people with hearing loss will attempt to mask it.

In group situations, it can feel isolating because everyone is having a discussion and you are only hearing disjointed parts of the conversation. You cannot join in if you are unable to keep up with what is being said and when someone turns their back and you can no longer lip-read, it can be hard to speak up and ask them to face you.

Thanks to technological developments, hearing aids are now able to support people in various situations, however, they amplify all sounds and this can make noisy environments overwhelming. Environmental noises such as doors slamming, people talking in the background and air conditioning can be just as loud as the person sitting next to you. As such, busy environments are often quite draining as the brain attempts to focus solely on voices.

Additionally, people with tinnitus can experience significant psychological impacts. Experiencing a noise that will not stop and is there 24/7 to the extent that it can prevent you from getting to and staying asleep can be incredibly distressing. It can be hard to accept and cope with as there is no cure for tinnitus. When some people with tinnitus are anxious or stressed, the noise they hear can become louder, which causes more distress.

Employers need to understand the emotional impact of hearing loss. By being mindful of this, they can help identify when a person may be isolating themselves from their colleagues to avoid the frustration and embarrassment of not being able to hear. Employers may need to make adaptations to an employee’s role, as verbal communication can become challenging.

For example, a person working in a call centre may develop hearing loss and find it harder to hear callers. Being suddenly unable to easily complete the main duty of your role can feel very distressing and may cause that employee to worry about their future with the company. Consequently, employers must have an understanding of the impact of hearing loss so that they can empathise and show compassion to their employees and support them in accessing technological support and making reasonable adjustments.

hearing loop

Types of Adjustments

Technology

There have been incredible advancements in the world of hearing loss and technology. There is no ‘one size fits all’ with hearing loss and there is a wide range of technology available to support people. The option that is best for you will depend on the level of your hearing loss, the type of hearing aids you wear (if any) and the specific barriers you face.

Radio Aids

One of the most prominent solutions for people with hearing loss is the radio aid which can be connected to hearing aids to give more control over what sounds are amplified. They are provided with a transmitter that they can point at the person speaking or that person can wear it around their neck. This transmitter then sends the person’s voice directly into the hearing aids. This transmitter has been designed to suppress background noise and amplify the dominant voice. It is an extremely beneficial tool as it will allow people in busy environments to communicate with others easily and is a versatile solution that can be used in a wide range of situations.

This device can also be used to connect a person’s hearing aids to their computer. A lot of people find wearing a headset difficult as it causes pain and discomfort due to the pressure on the hearing aids against the ears. Having a radio aid means that the computer audio is transmitted into their hearing aids, removing the need to wear a headset.

Software

Captioning software

There is software available that will provide live captions. This supports people with hearing loss as they can use these subtitles to help them follow and engage with meetings. This can be used on a phone or a computer. There are now apps that can provide captions for phone calls.

Headsets

For people with mild hearing loss, they may benefit from a large ear-cushioned headset. They cup the ears and isolate them to reduce the amount of background noise which helps the user to hear more clearly when completing online meetings and receiving calls.

Hearing Loss and the Law

The Equality Act 2010 in Great Britain and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland provide legal protection from discrimination in the workplace. This legislation protects people with disabilities and helps achieve equal opportunities in the workplace and wider society.

A disability under the Act is defined as ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse (negative) effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

This Act puts legal responsibilities on employers. They must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that a person with a disability can work comfortably and efficiently and is not disadvantaged.

Many adjustments could be made; some examples include:

  • allowing flexible working
  • the provision of aids such as screen reading software
  • alterations to premises
  • adapting workplace policies
  • reviewing job duties
  • allowing time off for medical appointments

An invaluable way to ensure that people with hearing loss are not disadvantaged and are provided with all the support they may need to succeed in their role is to organise a workplace assessment.

hearing loss

Why employ someone with hearing loss?

It is the law that people should not be discriminated against because of their disability. However, employers don’t always realise that by employing someone with a hearing loss they are accessing an untapped resource pool. Many fear people with disabilities present more costs than benefits and are reluctant to invest in them.

People with hearing loss have to develop resilience and problem-solving skills and work harder to approach tasks that hearing people have no issue with. Resilience, problem-solving and hard work are valuable skills in the workplace.

Workplace Assessments

A workplace assessment provides a chance for a specialist to review the needs of the person with hearing loss and make bespoke recommendations to support them. This may involve recommending technology, software, non-medical help or reasonable adjustments. An assessment must take place by a qualified and experienced assessor as everyone has different needs and there is no one-size fits all package. A bespoke assessment ensures that the specific solutions required to remove their barriers are recommended and implemented.

There are two types of workplace assessments. Any person with a disability can apply for Access to Work funding. 

Access to Work

Access to work is a scheme offered by the government to support disabled people and their employers. It is designed to overcome barriers that can prevent people from accessing employment because of their disability. To do this, the government may fund any additional costs for support arising due to disability.

The process is as follows:

  • The employee submits evidence of their disability along with an application form.
  • Once processed and accepted, the employee is invited for a workplace assessment (either face-to-face at the workplace or remotely). The assessor will ask questions to determine the challenges that the employee does or will face in their role. They will then discuss recommendations for support which can include technology, software, travel and/or support workers.
  • A report is then sent to the Access to Work caseworker who will then approve or reject the recommendations.

Private Workplace Assessments

Private Workplace Assessments can be funded directly by employers, insurers and/or occupational health providers and are therefore not restricted by what the government can and cannot fund.

Visualise Training and Consultancy offers private workplace assessments to organisations in any sector. The process is similar to an Access to Work assessment but with some significant advantages.

Timings

With Access to Work Assessments, the time it takes from applying to receiving a list of recommended adjustments in the official report can take several months. That means employees can be trying to work without any support – or may be unable to work at all. Placing employees on ‘gardening leave’ in the interim is frustrating for both employees and employers.

Recommendations

The Access to Work assessment can only recommend support for needs relating to the role of the employee, however, with a Visualise assessment, the personal life of the employee is also considered to ensure a holistic view of the challenges involved. Supporting an employee with what benefits and support they can access will also have a positive outcome on their work performance.

Specialism

With a Visualise assessment, companies can be sure that the assessor is experienced and knowledgeable in all aspects of hearing loss meaning the employee will be given the most appropriate

Case Study

Meet Katie…  

Katie is a customer service advisor in a busy contact centre. In this role, she receives back-to-back telephone calls from customers and will support them with their queries. The telephone calls come through her computer and she has a standard headset. Katie has developed hearing loss. It was identified by her partner who noticed she was having difficulty hearing him. Katie wears two behind-the-ear Oticon hearing aids. Since being fitted with the hearing aids, Katie has found the following challenges at work:

  • Katie finds it hard to hear the caller on the phone because of the background noise in the office. Her hearing aids amplify all noises around her and this is making it hard for her to hear the customer through the headset.
  • The headset is causing pressure on her hearing aids which results in a headache after a few hours.
  • Katie finds it hard to hear customers that have strong accents and is often asking them to repeat themselves.
  • She is worried that she is going to make a mistake as she can mishear people without realising it.
  • Katie takes longer to support her customers because she has to double-check check she has heard what they said correctly.
  • When a colleague comes over to talk to Katie, it can be hard for her to hear them over the background noise in the call centre.
  • Katie takes part in weekly staff meetings. It is hard for her to follow group discussions because her hearing aids amplify all noises, including background noise, such as air conditioning and people coughing or mumbling in the background. She is having to ask for a recap of the meeting and finds this frustrating.
  • When completing eLearning, if a video is played and there are no subtitles, she can find it hard to follow.
  • MS Teams meetings online can be difficult for Katie to follow because she cannot see people’s faces.
  • She usually feels drained by the end of the day because the noise is overwhelming and she is working hard to hear people.
  • Katie can experience headaches due to the level of background noise in the call centre.
  • She sometimes avoids the staff canteen as she doesn’t find it easy to follow conversations. She does not like to tell people about her hearing loss.
  • Katie is lip-reading to support her and when people turn their backs on her, she cannot easily hear them as she cannot lip-read.
  • Katie experiences intermittent tinnitus, which mainly impacts her at night when she is trying to sleep. As a result, she is often tired at work from lack of sleep.

Workplace Assessment

Katie underwent a workplace assessment with Visualise Training and Consultancy and the following recommendations were made:

  • A radio aid was recommended to connect Katie’s hearing aids to her computer to remove the need for a headset.
  • Captioning software was recommended to provide Katie with live subtitles and a transcript to review for meetings and e-learning videos.
  • Medical breaks were recommended to allow Katie to leave the noisy environment of the office.
  • Lip-reading training was recommended to support Katie in busy environments and improve her confidence in communicating with her colleagues.
  • Katie was given a list of tinnitus apps to use to help manage her condition at night.
  • It was recommended that Katie be allocated a desk in a quieter location in the office.
  • It was recommended that Katie’s colleagues and managers attended hearing impairment awareness training to give them more of an insight into how hearing loss impacts people.

It was recommended that Katie is given a written summary of meetings and instructions where possible.

Hearing loss NEED NOT mean job loss

For more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Visualise Training and Consultancy – email info@visualisetrainingandconsultancy.co.uk  or visit Hearing Loss page.