Dealing with hearing loss in the workplace can be a frustrating experience for many adults. Scott, a unilateral cochlear implant recipient, understands the communication barriers first-hand. Having received his cochlear implant last year, Scott shares how his work life has changed for the better.
My Hearing Journey
I started noticing vertigo and hearing loss when I was around 14 years old. Prior to that, I had completely normal hearing and no major medical issues whatsoever. Since the initial issues arose, I’ve seen nine different specialists. I always hoped for a definitive answer, but eventually I accepted that one wasn’t coming. My unofficial diagnosis is Meniere’s Disease. My hearing gradually declined until one ear became almost useless, and the other had severe loss. It took about 15 years, but I eventually arrived at the decision to implant in my worst ear. Nine months later, I’m quite confident it was the right call, and I’m still improving.
Missing Out in the Workplace
A major driver in my decision to implant—and in my need to hear better—was my job. I work in a large office environment where there are many people spread out across an entire floor of cubicles. It’s usually extremely quiet and most conversations are spoken softly in person. We have frequent meetings in rooms of varying sizes, and occasional phone conversations.
I was missing too much communication in the office before I got implanted. Even now with the implant there is conversation I miss, but it is significantly less than before. My doctor and audiologist were convinced that I could communicate more easily and effectively with the implant. They were right. Before getting my implant, meetings could be very challenging. I would need much more repeated to me, and I would often be forced to get information in ways other than just hearing it in conversation like my co-workers did. These situations are much rarer with the additional hearing power of the implant.
Overcoming the Biggest Hearing Challenges
One of my biggest hearing challenges at work has been conference calls that are conducted on speaker phone in meeting rooms. Many different voices, varying quality of phone clarity and volume, and overlapping sentences turn a seemingly routine office event into something requiring major focus on my part. The implant has made a very noticeable improvement in my ability to take part in these. The wider range of frequencies, clearer sounding voices, and hearing from both of my ears all make it much easier to follow these phone calls. In recent months, I’ve actually been tasked with leading a number of these conference calls, which may not have been possible pre-implant without the help of improved hearing.
Another satisfying improvement that I’ve discovered after getting the implant is “no-look” conversations. Due to the partitioned nature of the work space (in other words, cubicles everywhere), there are a lot of conversations outside of line of sight. This is noteworthy because it doesn’t allow the cheating assist of lip reading—something many of us with hearing loss become consciously or subconsciously quite reliant on. I can now often hear conversations and answer questions from co-workers without seeing them speaking. Again this is a routine thing that is still a novelty and a sign of improvement to me.
It does not happen often, but every once in a while someone will comment and/or ask about my processor. Without fail, the comments and questions are overwhelmingly positive. Typical reactions are: recognition—“Wow! I’ve read about those! That’s great!” Admiration—“That is really impressive! I didn’t even notice at first.” Or, amazement—“That is so neat! How does it work!? Do I sound cool!? Can I try it!?”
The most meaningful encounters are usually people that know someone else with an implant, or people with hearing aids and/or hearing loss of their own. I often exchange information and experiences with these people. There is definitely camaraderie in the hearing loss community!
Tips for Dealing with Hearing Loss in the Workplace
The biggest factor for me in hearing—particularly in group meetings—is positioning. This may seem like an obvious one, but over time I have learned what a difference position can make. With soft speakers, sit right next to them with your implanted side. Sit close to the most frequent speakers, or to the boss. Sometimes proximity to the door, a wall, or a whirring projector can make a difference. You have to be willing to experiment with optimal positioning. It’s like a game!
Use microphone accessories if you have them—sitting in the middle of the room is ideal. If there is external sound involved—such as a speaker phone, presentation audio, don’t be afraid to ask for it to be turned up. For conference calls I always try to sit next to the phone and I am not shy about being heavy-handed with that volume button. Lastly, be patient! Everyone misses things at times, even our normal hearing co-workers.
Don’t Feel Limited
A simple Google search returns innumerable examples of hearing impaired people (and completely deaf people) having amazing success in any type of workplace you can think of. I’ve been able to progress and develop in my role as I’ve adjusted to the implant. Within my own company I have encountered hearing impaired co-workers in various levels of the company that don’t allow themselves to be limited. As an implant user you may miss things, you may take time to adjust, and you may need things repeated. This doesn’t mean you can’t be outstanding at your job. Attitude of course plays a big part in this.
My experience in the workplace—and in general day to day communication—has left me with no doubt that I made the right choice in going through with the cochlear implant. If you are unsure, I would encourage you to consider what you’re missing—and what you have to gain.
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