Finding the right desk is important to ensure a successful working environment for people with hearing loss.
Office workers with hearing loss will often spend time and a bit of trial and error before finding the best placement for their desk within a room. Ideally, they don’t want to be too close to walk-through areas, coffee machines, water cooler corners, and such. Too much background noise can wreak havoc with hearing aids, making them useless. Trying to find a desk in a well-lit area is also important. The lack of natural light from windows or artificial lighting can make lip-reading difficult.
Working in an office with hearing loss might mean dealing with hot desks. This working style basically involves a first-come, first-served attitude when it comes to desks. The result is people take over the nearest available empty desk each time they start work. For the average hearing person, this might seem a great idea. However, for anyone with hearing loss, this can lead to all kinds of challenges.
The hot desk system will only work for those who are equal in needs and strengths. All too often deaf people will hesitate to make a fuss. This is a pity because often a quiet but firm word to HR will enable a compromise to be reached. Some firms will even allow a deaf employee to have an anchored desk; this can be done easily by having a reserved sticker large enough for anyone to see.
Having hearing aids switch background noise for foreground sound is a feature that anyone with hearing loss knows only too well. In an office, this can make working very difficult and greatly increase stress levels. One solution to decrease unwanted noise while leveling out other noises is quite simple. If the office is an open plan or a similar design, a screen can be introduced. Think of the old changing screens which generally come as three panels hinged together. These can be erected instantly. Covering them in a thick cloth will soften and deaden noise from surrounding areas.
These work in the same way as restaurants with thick heavy drapes and table cloths. The cloth works to soften the sharper louder background noise. This is intended to make for better conversation but also really helps those of us with hearing loss. Some restaurants and bars also feature cloth-covered baffles that hang from the ceiling and serve the same purpose. Certain forward-thinking companies are even putting in ceiling baffles for this very reason, which is certainly a step forward.
A frequent meeting place, which is often unofficially used as a place to exchange ideas and updates in offices, is the water cooler or tea and coffee making area. This might make perfect sense to those who have so-called normal hearing, but for those with hearing loss, it can be especially challenging. In an attempt to communicate with colleagues, mistakes and miscommunication can all too easily occur. It’s often at times like these that those hearing colleagues can easily make assumptions and expect that the deaf person has understood all that has been discussed.
Instead of a noisy cafeteria or kitchen space, try to find a quiet place to connect. Maybe there is a lobby with couches that you can invite colleagues to catch up or step outside for some fresh air and quieter space. Let people know where they can best communicate with you, whether that’s in a reserved meeting room, or in a quiet corner.
It makes sense to be upfront and perfectly honest about your own hearing loss and subsequent needs. One of the biggest problems we face with the mainstream hearing community is a general lack of understanding. Because hearing loss is an invisible disability, unless it is brought out into the open, it remains invisible.
“It makes sense to be upfront and perfectly honest about your own hearing loss and subsequent needs.”
It can too easy to blame others because of their lack of understanding. But if they fail to understand because of ignorance and lack of education, it isn’t really their fault. We, deaf people, have a responsibility to help educate others about our ways and needs. Only in doing so will we help create a healthy, beneficial work environment for all.