Learn­ing to live (and work) with hear­ing loss

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Toby Gor­don

I didn’t fully re­al­ize I had a hear­ing loss un­til I didn’t hear the oven timer go off from the next room. Af­ter see­ing an ENT doc­tor, I learned I had a mod­er­ate to se­vere sen­sorineu­ral hear­ing loss. I wasn’t hear­ing the up­per end of the sound range, and the vol­ume of what I hear over­all is too low. My brain re­places the lost sounds with a con­tin­ual buzzing in my ear- like crick­ets at a lake in the sum­mer.

Hear­ing loss is an in­vis­i­ble dis­abil­ity. Once di­ag­nosed, hear­ing aids can help, but they don’t just turn up the vol­ume. They are highly so­phis­ti­cated de­vices that re­pro­cess sound so it can be “heard” by the wearer, and they can help with the buzzing and ring­ing sounds, called tin­ni­tus.

High tech hear­ing aids came out of

Cold War spy tech­nol­ogy — very cool!

But even with hear­ing aids, I still have chal­lenges at work that make it hard to do my job as a pro­fes­sor. There are ways hear­ing is­sues can be ac­com­mo­dated at work un­der the

ADA law, but the per­son with the hear­ing loss has to fig­ure out what to ask for. As you are learn­ing about your hear­ing loss and how to use your hear­ing aids, you are on your own to fig­ure it out how to ad­dress chal­lenges in your work en­vi­ron­ment. My au­di­ol­o­gist says it takes a year.

Some im­por­tant things to know in­clude:

Hear­ing loss is not just a sound/ vol­ume is­sue. Turn­ing up the vol­ume does not help. In fact, high vol­ume and loud noises can be painful. Many peo­ple with hear­ing losses are sen­si­tive to sound;

Acous­tics are an is­sue. Hard sur­faces re­flect sound; it is not com­fort­able to be in a small room with hard sur­faces;

Back­ground noise is a big prob­lem; it is am­pli­fied along with every­thing else;

Get­ting within a few feet of you to read your lips helps us hear — some­thing many of us do with­out re­al­iz­ing it;

Peo­ple with hear­ing losses can have bal­ance prob­lems. Stand-up pad­dling is hard to do now, and I avoid teach­ing in rooms with steps;

Some peo­ple with hear­ing losses speak at the vol­ume they hear — so they need mi­cro­phones so the au­di­ence can hear them.

My new mis­sion is to learn from oth­ers with hear­ing losses at work about ac­com­mo­da­tions that are help­ful. Some of the ac­com­mo­da­tions one can re­quest — and hope­fully ob­tain, as you are en­ti­tled to rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion un­der the ADA — in­clude am­pli­fi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy (e.g. mi­cro­phones); workspaces with acous­tics that meet your hear­ing needs; ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies such as those that con­vert speech to text.

Hav­ing a hear­ing loss, like any dis­abil­ity, makes do­ing my job harder. The chal­lenges to hear at work ex­tend to con­fer­ence rooms and so­cial gath­er­ing spa­ces. And a hear­ing loss is tir­ing — one strains to hear all day at work. Hear­ing loss can be so­cially iso­lat­ing. Mostly, it is frus­trat­ing, be­cause it is not well un­der­stood by the hear­ing-abled, and it is not al­ways taken se­ri­ously enough to be pri­or­i­tized for ac­com­mo­da­tion. Peo­ple as­sume wrongly that if you have hear­ing aids you can hear and there­fore it’s not a prob­lem. Some feel stig­ma­tized by a hear­ing loss and want to avoid the stereo­typ­i­cal views as be­ing old and in­ept, so they may not let oth­ers know or seek treat­ment.

I may not hear 100%, but I can use my voice 100%. I want to ed­u­cate and ad­vo­cate to help make things bet­ter for any­one else fac­ing the chal­lenges I am now fac­ing. With a hear­ing dis­abil­ity, you are en­ti­tled to rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tions, but first you have to know what to ask for. And if you are among the 80% of hear­ing im­paired peo­ple who haven’t had a hear­ing test or opted to wear hear­ing aids when they are rec­om­mended, you are miss­ing out on a bet­ter qual­ity of life, and you may be at risk for de­pres­sion and ear­lier on­set of de­men­tia.

With Thanks­giv­ing gath­er­ings just around the corner, re­mem­ber that turn­ing up the vol­ume on the tele­vi­sion will just an­noy your fam­ily, but not hear­ing the oven timer could be cat­a­strophic. No­body wants to eat a burned turkey.

But even with hear­ing aids, I still have chal­lenges at work that make it hard to do my job as a pro­fes­sor. There are ways hear­ing is­sues can be ac­com­mo­dated at work un­der the ADA law, but the per­son with the hear­ing loss has to fig­ure out what to ask for.

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