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Accommodating Employees Who Suffer From Hearing Loss

In a perfect world, employees with disabilities would never have to struggle with trying to obtain the accommodations which would allow them to be successful in the corporate world. Unfortunately, despite increasing awareness, diversity programs, and ever-growing legislation, many employers fall short when it comes to providing reasonable accommodation.

In a perfect world, employees with disabilities would never have to struggle with trying to obtain the accommodations which would allow them to be successful in the corporate world. Unfortunately, despite increasing awareness, diversity programs, and ever-growing legislation, many employers fall short when it comes to providing reasonable accommodation. 

One area which many employers are unsure of how to accommodate is with employees who have some degree of hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 15 percent (32.5 million) of American adults report some degree of hearing loss (NIDCD, 2008).

Despite the availability of cutting-edge technology, employees with hearing loss can have difficulty with personal interactions, telephone-based communication, and meetings, but there are some fairly simple steps employers can take to help these employees improve their ability to communicate effectively in the workplace.

·         Desk arrangement-Employers can choose to place an employee with hearing loss in an environment that will provide the best listening situation possible, particularly if the employee has to have conversations on the phone. While it may not be possible to provide the employee with a closed-door office, efforts can be made to position the employee away from sounds such as machinery, copiers, printers which may interfere with their ability to hear.

·         Written communication-The use of written materials to reinforce information delivered verbally can be extremely effective in ensuring that the employee receives the same information as everyone else.

·         Telephone add-ons-There are numerous devices which can amplify sound on an individual’s telephone, and it is not difficult to find a wide range of these readily available. Often, the cost is minimal and there are varieties to accommodate just about any type of phone.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified applicants and employees with a disability unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so creates an undue hardship to the employer or poses a direct threat to the safety of the employee or others in the workplace. When it comes to employees with disabilities, decisions on accommodation will need to be made on a case by case basis. What is considered reasonable for a large corporation may not always be so for a very small firm. The important thing is to treat all employees fairly, and to carefully consider any requests for accommodation.

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