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Hearing loss at work gets easier in USA-what can we learn in the UK?

Employers in the USA are making necessary accommodation for employees with hearing loss

Tuesday 30 May
Hearing loss at work gets easier in USA-what can we learn in the UK?

Editor - May 30 at 07:00

Marie Saliterman, 58, was sick for a month 28 years ago. When she felt well enough to return to her administrative assistant job, she noticed she had trouble hearing and then had her hearing tested. “They told me I was like the typical 70-year-old,” Saliterman recalls. “I was 30-years-old. I refused to wear hearing aids.” Saliterman soon changed her mind. Without hearing aids, she realised, she was missing out on too much, including at work. With a young family, she needed an income. Still, her moderate to severe hearing loss wasn’t something she talked about at work — until she got a piece of advice that changed her thinking seven years ago.
The firm she worked for at the time, in Minnesota's Twin Cities, USA, had failed in the bad economy. Saliterman usually found jobs through referrals, but decided to take advantage of a job-search class. Its instructor encouraged her to be upfront about her hearing difficulties. “It’s important to tell people,” Saliterman now says. She eventually landed a job as an administrative assistant at Cargill, the Minnesota-based agribusiness behemoth, which hired her knowing that she heard with difficulty. Besides hearing aids, Saliterman uses an amplified phone and offers tips to co-workers so they'll have the best chance for good communication. For instance, since she's attuned to their body language, Saliterman tells them to stand directly in front of her and within three feet. Talking about hearing loss with her colleagues is an ongoing need, she adds. "You have to remind them," says Saliterman.
But employers have not traditionally included treatment of hearing loss in their employee benefits packages, even though poor hearing affects productivity and performance. And hearing difficulties are accentuated these days with the widespread embrace by management of open-floorplan offices. Employees with hearing issues, meanwhile, often try to mask this, despite the risk of derailing their careers. “This is the most denied physical condition that exists,” says Alison Grimes, director of audiology and newborn hearing screening at UCLA Health. “People don’t say, ‘My hearing isn’t as good as it used to be.’ They’re worried about the stigma of being considered old.” There is movement by employers toward a change for the better, however, thanks in part to growing recognition that the average age of workers is on the rise. The 2016 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans by Mercer, the global consulting firm, shows that 60% of the large employers surveyed (those with 5,000 employees or more) now offer some insurance coverage for hearing aids.
Firms are also starting to add hearing health to their employee wellness programs, which typically include weight control, exercise and smoking cessation. “To an increasing degree, hearing is covered by corporate health plans,” says Carole Rogin, president of the non-profit Better Hearing Institute, the self-described “educational arm” of the Hearing Industries Association. Other factors are also likely to help reduce any stigma associated with hearing loss. For an aging workforce, hearing loss is a shared experience. Advances in hearing aid technologies are making the products more effective. And the beginnings of regulatory reform should lower the cost of hearing aids and make them accessible to more people. Technology is helping people at work compensate for their hearing loss in a number of ways. Information technologies like email, instant messaging, text messages, Slack and other communications applications put everyone on a level field. And hearing aids have improved dramatically in recent decades. Many automatically adjust to changes in the audio environment and can be linked to Bluetooth and smartphones.
The problem does not exist just in the USA. HearingLink is staging an event on 6th July at Haberdashers’ Hall to help companies and HEIs in the UK understand how to deal with hearing loss at work and on campus. See more information and buy delegate tickets for Let's Listen 2017 by clicking this link. Source: Forbes


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Developed by Scottish Sensory Centre