Hearing impairment or deafness
Key facts on hearing impairment or deafness
- Hearing impairment ranges from mild hearing loss to profound deafness.
- Can be caused by a genetic condition, illness, trauma, or natural ageing.
- If a person is born profoundly deaf or loses their hearing before they have learned to speak, it is less likely that they will learn to speak well. People who lose their hearing later in life or have a milder hearing impairment are more likely to be able to speak clearly.
- People with hearing impairment may use hearing aids, lip-reading, Auslan (Australian sign language) or a combination to assist with communication.
- Hearing aids can help some people, but they only amplify whatever sounds can be heard. Unclear sounds remain unclear; they are just louder.
- The cochlear implant does not restore normal hearing but rather works as a powerful hearing aid.
Affects and adjustments at work
Common affects of hearing impairment or deafness at work
Remember! No two people with the same disability experience the same affects at work!
Employees with disability are not likely to have all the listed disability features OR affects at work! Most people have just a few of those listed; you'll only know by asking the person directly.
Here are some examples of how an employee with a hearing impairment or deafness may be affected at work. They may have difficulties with:
- Communicating, especially:
- where there is background noise
- in large groups and
- via telephone
- Identifying workplace hazards alerted by auditory (sound) alarm or signals
- Easily picking up on subtle social "clues" based on tone of voice, low volume speaking or others
- Keeping up involvement and picking up all the details in meetings, conversations or other interactions that are speech-based
- Getting to know new people and surroundings.
Possible workplace adjustments for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment
The following examples of workplace adjustments are only examples! These examples will not suit everybody.
In each case the best supports in the workplace can only be discovered through conversations between employer, employee and, if needed, a disability specific employment specialist.
Some examples of workplace adjustments that have been used for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment include:
- Email more frequently and to confirm important conversations.
- Re-arrange a work station to help reduce background noise.
- Provide written notes or minutes quickly after meetings. Supply agendas, notes and presentations in advance of meetings (even less formal meetings).
- Arrange seating in meetings and training so that the person can always see the faces of participants.
- Swap telephone or other hearing dependent tasks with team mates for alternative tasks.
- If needed, use a sign language interpreter (Auslan is Australian Sign Language) (see Job Access website for details on help to arrange an interpreter)
- Use specific equipment for people with hearing impairment, for example:
- Amplified telephone handsets
- Hearing loops
- Text telephone (TTY) and relay service
- Live captioning
- Visual or vibrating alarms
- Use of SMS for mobile phone communication
For more information and suggestions on making workplace adjustments for employees with specific types of disability visit the government website Job Access.
Tips for communicating with people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment
- Place yourself where the person can see you to gain attention, or lightly touch their shoulder.
- Keep sentences short and detail minimal.
- If needed, be prepared to use pen and paper to communicate.
- Always face the person and do not cover your mouth.
- Avoid sitting in front of a window or other light source that can make it difficult for the person to see your face clearly.
- Close doors and windows to help reduce outside noise.
- Always speak directly to the person and not to their interpreter.
- Wherever possible, use demonstration to explain new tasks.