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May is the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA) annual Better Hearing and Speech Month, when we seek to spread awareness and expand treatment for those with communication issues. This year’s theme is “Communication at Work,” and with many people’s work lives now happening at home, there’s no better time to think about how to make sure we’re communicating effectively with our coworkers, bosses and employers.
Working from Home?
If you’re working from home, you’re probably ending up in some virtual meeting rooms. Maybe your employer is using Zoom or Google Meet, both of which have some excellent features for the hearing impaired. Closed captioning, automatic transcription and audio recording of calls are available on both platforms and go a long way toward assisting those of us with hearing loss. Also consider using earbuds while in a virtual meeting: this will allow you to turn the volume up as much as you like without the possibility of feedback between your device’s speakers and microphone.
While technology goes a long way with virtual office software, even attenuating some steady, constant noises like fans whirring or fridges buzzing, there are still some things you and your coworkers need to do to make sure you’re really set up for a quality online meeting. For one, the software can’t tell the difference between pertinent speech and background speech, so make sure no one has a television on in the background or a family member or roommate on another call. Even in the next room this might come through, as the software tends to find human voices and bring them to the forefront, even when they’re further away.
Also, if you rely on lipreading, you’ll want to make sure you can see everyone’s face clearly. Everyone on your call should be in a well-lit space with minimal visual distractions, facing their device’s camera and not too far away from it. While software will make adjustments to brighten video being shot in underlit spaces, this will granulate the image, making lipreading much more difficult. Furthermore, everyone should have their device on a stable surface to keep their image consistent in space. While these considerations are especially important for the hearing impaired, they’ll be appreciated by all the people with normal hearing on the call, as well!
Best to Receive a Diagnosis Sooner Than Later
If you’re new to hearing loss and are yet to be officially diagnosed, make an appointment with a hearing healthcare practitioner today to get a hearing test. For one, being diagnosed will give you recourse to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, should you need to call on them. Basically, this ensures that your employer must provide reasonable accommodations for the hearing impaired.
Earlier discovery and treatment of hearing loss also prevents a host of cascading negative effects, all of which have been extensively studied and documented over the past several decades. For one example, as hearing starts to subside, the brain takes in less and less auditory information. Over time, this leads to atrophy in the speech centers of the brain. Once this has occurred, it remains difficult for a person to understand speech even once hearing aids allow them to hear it nearly perfectly again, and it takes a long time to rebuild the ability. Not only this, but habits are formed with hearing loss that may be hard to break when a person does decide to get hearing aids. Even if you return to being able to hear and understand speech, you may have gotten used to simply tuning much of it out.
Those with hearing loss know how tiring it can be, and this can really make your work days feel long. Getting hearing aids will have the added benefit of reducing this type of social exhaustion, from straining to hear co-workers or clients throughout the day.
Rather than waiting for years to get hearing aids (and the average person, unfortunately, waits a full seven years after the advent of life-affecting hearing loss), wouldn’t it be better to avoid having to rebuild all the skills and mental abilities we take for granted when our hearing is normal? If you know you’re having more difficulty than normal understanding speech at work, at home or at social gatherings, make an appointment and take the right steps to keep hearing as best you can, to keep your body and brain young, energetic, and at your best.