It’s just a common, minor handicap–so why does it frustrate staff so much? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

It’s just a common, minor handicap–so why does it frustrate staff so much?

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Question: "I wear a hearing aid, but still I often have the need to ask co-workers to repeat things. They all know about my handicap but naturally they don't always remember to speak a little louder until I ask them to. I sense that a lot of them find it very aggravating to have to repeat sentences when they talk to me, and sometimes I get a polite 'Oh, never mind, it's not that important,' which is very frustrating. I wonder why people don't have a little more patience with this disability, and what I can do to adapt and not get on their nerves." - Miranda, Digital Archivist

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

TB September 10, 2015 at 4:28 pm

SK – I too wear hearing aids and recently had my hearing re-evaluated. It was recommended that I update my aids taking into consideration the lifestyle I choose and the results of the required frequency. My lifestyle includes a very wide range of situations; meetings, minutes, events, music, dancing, family gatherings and background noises. It is around $6,500. My insurance does not cover it. Is there an insurance carrier that offers Hearing Aid coverage they are satisfied with?

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Rebecca September 10, 2015 at 7:23 pm

To TB/SK – Not knowing what insurance company you have your coverage with, I can only recommend that if you have Blue Cross/Blue Shield they have a parent company called “Blue Advantage”. Blue Advantage has a hearing aid company that offers considerable discounts for hearing aids. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase Widex digital hearing aids for about $1,500 for 2 hearing aids – would have cost me over $5,000 which I did not have. If you do not have this particular insurance company, I know this is a long shot, but when I was “looking” to find a bargain, I did go to eBay. There are companies who sell new (not used) digital hearing aids at an affordable price. If I did not have Blue Advantage, that would have been the route I would have taken. However, the companies on eBay would have required that you show proof (doctor’s prescription) that you need hearing aids. The price does not include the setting up of the digital hearing aids – you would have to go to an audiologist to have them “program” your hearing aids. This route is still the best alternative. Of course, you may check with an audiologist and see if they have demos that they could offer you, too, and compare prices. Buying demos from them they would be able to program the hearing aids at no cost. Just some ideas. Hope you are successful with getting a set of hearing aids. It was and is the best investment I could have made for my personal well-being. Good luck!

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Lisa B September 10, 2015 at 1:03 pm

I don’t wear hearing aids but I too have problems hearing people and find I’m sometimes lip-reading to help with understanding what people say. I’ll often repeat back to others what I think they said so that I am sure I understood it properly. I’m not shy about saying I have trouble understanding something and tell them if I need extra accommodations.

That being said, there is no shame in wearing hearing aids. My mother wore hearing aids for years. I learned a long time ago that it was easier for her to get along with people and understand them if she just told them up front that she wore them. People would suddenly “get it” and adjust their speech around her to help.

In the end, the goal is to understand, not worry about popularity or how others may or may not treat you. Good luck!

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Joe Smith September 10, 2015 at 11:41 am

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Polly September 2, 2015 at 10:28 am

I work with a gal who had a hearing debility. Constantly asking people to repeat themselves, cupping her good ear and turning her head so she could hear you better while she read your lips and listened… She would get frustrated for sure, as would those needing to converse with her. If people didn’t know her well, their perception of her was not a pleasant one. I would often hear “I don’t like dealing with her. I ask her a question and she won’t answer me…” (that was the nicest of the comments).

But I like this gal – we’re friends inside and outside of work – and I felt the need to be a buffer for both sides. “Did you come up behind her when you asked the question?” “Did you ask her straight on?” A couple co-workers were down-right nasty about it too… I wouldn’t come right out and say she had a hearing debility, but rather point out how she cups her ear when they talk with her and let them come to the understanding that there’s something more than a personality clash there… And they did. And things changed. And life was better for everyone!

Unbeknownst to everyone, the gal got hearing aids. She now hears and comments on ‘normal’ conversations – even those occurring behind her.

I wear glasses – a few different ones depending on my given task (cheaters, multifocal, distance…). Normally, I just have my distance glasses on. If I go get my haircut, at the end, the stylist hands me a mirror & spins my chair so I can see the back. We just laugh now because she knows I can’t see a foot in front of my face without having my ‘eyes’ on. Now she hands me the mirror and my glasses.

Personally, if we’re ok wearing glasses to see – and there’s no hiding that we’re wearing glasses, I wish people would be ok with hearing aides and talking about it. You couldn’t see well, so you took measures to help you with your sight. If you can’t hear well, take measures to hear better and be open about it. Not all hearing aides work well or correctly when first received, and much like glasses, they need adjustment.

Be ok with the mindset that we’re all human and not perfect. We all have ailments, abilities, debilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

I refuse to use the word disability. An acquaintance made the comment once about her daughter, clarifying for me that her teenage daughter has disabilities. There was almost a negative connotation and visible shrinking implied with her comment – as though she’d been shunned by people in the past for having a child that wasn’t ‘normal’ in the eyes of majority public. My heart broke for her. I’ve seen her Facebook posts, I’ve seen her family, so I knew what she was trying to tell me. I gave her a hug and told her she doesn’t have disabilities. She has different abilities. I got one of the nicest hugs back.

More information than I needed to share, I’m sure. But we’re all there. We all have different abilities. Be strong and confident in the abilities you do have. Be vocal if you need help or things to be different for you. Be the change you want to see in others.

All the best to you~

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SK September 2, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Polly, you are so kind to respond to this.
I might even have the courage to not keep my hearing aids a secret. You’re right. I also wear glasses and nobody seems to think that’s hindering my responsibilities. And I have the same problem at the hairdresser! She knows now and hands me my glasses at the same time.
I just wish I had enough money to afford an upgrade. Mine are below par for my hearing at this point. Decisions, decisions: new roof–hearing aids? Car repair–hearing aids? Trip across country to visit my daughter–hearing aids.
I am blessed that at least I do have some and they work mostly well for me, except when someone is very soft spoken, or talks fast.
Thanks for your comment!

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Rebecca August 29, 2015 at 12:06 pm

I understand where you are coming from as I wear hearing aids too. I mainly got the hearing aids because although there are a couple of people in our office who are soft-spoken, my boss is the main reason. He had a neck injury from a bicycle accident that somehow damaged his vocal cords and he can only speak in a whisper and I mean a whisper! Very frustrating trying to understand what he is saying and do not like to ask him to repeat as he is very frustrated at his voice loss. He is now on medical leave having surgery to hopefully correct the problems with his voice (has had 2 other surgeries unsuccessful). The hearing aids that I purchased are digital and offer 3 levels of hearing and in wearing can now pick up on conversations with hardly any problems. In reading all the reviews, hope all will be some help to you. Hang in there!

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Sara Wilson August 28, 2015 at 10:54 am

Miranda, I think the most important thing for you to do is be confident and productive in your skills at work, remain calm about this issue, and never take it personally if someone acts in a way that makes you think he or she is frustrated. It may not even be related to you not being able to hear them the first time. I would pray for patience, and pray for others to have patience as well. If it continues to be a problem that you have a hard time dealing with, I would talk to your leader, or your ethics department, for help. Good companies are supportive of their employees. I work with an attorney who is blind, and he is very productive, confident, and asks for help when he needs it. My co-workers do not even look at him as handicapped. Glad you reached out for help! (Maybe you’ve already done this, but if not, I would check into getting a better quality hearing aid. That could really change your life, if it’s the hearing aid that’s not working properly and you got that fixed.)

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Di Richards August 28, 2015 at 9:20 am

Though we don’t want to consider it as such, it is a disability and your company should have a policy on reasonable accommodation of disabilities. Asking people to speak clearly and TO you is not unreasonable under any circumstances.

Hearing issues are difficult because there are not always visible clues that alert someone to they need to behave differently. And none of us want to walk around with a sign saying Treat Me Differently!

If someone consistently gives you a hard time consider pulling them aside and asking “Have you tried walking in my shoes?” Ask them to cover their ears while you speak softly to them. See how they react. Once caring, considerate people understand what needs to be done they’ll do it. And most people are caring & considerate; they just forget or get tied up with the immediate emergency they are trying to deal with!

I look forward to hearing some of the best of these responses in next week’s newsletter! Thank you!

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Terron August 27, 2015 at 5:34 pm

I was thinking more about this and was curious if you use any kind of instant messaging at work. If not, I would suggest checking out Slack.com. They have an instant messenger for the workplace and it’s free. Maybe your office can rely on that more than verbal communication.

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June Cram August 27, 2015 at 5:25 pm

I too wear hearing aids and have a hard time hearing soft spoken coworkers. I recently purchased new hearing aids (not always an option) that have three settings. I can easily turn them up or down via these settings as well as turn the volume up and down. We cannot do anything about someone else’s reaction to our disability, but we can choose to realize that it is their problem and not let it frustrate us. I hope this encourages you a bit.

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Blaise Ragusa August 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Miranda, I too wear hearing aids…a pair. I share the same frustrations as you and I am sure as many others do. I often place myself in the shoes of my audience and reflect on how I used to behave under similar circumstances. It is a common human reaction and a display of frustration as well as impatience. I had my hearing re-evaluated and found that my then current devices were outdated (10+ years old), as my hearing had changed. I now have current technology and my hearing ability is much improved. I don’t have to ask to have things repeated nearly as often as I used to. It is true that some of our audience frustrates us and for that reason, they should place themselves in our shoes as well. I hope this helps. Good luck and try a hearing re-evaluation. Blaise

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Georgie August 27, 2015 at 5:14 pm

I struggle to hear and I don’t have a hearing issue. At my workplace I find a lot people do mumble. They do not speak clearly and concisely plus every generation has their own jargon. When I liaise with a customer over the telephone and ask them to repeat a detail they say it faster.

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SK August 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Thanks, Georgie. I’m feeling very validated. Sometimes it isn’t me.

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SK August 27, 2015 at 4:32 pm

I also wear hearing aids and I struggle in meetings where I have to take Minutes. Everyone on my team is VERY soft spoken, and it’s hard to hear, even with hearing aids. I am the oldest person in my office, and I haven’t really told anyone I wear hearing aids, but I quite often ask them to repeat themselves because it’s important for the Minutes.
There is no way to adjust my hearing aids up and down as was previously suggested. I used to have that kind, but the ones I have now are not adjustable.
Also, I try to sit next to the most soft-spoken person who is usually the one leading the meeting so I can hear what he said. A lot of times, in a meeting, people will speak in asides and both of them “mumble.” I always ask if it’s something for the Minutes to give them the opportunity to repeat what is said. Usually it’s not important to include, so then I don’t worry about it.
A lot of time with hearing problems, it’s not that you can’t “hear,” it’s that you can’t hear the articulation of words and phrases. You hear noise, but not particular words. Also, some people speak very fast and other do mumble.
My team has been very kind and nobody acts like I’m a bother. I try not to ask too much, but when it’s crucial, I do. I also ask some people to speak up a bit. Or, after the meeting, I’ll ask them if I heard them correctly and they can tell me then if I “got it.”
Ironically, I have a hearing appointment today after work to have my ears checked again. It’s possible my hearing aids might need an adjustment because my hearing has changed. Miranda, that could be your problem, too. Also, you need to have them cleaned regularly.
I’m sorry you suffer a hearing loss. I know firsthand how it affects your whole life and how people just stop including you on conversations–your question reminds me of my kids. But don’t give up, and if someone acts as if you’re a bother, or as if you “make it more difficult for other people to accommodate” you, well, someday they will be old, and karma can be quite satisfying :-)
Snarkiness aside, I just found out that if you have a problem on the job due to hearing loss, you may be eligible for aid in buying hearing aids. My friend just had to quit her job as a teacher due to hearing loss and didn’t know she could actually put in a claim with an insurance company for help. Most insurance companies don’t cover hearing aids or hearing tests. But, if you can’t see, you need glasses. If you can’t hear, you need hearing aids.

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ManyHats September 1, 2015 at 1:57 pm

SK – About those Minutes – Could you have a good quality recording device running during the meetings? Keep taking the Minutes the way you normally do, including asking about those mumbling side conversations, but a good recording turned up and listened to through headphones afterwards might be very useful to your confidence in the final product.

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SK September 1, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Thanks for your comment. I do have a recording device, but forsook doing that a while ago. My hearing’s not so good for them either–even with headphones or earbuds, etc.
I just went to the hearing place and was told the hearing aids I have aren’t strong enough for my hearing loss.
Alas, I don’t have $4,000-6,000 right now to replace them. I’m going to try to find someone in the area who might be able to make an adjustment and boost the gain for me.
I appreciate your concern.

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Sue September 10, 2015 at 4:05 pm

I also wear hearing aids in both ears…on my second pair and yes, they are expensive! It’s a crime that insurance won’t cover even a portion of the cost. However, I was fortunate with my second pair that I was able to purchase “demos” at a significant savings….about half of regular cost. Worth checking out! Good luck!

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Julia September 11, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Hi SK-
I use an iPad app called Notability to record meetings. That way, I can easily go back and listen to things I might have missed. I have an iPad case with a keyboard, so I type my meeting minutes right in the app while its recording. No one even needs to know that you are recording! You just look hip using your iPad for minutes! ;-)
Julia

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Di Richards September 11, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Sorry, Julia, not to be a doubter, but I’d watch out for that comment!

Even with a meeting where minutes are being taken down, there may be legal issues associated with “secret” recordings. Check what the policies are with your company and the laws in your state before taking such action.

These are older examples, but show what I’m trying to express:
http://www.shrm.org/publications/hrmagazine/editorialcontent/2014/1114/pages/1114-recordings-at-work.aspx
http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2013/11/19/can-i-record-a-conversation-with-my-employer/

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Terron August 27, 2015 at 4:20 pm

I don’t know if this is human nature but I feel that I personally have a habit of mimicking the person I’m talking to with body language, tone, ect. in many situations. Perhaps to get others in the habit of speaking louder to you, speak louder than normal to them and see if they pick up on that. Nothing obvious like screaming but enough to get the point across.

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Cindy Coleman August 27, 2015 at 4:12 pm

I feel that my job as an Administrative Assistant is to make my bosses jobs easier. If there’s a problem being created because of me then I need to fix it. Perhaps turning your hearing aid up a notch or two. Also, if you know that someone is soft spoken and they approach you to speak, then ask them to hold on and turn up your hearing aid even more. My mother was in a wheelchair, but she didn’t make it more difficult for other people to accommodate her.

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Robyn B August 27, 2015 at 4:02 pm

I’ll be interested to see replies as I’m struggling with hearing things in my new work environment.

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