Whatever industry you work in, there it is likely to be noisy. The world of work is full of sounds, from telephones ringing, printers and other office equipment whirring, music playing, the constant hum of colleagues and customers talking, announcements over tannoys and speakers – there is noise coming from all sorts of sources.
With one in six people thought to suffer from hearing loss to one degree or another, it is likely that at some point, you will come across an employee or a colleague who has hearing problems, from deafness to ringing noises in the ears, amongst other things.
It can be pretty isolating, especially in a busy and noisy environment, so it is imperative that you understand the steps needed to make the workplace accessible to them, and make their professional lives that little bit easier. It isn’t just a nice thing to do – by law, you have to make accommodations under various disability rules, so knowing what to do and putting these measures into place can stop you getting into hot water. Here are just a few things that you can do.
1. Talk to your employee
Before you make any significant adjustments, talk to the person affected. They are the best person to tell you what changes need to be made, and what you can do to help them at work. For example, they may have a hearing device with app, which can allow the user to adjust the volume depending on their environment. This puts them in control of things and may mean that only minor adjustments need to be made.
2. Send emails and text messages
If you rely on tannoys, speaker announcements or phone calls to communicate with employees, which may be inaccessible to someone with hearing loss, consider sending the same message via email or text message. If your member of staff can lip read, video calling may be an effective way of communicating with them.
3. Learn Sign Language
If you know you have someone on your team that communicates through sign language, why not sign you and the rest of the team up for lessons? Not only will you be giving your staff an extra method of communicating with their colleague, but you are also providing them with a valuable life skill.
4. Speak slowly and clearly
Hearing issues do not necessarily mean a complete hearing loss. Sometimes, just slowing your speech down and enunciating words correctly and clearly can be enough, particularly if they are lip reading. Try to stand in front of your employee so that they can see you and make sure only one person is speaking to them at a time.
5. Provide visual aids
When training sessions are in progress, provide visual aids as well. This may be a print out summarising the presentation, slideshow notes, flip charts, and demonstrations. It is also a good idea to visually indicate who is speaking next, so the person affected knows where to look, and make sure they are seated at the front, so there are no obstructions to their view of speakers.
6. Install flashing lights
These can be used to indicate an incoming phone call, or the doorbell or buzzer being used, alongside the sound. It is also important to have a visual alert for emergencies such as a fire, where the person affected by hearing loss may not be able to hear the alarms. An alternative to this is a vibrating watches or alarms.
7. Consider the acoustics of the room
Acoustics play a huge part in how well we are able to hear things. Bare and hard surfaces can have a resounding effect, which makes it difficult to hear properly. The acoustics can be improved easily by installing special acoustic waffles or cushions, or by the use of curtains and carpes. In office environments, partition walls can be effective. Where possible, minimise unnecessary news such as radio or equipment that emits noise as this can be distracting and impeded the understanding of speech.
One of the most important things that you can do for your employee though is to make sure he or she is not isolated due to their condition and to keep up the lines of communication with them. They are as valuable to your team as any other employee and should be treated as such. Involve them in conversations and make sure that they are not left out of social events.