Whether you suffer from tinnitus or a mild form of hearing loss, it’s often difficult for others to tell. Some may think you’re just not interested in what they’re saying, and many feel its rude to be ignored. Bosses may decide you’re simply not capable of learning a task. A select few people may have a hint that you’ve got issues hearing, but most won’t be willing to ask, because, well, that’s considered rude too.
So when is a good time to disclose your hearing loss? This is a question that plagues many, and the answers aren’t always cut and dried. Given that a variety of situations can arise, there are many different possible answers.
Of the approximately 48 million people across the U.S. that have hearing loss, many of them feel that sharing this detail with others shows they have a weakness. They worry about stereotyping, discrimination, job security, their relationships with others. And all of these are valid points.
But just consider, if you did share this side of your life, what doors may open. You might be privy to better seating for get-togethers or meetings so that you could better hear your companions. Additional services such as enhanced phone systems or listening devices could be utilized to ensure you either hear the conversation better or are able to record it to playback at your leisure. The requests to repeat themselves wouldn’t be met with sighs of frustration.
Even though there may be awkwardness in the conversation, there is a multitude of reasons to consider telling others about your difficulty hearing. First and foremost is for others to help ensure your safety. Other reasons include workplace issues such as not being excluded from a job because the employer thought you weren’t able to comprehend or felt you were ignoring their wishes.
Even personal relationships can benefit from sharing this information. Friends and family who you don’t see as regularly might not be up on the details of your life, but by sharing this information with them you could pave the way for better communication. They may have similar problems or have suggestions on coping or devices that you hadn’t known about.
The first thought in many people’s minds is for the safety of those with some form of disability. People with hearing loss are no exception. Even a minor case may be subject to serious accidents. For instance, the inability to hear a horn honking or emergency vehicles nearby. Tornado sirens or fire alarms are further examples. Even someone walking too close to you could present a safety issue such as getting knocked down or potentially robbed.
The more people who know about your difficulties, the more people who can take that critical moment to inform you if there is a danger present. Whether at work or at home, it’s nice to know someone is out there that can help. Even if it’s the neighbor coming over to let you know that the weather service just called out a potential weather threat.
Opinions about workplace transparency differ greatly. According to a poll of email subscribers taken in January of 2020 in which the Hearing Health Foundation sought the opinions of their subscribers on whether or not to share details of hearing loss in the workplace.
Of the initial 100 responses, they learned of the following variations in thought on the subject:
From the 22 percent who thought ‘other’, they learned that it would be based on the specific circumstances or situation of the individual. From those with firsthand experiences the poll was met with opinions such as:
“When you know it’s presenting a problem and you cannot hear your co-workers,” wrote one participant who selected “other.”
“With my cochlear implants, I did so well that I didn’t need to tell (anyone at work),” wrote another respondent, who also said that they would only disclose the hearing loss if their devices weren’t sufficient for communication in the workplace.
While it’s common practice not to add details about your hearing loss while writing out your resume, it’s deemed as ok to share as early as a job interview, especially if there is any chance it will be noticeable. By not adding it to your resume, you level the playing field with other applicants. Much like you wouldn’t share details about marital status or religion at this stage.
It’s difficult to judge when to mention something that is sensitive to you. By opening up the doors of communication, you can encourage others to ask about any stumbling blocks you encounter and how they can make the workplace a little friendlier for you. It also enables you to make requests for accommodations such as being seated to face the speakers in a meeting, away from a noisy doorway, or towards the front at a conference.
If you were out with friends and didn’t tell them you were having trouble hearing, yet you were shy or grumpy about asking them to repeat themselves, it could cause tension if they thought you were ignoring them. This could lead to fewer invitations to go out.
By sharing a bit about your struggle with hearing loss you might unknowingly help yourself. Others are often great at offering to accommodate such as choosing a quieter location for get-togethers or remembering to look directly at you when speaking.
Some are even knowledgeable about the problem and can offer good advice. They might be friends with a good audiologist or have a family member who also deals with the issue. Friends and relatives are often happy to make recommendations of tips and tricks they’ve learned, places that are HL friendly, or upcoming events that might offer additional information on your situation.
Be sure to give it some serious thought before making your decision. While it might not be the right place or time to do it, if you’re willing, you can find a way to bring up the subject and answer any questions knowledgeably. Consider making a list of possible questions others might ask as well as your answers. This will help you feel more prepared when the situation presents itself.
If you struggle with how to explain it, talk to your hearing health provider about your concerns. They can offer better insight into your hearing loss as well as point you towards resources that will help you gain a better understanding of appropriate ways to share the information with others.