Occupational Hearing Loss

employment and Economic Costs

  • 48% of people who have hearing loss were employed in 2014, but about the same amount (47%) are not in the labor force.

    • Adults with hearing loss are more likely to have lower education, lower income, and be unemployment or underemployment, compared with their typical-hearing peers.

  • Individuals with hearing loss also experience greater difficulties in employment transition and career development, compared with those with typical hearing.

  • Untreated hearing loss can decrease one’s annual income by as much as $30,000. The yearly cost to society is estimated to be as high as $26 billion in unrealized federal taxes; and an estimated aggregate yearly income loss of $176 billion due to underemployment.

    • For those who did collect an income, individuals with hearing loss made about 25% less; their mean wage was $23,481, compared with $31,272 for typical-hearing peers.

    • Hearing aids were shown to reduce the risk of income loss by 90 to 100% for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 to 77% for those with moderate to severe hearing loss.

  • Untreated hearing loss shows a higher rate of unemployment:

    • Those with severe hearing loss had an unemployment rate (15.6%) double that of the typical-hearing population (7.8%), and nearly double that of their peers (8.3%) who use hearing aids. (BHI)


While it is difficult to live with hearing loss, it is recommended that you inform others of your disability. Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear surveyed 337 patients with hearing loss to better understand the language they use with communication partners to disclose their disability. They found people with hearing loss respond in three specific ways when discussing about their disability:

  1. Disclosing the disability. These are people who are open about their hearing loss and are willing to discuss and describe their condition in detail.
    Example: I was involved in a car accident 10 years ago and now I’m deaf in my right ear.

  2. Not mentioning the disability. These are people with hearing loss who do not disclose their disability and who would likely ask people to either repeat what they said or speak up.
    Example: I can’t hear you. Please speak up.

  3. Being honest about the disability. These are people with hearing loss who are willing to disclose their disability and would also consider proposing a communication strategy before engaging in a conversation.
    Example: I can barely hear you with all this noise. Please come closer and speak a bit louder.

Even though there are different ways for individuals to cope with their hearing loss, the suggested method is to tell others how best to talk to you, otherwise known as the multi-disclosure approach. By letting others know you have hearing loss, they will be willing to speak clearly and slowly. Not only is this method empowering, it also shows that your disability doesn’t define who you are.

Sources: Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Phonak's Hearing Like Me website.


Each person’s needs and workplace experiences are different and unique—there is no one-size-fits-all approach to accommodations. However, in each scenario and in any conversation with human resources and/or your supervisor, it’s important to demonstrate why a specific accommodation or change increases your productivity.

Accommodations You May Request:

  • Work area adjustments. Be prepared to explain to your boss how you’d like to be as productive as possible, but how your noisy work area interferes with telephone communications.

  • Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)/Assistive Listening System (ALS). Find out which kind of systems will work for you, get price estimates, and options for places to purchase the systems.

  • Telephones. If the telephones on your desk or provided cell phones are not Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC), you are entitled to have them provided. If you need a captioned telephone service, or specifically, Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS), it will need a dedicated line, and a captioned telephone. Once the line is installed, many services are provided free of cost.

  • Assignments. Written memos and summaries of discussions and emails will help ensure you and your boss are on the same page. Show initiative and summarize your understanding of all assignments in writing, and email a copy to your boss for confirmation. Keep a file of those assignments and your boss’s confirmation that you are on the right track.

  • Meetings. Request the agenda in advance and meeting summaries or notes after the event.

  • CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation). A CART writer transcribes every word that is spoken and displays it on a laptop, which can also be projected onto a screen. A transcript can be provided afterward. The CART writer’s code of ethics demands confidentiality, so privacy should never be a concern.

  • Emergency notification systems. Strobe lights on fire alarms, vibrating pagers, low and multiple frequency alarms, or other emergency assistive technology should be in place soon after you take the job. While the buddy system is great, ask to be a “triplet” in case one happens to be out during an emergency.

  • In-service training. Request accommodations as needed for all in-service training, well in advance.

Tax Incentives

Federal tax credits and deductions to help offset the cost of accommodations may be available to your employer. Some states also offer tax incentives. Refer to the IRS website: Tax Benefits for Businesses Who Have Employees with Disabilities.

Source: HLAA



People with hearing loss often struggle to understand speech at a distance and speech in background noise, as their hearing aids don’t discriminate what is being amplified. In noisy workplaces, especially those with open floor plans, this can be challenging. Here are some ways to optimize your hearing ability in the workplace.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE your hearing loss so you are better prepared for whatever communication challenges you face at the workplace.

  • REMEMBER you bring experience, skills, and strengths to the workplace every day. Your hearing loss does not define you and will not prevent you from performing well.

  • EDUCATE yourself about accommodations such as CART (Computer Assisted Realtime Translation) and assisted listening devices that include FM systems, streamers, amplified/captioned/flashing light phones, and PSAPs (personal sound amplification products).

  • KEEP backup batteries on hand. When traveling for work or leisure, keep a supply of hearing aid batteries you can easily access throughout the day in case your battery dies.

  • ADVOCATE for yourself by asking the appropriate person in your workplace for reasonable accommodations. Emphasize the benefits to your employer.

  • TELL your coworkers about your hearing loss and the best way to communicate with you. Ask them to face you when speaking and to rephrase rather than repeat misheard words. Be prepared to remind them again and again.

  • PREPARE for meetings by requesting the agenda and a list of attendees beforehand, as well as CART and other assistive listening devices, if needed. Arrive early to select a centrally located seat with your back to the window.Written communication is also very helpful for people with hearing loss. Whenever possible, request that important messages be sent in a visual format, such as written directions or emails, as opposed to over the telephone.

  • ANTICIPATE your needs for conference calls. Ask for remote CART, followed by the CART transcript. If CART is unavailable, ask colleagues to take notes. During conference calls, ask people to identify themselves each time they speak.

  • MAKE ARRANGEMENTS with colleagues if you can’t hear the fire alarm, pages over the PA system, or other auditory alerts.

Source: Hearing Health magazine, Winter 2017 issue.


My ADA Story: A Deafblind Lawyer Dismantling Digital Barriers

By Haben Girma 

I had the honor of introducing President Barack Obama at a White House reception in July 2015, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The president shared a moving story of how, in the years before Congress passed the ADA, his father-in-law—who had multiple sclerosis—would sometimes hold himself back because he didn’t want his disability to inconvenience others. With that story, President Obama reminded Americans, “We’ve got to tear down barriers externally, but we also have to tear down barriers internally.”

As someone who has struggled against attitudinal barriers, I loved hearing our president encourage the world to view access for people with disabilities as a civil and human right.

As a deafblind student, I witnessed advocates using the ADA to change social attitudes. The National Federation of the Blind regularly referenced the ADA when explaining to technology developers why designing access for people with disabilities is a necessity and not some optional cherry atop a Silicon Valley sundae. I heard how the National Association of the Deaf used the ADA to increase closed captioning online, and how the organization Disability Rights Advocates used the ADA to compel Target’s tech team to make their website accessible to blind Americans.

Impressed by the success of these advocates, I felt inspired to join them. Back then, and even now, I encountered so many barriers in the digital world—not because of my disability, but because of attitudes among tech developers that trivialize access for people with disabilities.

When I entered Harvard Law School, I faced a serious question: How would a deafblind student succeed? I remember the first time I presented my communication system to a lawyer. I felt many of the insecurities probably experienced by President Obama’s father-in-law. Would the lawyer think I was somehow inconveniencing her or slowing her down?

Knowing the power of confidence, I hid my insecurities and put on a smile. “Would you mind typing on this keyboard since I can’t hear you? I’ll be able to read what you type on this Braille display.” To my surprise, she started typing.

I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I would survive law school.

Not only does the ADA make it possible for people with disabilities to obtain a world-class education, but it also empowers us to overcome our own insecurities in pursuit of our dreams. Two years after law school, through my work at Disability Rights Advocates, I helped achieve a legal victory in National Federation of the Blind v. Scribd Inc., the second decision to hold that the ADA applies to e-commerce.

More than two decades after the ADA, advocates still encounter attitudinal barriers among tech companies that continue to insist they don’t have to provide access for people with disabilities. Given the necessity of accessing online services in today’s world, all of us with disabilities will continue to turn to the ADA to tear down barriers.

President Obama has led our nation in the quest to remove external and internal barriers. When I met him at the White House, even though he had never communicated with a deafblind person through a digital Braille display and QWERTY keyboard, he gracefully switched from speaking to typing.

Through our conversation, I experienced the genuine warmth of our president, his attentiveness to people, his understanding of the value of technology in connecting people, and his sincere belief that people with disabilities, people like his father-in-law and myself, should never let attitudinal barriers stop us from pursuing our dreams.

Watch Obama and Girma at This post originally appeared on the White House website and is republished with permission via Creative Commons.

Originally appeared in Hearing Health magazine, Winter 2017 issue.

Why I Started a Group on LinkedIn

By John Huston

I did it because I was mad. That’s why I started the Deaf and Hard of Hearing group on LinkedIn. I was mad because there appeared to be many people—educated, mature, professional people—struggling in the workforce simply because they did not have the information they needed to succeed.

A simple look around LinkedIn, the site for people looking to make professional connections, showed that while there were other groups dealing with hearing loss, none dealt specifically with workplace-related issues. There were groups on hearing loss in general (sample comment: “I’m going deaf. Do I need a hearing aid?”) and groups focused on the activities of a specific association or organization.

But there was nothing for the 40-something who had a job in a professional setting, where they had to attend and understand in meetings, on the telephone, and other typical office situations. People with hearing loss were scared for their jobs. They had no place to go to get information on accessibility, technology, or the laws that would give them the resources they need to succeed.

The group took off fairly quickly; within a few months we had our first 1,000 members. We’re approaching 10,000 now. If you search LinkedIn groups using the keyword “deaf” you’ll see that we are by far the largest group dealing with hearing loss.

Membership, as might be expected, is primarily professionals in the workplace who are deaf or have some level of hearing loss. We also have many members who work in the hearing loss field: audiologists, otolaryngologists, teachers, and therapists. Anyone who has an interest in helping people with hearing loss to succeed in the workplace is welcomed as a member!

While the majority of the members are American, including myself, I’m proud that we have strong representation from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and even Africa.

Discussions over the years have covered a wide range of topics, from assistive technology such as captioned telephones and FM systems to the intricacies of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some topics have provoked animated, if not heated, discussion, such as open captioning at movie theaters, Deaf culture, and the question of whether we are “hearing impaired” or “hard of hearing.”

But to me, the group is at its best when someone finds a solution to a difficult problem regarding their hearing loss. When a group member says they are using information they got from the group and are succeeding much better at their job that makes the group worthwhile. And we realize that the group is not helping just one person; it’s helping that person support a family. It’s helping to provide a future for the member’s children, helping to improve a family’s quality of life.

And, contrary to the anger that encouraged me to start the group, moments like this make me very happy.

Originally appeared in Hearing Health magazine, Winter 2017 issue.