Many workers in California who are nearing retirement age suffer from hearing loss that is serious enough to be considered disabling. When hearing loss is severe enough to limit a major life activity, it is a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This 1990 federal law protects disabled workers from discrimination, and it requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for them.
Dealing with hearing loss in the workplace
If you suffer from hearing loss, there are steps you can take to make life easier for yourself at work. You should sit close to speakers in meetings whenever possible, and you could also download a smartphone app that converts speech into text. Some of these apps use speech recognition technology, but solutions offered by the Federal Communications Commission use live stenographers to convert conversations into captions. They do not work as quickly, but they are far more accurate. Hearing aids and assistive listening devices that amplify speech and filter out background noise may also help you to cope with hearing loss at work.
The ADA is strictly enforced, and the penalties for disability discrimination are severe. The maximum penalty for a first ADA violation was recently increased to $75,000, and subsequent violations are punished with a civil penalty of up to $150,000. This means that your employer is likely to be agreeable if you ask for reasonable accommodations to help you to deal with your hearing loss at work. Reasonable accommodations that your employer could make for you may include:
- Moving your workspace to a more secluded area
- Providing you with an assistive listening device
- Adding a visual signal like a flashing light to emergency warning systems
- Installing a desk phone that is compatible with hearing aids
- Subscribing to a computer-aided transcription service
Almost one in 10 Americans develop serious hearing loss as they get older, but they can still work productively if they take steps to adjust to their condition and their employers make reasonable accommodations for them. Recent advances in communications technology have made living with haring loss much more bearable, and they have also made it easier for employers that wish to stay on the right side of the ADA.