Opinions of a Hearing Impaired Remote Worker

In the span of a couple weeks, I had a few moments that sparked thoughts on what it's like being a hard of hearing remote worker.

  1. A manager friend of mine hired a remote worker who has a hearing impairment and wanted thoughts on what he can do to be accommodating
  2. A tweet was shared with me that was asking for ways to get into the coding world that is accessible. link
  3. Ensuing discussions among a couple of coworkers, and friends, who also have hearing impairments of various levels.

If you have someone under you who is hard of hearing, or you even work with someone who is, here are some things I shared that might benefit:

Follow-up actively during phone conversations with groups. #

While on conference calls with your team, especially with clients or with a lot of cross-talk, I've found it extremely helpful to have my managers keep me in the loop during conversations.

This can be with a quick Slack message of "We're now talking about X." This helps me switch my thoughts over and stay involved. I could've missed a key word or phrase and I'm struggling to play catch-up on what exactly we're talking about, and this side note is vital.

Accents and sentence structures are ALWAYS problematic #

If you're asked to repeat, try rephrasing the sentence.

Regularly, I will miss a single word, likely due to where it is in the sentence. When asked to repeat, people commonly recite the exact phrase again... and again. But that word doesn't become any more clear due to where it is in the sentence. Rephrasing can help this, otherwise I have to recite the entire sentence back, with a spot where the "blank" is, and then ask for that blank.

However, sometimes it's the accent that is causing trouble more than the sentence structure. At which point, someone else saying the question might help. If all that fails, revert to the previous bullet point (message them).

If you're asking a question, or have something directed towards them, say their name FIRST

  • It causes us to focus on the next few words (after being lost in the noise)
  • It's a good idea to confirm that they heard their name first, make sure they're aware and ready for what's next.

This is the difference between "Hey, John, got a question for you" or "John, I was wondering..." vs "{5 minute description of an issue}... any thoughts, John?"

Avoid Speakerphones #

Optimally there wouldn't be a speakerphone at all (everyone on their own mic), but as that's unlikely, especially in an office, when you do use a speakerphone:

Make a concerted effort to be close to it and try to point conversations with others in the room towards it, even if the conversation doesn't directly involve the person(s) on the other end of the line.

Encourage and/or pay for good audio #

Help the employee get a good pair of headphones. I've benefited from my AKG 361's, but it should be noted that everyone has different levels of deafness and hearing, and not everyone will benefit from the same brand or model.

Also, a good speakerphone system in rooms that are properly sound dampened. Due to feedback from remote workers, and continued issues with sound quality, we're overhauling our conference room audio at my current employment.

Video is always better than audio-only #

Whenever possible, be on camera. I always take the initiative and turn on my camera, which usually entices the rest of the team to turn theirs on as well.

Being on camera lets us see your face, which means we can gain more insight as to the tone and intention of your words. Not to mention the ability to read your lips.