Opinions of a Hearing Impaired Remote Worker

In the span of a couple weeks, I had a few moments that sparked thoughts on being hard of hearing and a 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 pointers:

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 are using 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.

Follow-up with employee 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.

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.

Accents and sentence structures are ALWAYS problematic #

If worker asks to repeat, perhaps try having someone else repeat the question.

Another option is to rephrase 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.

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

  • It causes us to have to focus on the conversation more (after being lost in the noise)
  • Perhaps confirm that they heard their name first, make sure they're aware
    • "Hey, John, got a question for you" or "John, I was wondering..." vs "{5 minute description of an issue}... any thoughts, John?"

Video is always better than audio-only #

Whenever possible, be on camera.

I take an initiative to turn on my camera, which usually entices the rest of the team to turn on theirs 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.