Reasonable accommodation concerns for hearing loss
Hello all. I have moderate loss and have worn bilateral aids for about 10 years. I was recently counseled by my supervisor because I had asked for some help with prioritizing when a new task was added to my job duties. I was being asked to attend a weekly 3 hour phone meeting (no cameras) and contribute to the discussions. I can do this with help from my hearing aids, but because of my word recognition issues, it is difficult for me to attend to the meeting and multitask. I was being asked to attend and contribute to the meeting while also continuing to perform my existing tasks which requires attention and my professional judgment. I think I could do this fairly well, particularly if I am provided with the written information prior to the meetings. This written information is available, but I do not receive it in time to review it prior to the meeting. I asked my supervisor for help and told him it’s difficult for me to be able to focus on the meeting and the other tasks at the same time. Rather than offering help, I was counseled that my manager could multitask and he doesn’t understand why I can’t do that as well as he can. This is the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like this. No one has ever said anything like that to me. I have asked our IT department to help me set up my work laptop to use bluetooth to connect directly to my hearing aids, as I think this would help me. Due to corporate policies, I was told I have to request a reasonable accommodation in order to have the (existing) bluetooth made available for use on my laptop. I’ve never had to do this before and I am very nervous about making a request, making waves, etc. Do you all think bluetooth capabilities could be considered reasonable accommodation? Thanks for reading!
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Absolutely, I think your request is reasonable, but my opinion won't count to your supervisor. First I'd suggest documenting everything in case you need it. You have disclosed your hearing loss to your employer and a Bluetooth connection is a reasonable accommodation and generally easy. I find that a bluetooth connection between my phone and hearing aids works well for me. There are other ways to make that connection too depending on what kind of phone you're using. And, for me, I'd have difficulty giving 100% to both tasks simultaneously. If that's true for you, you should tell them and document that too. Good luck.
Thank you for taking the time to read and reply. I have to use the audio from my laptop for the meetings, and it's pretty poor. I did share with him that I'd like some help with prioritizing, and his response was that he can multitask so I should be able to as well. Before I talked to him about it, I had approached the other team in my organization who runs this particular series of meetings to ask if I could please get the cases in writing prior to the meeting. That was a negative. So, my first ask from my supervisor was if he could communicate with the team lead for this other department to request the cases in writing earlier. My supervisor is not a fan of making waves or any sort of perceived confrontation with his equals or superiors, so I do not believe he made any inquiries. Honestly, I think any human would have difficulty doing both things well at the same time, but I certainly would expect someone with normal hearing to be better able than someone with hearing loss. It felt like a gut-punch to hear him say that. I do have a recording of that meeting, as I typically do when I can anticipate important meetings and there will not be any patient information discussed. I also have emails that document that he is aware of my hearing loss and my thought that my difficulty with the meetings is directly related to the way I process sound.
@virginia123, asking for Bluetooth connectivity is not an unreasonable accommodation. Another option that you may want to try is a text-to-speech application. Do you have a smartphone? You can download an app that may help. You could position the smartphone mid near your laptop speaker (or use an external mic, that you or your employer may purchase) for best results. What platform is used for your non video meetings? Zoom, Microsoft Team, Google Meet, Adobe Connect, and GoMeeting come to mind. They have video capability but the meeting host may prefer to not use it. Maybe you can suggest adding video??? It's possible that they're using an audio only platform but you will still benefit from text to speech software.
Tony in Michigan
During the year that I was functionally deaf recently, I tried speech-to-text apps for meetings, even bought an Android phone in order to use Live Transcribe, which is supposed to be the best. First, I found that adding the need to watch the phone screen added another "task" to the mix, which didn't help nearly as much as I'd hoped. Second, even Live Transcribe doesn't do well when there are any technical terms, even though it does a fair job of erasing and replacing words it doesn't "understand." Third, the transcription is a little bit behind what you're hearing, so that introduces another "task," following both the words you hear and the slightly later ones you see. Because I was newly at this dismally deaf level, my frustration with attempting to use Live Transcribe was so great that I finally gave up. I also tried Otter, which really chokes on any even semi-technical.
Now that my hearing is back to the level it was before I went bilateral with Meniere's, I am back to simply being quite HOH. Two years ago, I thought I was handicapped because I had to listen very carefully and fill in words I didn't hear, but now that level of HOH seems like a luxury and I'm thankful every day for how much more I can hear than during the year of quiet.
@virginia123 People don't understand what hearing loss does to a person. Even those of us who have it don't understand it, but we feel it.
When we don't hear well, even with hearing aids, we have to concentrate harder in order to comprehend. Teachers of children with hearing loss know that it takes 3 times more cognitive energy for those children to learn (comprehend information) than it does for children with typical hearing. In other words, a 20 minute lesson is like an hour lesson for those kids. It has nothing to do with intelligence. It's no different for us. Auditory fatigue hits us faster than it does others. A three hour phone session is like a 9 hour meeting. It's next to impossible to concentrate that long, especially when trying to multi task at the same time. And especially without the visual clues we count on to hear better. Breaks also help. Do you have breaks during those phone calls?
Enhancing your audio situation via BT, captioning, or other technology can make a big difference. It is a justifiable accommodation. So is having notes of the proposed meeting in advance justifiable. I understand why you don't want to go down to the mat and duke it out with your supervisors and superiors, but you may have to at some point if you can't do that by educating them and asking for reasonable accommodations.
So much of our communication is done online now due to COVID19. We are fortunate to be able to communicate this way, but it doesn't eliminate our unique needs related to hearing clearly. Clearly is a key word.
Cognitive overload can make us look like we are unable to concentrate. We feel it as fatigue. Others may think we are losing it. Understanding what's happening is the first step to resolving the problem. You have a right to the accommodations you need.
I apologize for this being more of a 'lesson' than a solution. Definitely, yes, you are entitled to appropriate accommodations. It may be worth your time to contact the Vocational Rehabilitation Office in your area. Please keep us posted and do hang in there! Good Luck.
@joyces Liked your post but the part I'll comment on for now is just that I found your "review" of Live Transcribe vs. Otter interesting. I am happy with Otter but haven't tested it out with tech terminology.
I found Otter even less good than Live Transcribe for meetings packed with tech info about water supplies and fisheries…lots of terms that you'd never have in "normal" conversation. LT was pretty good about going back to correct them, but that jittering back and forth with the text constantly changing, I found to be almost as confusing as what I almost heard. <g>
@joyces Are you using zoom at the same time as LT?
No, because my hearing has returned to the level it was before the year of near-deafness, I can usually follow Zoom conversations. However, I haven't yet watched a Zoom meeting with lots of tech stuff. I just resigned from the pilot water project because you can't determine how to manage water consumption if you refuse to even consider any big users who employ people. This project appeared to have real hope when it started four years ago, but we aren't even allowed to discuss uses like industrial forestry…80% of our county is managed for industrial forestry with short rotations, for at least 40 years following a clear cut summer water is greatly reduced, and several rivers have zero streamflow every summer. We also aren't allowed to discuss the paper mill that has a water right FIVE TIMES that of the largest town in our county because jobs are involved. Instead, the project is concentrating on individuals conserving water, landscaping with plants that don't require much water, etc. We also cannot attempt to work with the tourism industry…in a place that relies heavily on tourism. Our restaurants (before they all closed) still automatically serve 12 oz. glasses of water, much of which is dumped; motels refuse to ask patrons to not have linens changed every day. Oregonians are "green" thinkers; creating a logo for businesses that work to conserve water would bring business to them…but that discussion can't happen as part of how water should be allocated for the future. Please excuse the rant!