jobs with hearing loss

Jobs with hearing loss: which ones can you do?

Gianluca Uncategorized 19 Comments

HINT: You can do any jobs with hearing loss.

The other day Srinivas—one of my readers—asked me a question:

“I know you’ve talked with lot of people with hearing loss. What kind of jobs do they do? I am asking because I sometimes feel exhausted working in a company, and I thought freelancing might be a good fit for me.”

For a few seconds I started to mentally list which jobs with hearing loss the people I know do. Then I stopped abruptly.

Wait a minute.

No need for a list. You can do anything you want to do!

My answer:

“Srinivas, there are very few jobs that you cannot do just because of your hearing loss. But—given your hearing loss—there may be many jobs you think you can’t do.”

This point is important, so let me repeat it: “Because of your hearing loss, there may be many jobs you think you can’t do.” And that mindset can really work against you.

The truth is: When people don’t realize they are capable of doing the job they want, they tend to settle for work they don’t feel passionate about.  With just a little attitude correction, these people can rock jobs they love.

Granted, because you have a hearing loss, you probably can’t become a jet pilot. Just like you can’t be a jet pilot if you don’t have perfect sight. Astronaut is out. But astronauts need way more than perfect hearing. But those two careers don’t account for the 99% of jobs out there, surely.

That 99% is available to you. Today.

The big mistake I see people make, and I’ve done this myself in the past, is to look at a job they’d like to do, a job they could love, and think they can’t do it because they can’t do it exactly like someone else is doing it.

Let’s look at an example
Consider Mr. J. J. Sharpguy, an experienced account executive in the construction business. For twenty years he’s successfully met new customers every day. Recently his hearing ability has diminished, and suddenly seeing new clients all the time isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Seeing people in noisy construction sites is draining the life out of him. Most of his energy is spent trying to figure out what his clients are saying. After only a few hours, he’s so exhausted he can’t think of any winning things to say to his customers. He can’t even keep them engaged. It’s over, he thinks. He can’t do the job anymore.

Or can he?

Perhaps he just can’t do the job exactly like he used to.

It’s more likely that J. J. needs to acknowledge that Hearing Loss has barged into his life. Now he must manage the situation, using his hard-earned skillset. He’ll get busy and figure how to let hearing loss into his life; he’ll adjust his role so he can still do his job well and have fun while doing it.

Do it differently

Often—when you face a job situation that hearing loss has made difficult—you don’t need to change dramatically. If you don’t want to give up meeting your customers, but you want to preserve your energy, keep one or two days in your week free of meetings to become really productive and recharge. (Introverts, with or without hearing loss, often use this strategy to excel.) It can work for you.

Or, if you can see fewer new customers and more existing customers, whom you are familiar with, that would relieve some pressure.

Remember, hearing loss it’s like handling another trait of your personality. The more aware you are of it, the better you will handle it.

Unnecessary struggles of youth
In my first year of university, I wouldn’t wear hearing aids, yet (that comes the following year). The lecturer spoke with his back to the class, as he was scribbling on the whiteboard. And I struggled to hear. It was stressful.

But worse—I wanted to teach, too.

If I couldn’t hear him, how could I be a lecturer myself? How could I hear any of the questions from the audience? How could I do any type of teaching job?

I didn’t even know that I wanted to work in education at the time, but the thought that I would never be able to saddened me deeply.

See? That’s what I thought. That I’d never be able to do something I really cared about.

Little did I know that in the years to come I would teach many workshops, I’d be invited to do public speaking, I’d work with thousands of school teachers in the UK to help kids learn about making mobile apps, and finally, I’d be teaching about hearing loss through Superhuman Hearing. All of this in English—a language I didn’t speak properly until age 30.

One step at a time
All I had to do was to make incremental adjustments. First, I disclosed my hearing loss to others, and that allowed me to ask for help. For the workshops, I hosted them in small rooms with only a handful of people. With public speaking in large rooms, I made sure the audience asked their questions using a microphone.

When I worked with teachers in the UK, I joined a charity called Apps for Good, and I worked behind the front lines, giving teachers the tools they needed to help the kids. Nowadays, I’m teaching about hearing loss online, and from the other side of the world!

It turned out that with some adjustments I managed to do what I loved in my own unique way. And overtime I realized that I love education because it has the power to change people’s behavior, and that can change the world.

These adjustments worked wonders for me. Your goal is to find out what works for you.

So what do you really want to do?
If you’re thinking about a new career or adjusting your current role, don’t think: “What can I do in spite of my hearing loss?” Rather, think: “What do I love to do?”

“What do I have fun doing? What energizes me?”

Dale Carnegie, who wrote the bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People, once said: “People rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun doing it.”

Whether you have hearing loss or not, you’ll do better at things that you like doing.

Once you’ve figured out what you like to do, and you identify a job, the second step is to ask yourself: “How can I do it?”

What adjustments do you need so your hearing loss doesn’t become an obstacle? How do you train people around you? And what accessories can help you do a better job?

Who can you ask for help?

Don’t hide
If you choose a job that involves few social interactions in your day, ask yourself if that’s what you truly enjoy.

I spent years working in server rooms (refrigerated rooms full of computers and no people) before realizing I wanted to work with more people and fewer computers.

I realized that I was doing this job—not because I liked it—but because it was easy.

One day, I disclosed my hearing loss to my manager and my colleagues, and in a little time, dealing with clients and meetings became easier. I told my manager I’d like to work with clients abroad, and they sent me to all parts of the world. That completely changed my life.

Don’t pick a job just because it’s easy, and don’t stay in your existing one because you don’t have to deal with people much. If dealing with people is what makes you happy, find a way to do it that works for you.

What about you? I’m curious…
What adjustments have you made to make your job work for you? Or what job would you love to do but feel that your hearing loss is holding you back? Let me know in the comments below.

PS: this piece went out of my Friday newsletter. If you’d like to receive my next thoughts via email, click on this link to join.

Comments 19

  1. Hi Gianluca,

    Remember our conversation?
    I think I shared with you that I had no choice, but to retire, from my career (speech pathology) of 20 years. For 20 years, I worked with Autistic children and other special needs kids…loved my job..it was my life…my purpose in life.
    When I became more HOH (almost deaf) over the last few years, I realized that, if I kept working, I’d be a danger to myself, to the staff and to the children.
    I can no longer work. At age 65, I’ve made a new life for myself. I’m one of the lucky ones, who was granted lifetime disability.
    But, others in my field (i.e., teachers, Speech pathologists, etc.), cannot work.
    Very sad.
    So, not to be a downer, but, there are careers that are really off limits, because we need to be able to hear what others say..especially in emergency situations. And, believe me, there were many days when there were emergencies, almost all day long.

  2. Hi,

    I work as IT manager, in a very technical area, so very close to the situation you described with the server rooms, etc. The last years I’m evolving to a process and digital consultant in the same company, so my job now needs more interaction in a multinational environment. I’m Spanish and English is a language I have studied a lot, but I suffer when I have to manage a conversation, speacially on the phone, without visual clues. Because this problem I sometimes don’t feel myself able to do my job at 100%, and sometimes I think with practice and hours of conversations I will be able (I don’t know exactly if my problems come only because my hearing problem or if training hard in English I can improve). Anyway, I don’t feel myself able enough to do the next step in my career. I have received offers to be IT director, but my hearing loss make me feel I’m not capable of doing it, since conversations in English by phone are a must. Given that your natural language isn’t English, I would appreciate a lot some words about your experience regarding oral comprehension.

    Thank you

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Sergio,

      Early in my career, I was a hotline engineer for clients all over the world, and my English was very very basic. The phone didn’t ring often but when it did it was stressful!

      One thing that helped me in those days was to ask the client to send me a summary via email describing the problems we discussed via phone. This tended to work well for short emergency calls but for more regular or longer meetings here is what I do:

      – I always send a summary to everyone after every meeting I run, whether in person or over the phone. This gives a chance to the other parties to comment if something was misunderstood or missed. If I don’t run the meeting but I’ve been assigned follow-up actions only verbally, I write an email or chat to the person in charge to confirm I’ve understood the assignment.

      I’ve found that this is good practice for communication in the workplace as people often walk away from a meeting having different ideas of what was said. This happens with or without hearing loss.

      – During a conversation, I often rephrase key points to confirm that I understood correctly

      – I use video calls when possible. Even without the video I still prefer Skype. It’s usually louder and sometimes clearer.

      – I schedule my calls instead of being available all the time. This gives me the chance to move to a quiet place and mentally prepare for the call. If someone unexpectedly calls me when I’m in noise I text or answer quickly that I’m in the middle of something and that I will get back to them asap (after moving to quiet place). I usually find that when a call is scheduled the other party is more eager to use Skype.

      Hopefully, these techniques will work for you too, but ultimately it’s about experimenting and finding what works for you, one little improvement at the time.

      Now, to your main point: I agree that it’s tough to figure out if you’re struggling to understand a phone conversation because of your language skills or your hearing loss.

      What can you do to figure out the limits of your language comprehension?

      I knew, for example, that my oral comprehension really varied from person to person.

      During my first years working in English, I was confident that I could take a call with a non-native English speaker but I would always struggle with native speakers. This was a language problem because I also struggled with visual cues.

      When I developed the skills to understand native speakers, I’d find it easier to understand Americans rather than British (perhaps because of all the US movies I watched). I couldn’t deal with Australians. Scottish were hard even with visual cues (that got better after I spent two years in Scotland)

      What I’d recommend for you is to become aware of your language limitations, as well as hearing limitations. By doing so, you’ll become more aware of what you can handle and make a more informed choice when it comes to accepting a new role.

      A starting point for you could be to call an English speaker you know over the phone and if you can deal with that, then you can slowly take on harder challenges like speaking to a person you’ve never met and see how you’d do. Then try over video and see how different that is.

      I’d experiment to become aware first and I’d make an improvement plan later.

      Email me to gianluca@getsuperhumanhearing.com if you want to do a test call with me.

  3. Great article. Sorry for the delayed comment but I’ve been away a couple of weeks. Let me say that if you want it bad enough, it is possible to do just about anything. I came from a background of poverty and little education. I went deaf from about 15 or 16 through to about 30 when I had radical mastoidectomies on both ears leaving me with about 15% hearing in just one ear. Despite that, I’ve got an extensive education (don’t ever ask me about university lecturers with beards), been a very senior bureaucrat, been a senior executive and CEO in various jobs in the private and charitable sectors and ran my own national consultancy for nearly 20 years. Indeed, I still work three days a week at age 68, advising local government on how to review their processes and services.

    I say all that not to boast but to say that I couldn’t have done it on my own – you do need to ensure that people understand your physical limitations while ensuring that the value of your work transcends those limitations. Secondly, you need to have to come to terms with telling people that you’re deaf and that you need to see their face and for them to not cover their damn mouths with their hands and all the 1001 things people do that make hearing even more difficult. And thirdly, you have to learn to live with being tired. Listening can be such hard work that a day of clients and then study can leave you exhausted. BUT, it can be done.

    So, good luck with deciding what you’d like to do and then good fortune in making it work despite the difficulties and challenges.

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      Author
  4. Great article Gianluca!
    I can really relate to your example of how you felt during lectures in university. I (24, German) am severely hearing disabled but not deaf, which enabled me to go to university. However, not without difficulties. In the lectures I only understood around 10% of what was said. The rest I had to study from the power point slides and from notes provided by my friends. Despite that, I felt the desire to proceed in an academic career. I am now studying Biomedicine in Stockholm after absolving an internship in America – all that in English. It is difficult, for sure, but as you said, you have to try follow your dreams and make small adjustments instead of surrendering before even starting.
    I will try to explain some small adjustments we made: In science it is important to give public speeches to present your research results and afterward discuss the data. My biggest problem was always the questions asked by the audience, because I couldn’t understand them. That’s why I asked a fellow researcher, who I understand very well, to place himself in the front of the room close to me and repeat questions in case I didn’t understand them. That helped me a lot. Further problems include the loud background noises that are common in laboratories, the high frequency alarm signals of laboratory machines that I cannot hear and so on. It’s hard to always take care of that, but I am living my dream!
    A while ago I assisted the teaching of undergraduate students. That’s when I developed the idea to become a teacher/professor one day too. I really enjoyed it. As you mentioned above, there will be some difficulties in interacting with the students. However, I am sure I will find a way to solve that too.

    1. Post
      Author

      I’m glad you found the article useful Leonie. And I’m glad you agree that you can follow your dream, as long as you work hard on adjusting to the world and adjusting the world to yours 🙂

  5. I was an elementary school teacher for a year in Korea. My contract ended around the same time as my hearing loss. My new teaching contract in Saudi starts in September. I am very worried about how I am going to handle teaching a classroom full of 8 year olds again! And more worrying than the hearing loss is the hyperacusis I have that came with my hearing loss. It basically makes certain frequencies and volumes painfully loud to me. I really love children and teaching and it used to be fun for me. I hope it still is fun when I start teaching again for the first time since the hearing loss and hyperacusis.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks for your comment Qissara, you’re probably going to have to plan and adjust a bit for the new job. As our hearing changes, our skills for communication also need a refresh!

  6. Hi Gianluca
    I’m currently having poor word recognition next to my hearing loss and it is disturbing to the point where i do not understand myself anymore… and i just bumped into your blog because i actually typed on google ” what types of jobs could i work with my hearing loss” . It is just very hard to deal with , being super sociable to not being able to understand what people are talking around me … just wondering if you also have this problem or is it only hearing loss which could be adjusted by wearing hearing aids… ( i myself , am wearing the newest tech.l for OTICON and it is not helping at all ) because its not only about hearing , I’m having difficulty in comprehending whats been said… How can i come out of this depressing mindset .. I literally feel that i cannot do anything anymore . whats worse is that I’m a fresh graduate

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Hania, hang in there.

      Allow yourself time to understand what you can do to improve your hearing and word recognition. When the situation is more stable you can start figuring out what kind of communication you can handle.

      When you know that, then you can think of what you need to do the jobs you want.

      One step at the time and you’ll make it.

      Whatever your level of hearing loss there will be a job for you, you just need to be able to configure the way this job works for you. For inspiration, read the success story of profoundly deaf entrepreneur Tina here: http://getsuperhumanhearing.com/interview-with-deaf-entrepreneur-tina-lannin-create-your-own-world/

      And sign up for my newsletter for my weekly tips on hearing loss: http://getsuperhumanhearing.com/#x-section-4

      Again, things might look really bad right now, but try to take it one step at the time.

  7. The point that people with hearing loss “can do anything”–with adjustments– is true enough. I find that jobs with phone work–which are about 98% of any job—are impossible for me. Caption phones aren’t all that reliable or a solution that would work for me in the workplace. In addition, at what point in the interview do you mention to the prospective employer that one would need tech help for phone, conference calls, large rooms etc.

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      Author

      The adjustment you require depends on your hearing loss. For example, I can do fine with phone calls as long as I can stream the audio directly into my hearing aids. I would struggle otherwise.

      For the captioning, some services are better than others, I hear from a good source that https://www.121captions.com/ is close to real-time. Maybe you could give it a try.

      If you approach an equal opportunity employer they should not discriminate if you disclose at any stage of your interview. In reality this might happen and it might require us to go through some failed interviews. However, an employer who would discriminate you because of your hearing loss it might not be an employer worth working with.

      Regarding the 98% required in any job. That’s matter of niche and job type, it’s not the case in my niche. For me, most of the communication has shifted to asynchronous text. I communicate mostly via chat or email. With the occasional video call, which is easier than audio only because of the visual support.

      1. Thanks for your response. When you say streaming from your phone, you mean your cell, right? What about landlines with captions? I’ll check out this caption phone link but I see the company’s in England. I’m in the States.

        1. Post
          Author

          Hey Susan!

          You can stream the audio from both landlines and cells into your hearing aids. For landlines you need a special phone that connects to your hearing aids directly or you can use a connector. This is an example of such special phones: https://www.phonak.com/us/en/hearing-aids/accessories/phonak-dect-phone.html

          You’re right, the 121caption company is UK based but all they need is to receive an audio stream and you can read the caption on your screen. They can technically work from anywhere but it’s probably worth asking if they work with US customers.

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