Each month, Hear 2 Work talks to someone about their hearing loss at work, and finds out how their experiences could help you.
Alistair was unfortunate to have suffered a sudden and severe hearing loss in his late-30s. Whilst his hearing loss has been a challenge to come to terms with, he’s fought hard to get the best technology available which has been invaluable in helping him in his busy working life as an architect.
- Can you tell me a bit about your hearing loss?
I had great hearing until 2009 when I was hospitalised due to pneumonia and septicaemia. I was given Gentamicin antibiotic treatment which had the unfortunate side effects of serious kidney damage and severe hearing loss in both ears. It’s taken me a long time to become accustomed to my sensory impairment, and in all honesty it’s an ongoing process. I’ve tried many models of hearing aid and assistive devices to help me cope and continue to function in the hearing world. Lip reading is a major part of my ability to communicate and I am taking classes at City Lit in London.
My current set up is a pair of NHS Phonak Naida V hearing aids (now rebadged as Nathos on the NHS). I use a Phonak ComPilot as a bluetooth streamer for music/TV/phone calls/FM input, it is a piece of technology I see as every bit as important as my hearing aids. I also use a Phonak Roger system consisting of a receiver which plugs into my ComPilot, a Roger Pen and five Roger Microphones. This set up lets me successfully hear in most situations at work. I still have difficulty in challenging noisy environments and large meetings with more than 10 people.
I also have a Phonak Dect telephone for my home landline and a bluetooth adapter for my work desk phone. I use a Phonak TV link for TV viewing. I also use a vibrating alarm clock, and am considering a pebble watch for its vibrating alarm and notifications.
- What do you do at work exactly?
I’m qualified as an Architect and currently work in design management. My job involves managing, co-ordinating and authorising payment to a design team of consultants on public sector building projects, I specialise in school design.
- What does your day consist of?
My usual day will consist of computer work, answering email, instructing consultants, working on compliance, producing programmes of work etc. I will also usually have at least one meeting with between one and twenty people on a variety of subjects, both internally with colleagues, and externally with consultants and/or clients. I will usually also make and take a few telephone calls during the day. If I am working on a project which is on site, I will make visits to site or may even be based there, this presents its own hearing challenges as building sites can be extremely noisy.
- Have you always done that kind of work?
I have spent all my working life involved in architecture/design.
- How does your hearing loss affect you at work?
My hearing loss has a huge impact on my working life and has affected almost every aspect of my working day. Its important to say though, that it hasn’t made my job impossible and has not made me any less able to carry out my work. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years making sure I have the best equipment available to assist me with my hearing at work, often with the help of Access to Work.
However, large meetings are one area of work where I have yet to find a workable solution and I’m looking into the use of a note taker in these situations. I’ve read of the success that others have had with this so am looking forward to seeing if it can help me.
Other than the work side of professional life, my hearing loss also affects the social side of work. As a deaf person, the range of my hearing only reaches a couple of metres so I miss all of the gossip, earwigging, internal politics which hearing people are party to, this may well be a blessing in disguise!
I socialise less with work colleagues than I used to as I find communicating in large groups very difficult. I try to limit the impact this has by maximising one-to-one contact as much as I can.
I also have to pay closer attention to my energy levels at work since I lost my hearing as communication requires much more concentration and can be very draining, particularly large meetings.
- Have you had any issues with work colleagues (have they helped or hindered)?
I’m very lucky as I haven’t encountered any issues at work relating to my hearing loss. I put this down to being as open as I possibly can be about my hearing loss and trying to make others understand the issues involved and how they can make communication with me as successful as possible. Also I feel I am lucky to work with people who are generally understanding and accommodating of my needs. I have always been supported through Access to Work applications by my employers.
- Did you find it hard in the beginning?
When I returned to work following my illness I had a pair of terrible NHS hearing aids and a mediocre assistive listening system. I really struggled at that point. Rather than lose faith, I made a decision to find out what the best available technology was and give myself the best chance of accessing it. I wrote to the NHS asking if I could try different hearing aids, which was a success, and that resulted in a great improvement in my hearing capabilities.
I researched the very best assistive technology at the time, which was the Comfort Audio Digisystem, and applied for funding via Access to Work. Again this was a success and my hearing in the work place was transformed. Since then I have kept up to date with technological developments as they have such a huge impact on my ability to hear. I get frustrated when I see others with hearing loss struggling with poor technology when there is so much good equipment available.
- What has helped you to succeed in your career?
I have been determined to not be limited in my professional life by my hearing loss. I was well established in my job when I lost my hearing so it was a process of adaptation rather than having to start a career with hearing loss, for which I am grateful. Also, I feel acceptance plays a big part in living life successfully with a disability. If you can be confident in yourself despite any perceived limitations it will stand you in good stead.
- What is the most difficult thing for you at work?
I find large meetings and group discussions unmanageable with my hearing loss as it is difficult to follow what is being said. I often miss up to 50% of the content of these meetings which is too much to be confident of understanding. Thankfully I do not have this size of meeting very frequently.
- Are you doing anything to try to resolve it?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m looking into having a note taker for larger meetings.
- Finally, is there one piece of advice that you would give to someone starting out in their career?
I have two pieces of advice which I feel are of equal importance. Firstly, I would advise anyone with a hearing loss to strive to get the best technology possible to improve their hearing in the workplace. Secondly, I would encourage people to be as open as possible about their communication needs. In my experience if people are aware of your situation they will do their best to accommodate and help you.
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