Saturday, April 7, 2012

On Communicating That You're Deaf at Work

This post on got me thinking and I'd be interested to hear your opinion.

In the post, a man reported about his visit to Target. In the checkout line, his cashier had a sign which read "Cashier is Hearing Impaired." He was worried it was embarassing for the cashier and calling attention to something that might not be a big deal.

In my line of work, I work with the public a lot, although it's not retail. Usually at least 60% of my day is spent answering questions from people. This got me wondering if I would want such a sign at the computer I work from.

On the one hand, I want to say yes because I would like to have people aware when they come up to me. I have talked to my fair share of people who are irritated when they need to repeat themselves for me or when I appear to be ignoring them. It would be nice to have a sign to point to.

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Photo from Flickr user DrBacchus
On the other hand I know not many people read signs, and some people misinterpret deaf/hearing impaired/hard of hearing to mean they won't be able to communicate with the person. I've had that happen before. I told a person I was deaf and they said "well then how are you talking to me right now?"

If I decided to do something like this, I think it would be good to test it out first. I'd want to see people's reactions to see if I'm getting into something I'd rather not deal with. After all, 95% of my conversations go well and the person doesn't ever need to know I couldn't hear half of what they were saying...

Thinking about this reminded me of Speak Up Librarian's shop where she has some t-shirts and other gifts that communicate to people in a humorous way. Somehow I don't think I'd be allowed to post those around the desk... but I sure wish I could sometimes.


  1. "Well then how are you talking to me right now?" is a phrase I have heard repeated time and time again.

    I lost a majority of my hearing at the age of 38. I am now 52 and find myself "flat-lining" at
    90 dbs in both ears. I have excellent diction accompanied with quite a board and encompassing vocabulary.

    Now I've even had doctors who had tested my hearing for SSD eligibility say to me "My! You
    have very clear speach for someone who has such a large hearing loss!" My answer to this was to question the last doctor with "Are you an Eyes, Ears, Nose & Throat doctor?" He jokingly looked at his name tag an replied in the positive. I then asked "Well, can you then please explain to me what the connection is between my vocal cords, my tougue and my mouth to that of my ears?" He replied "There is none!" I then asked him if he would kindly refraine from sending that observation along in the report to the Federal Government and stick to the problem at hand which is my lack of hearing. He looked at me quite sheepishly.

    So when people say to me "well then how are you talking to me right now?" I usually answer
    with this wise-ass remark ... "Yeah well, since my ears stopped working I've been using my mouth. What do you use?"

    I'm so bad I've even had gone as far as to have a T-shirt printed up once that read "My
    deafness has absolutely no baring on why I'm not listening to you!"

    Of course working with the public these quips would only aid in your employer having to show you the back door and we don't want that ... so you might try a sign that reads as follows ...

    This Librarian is Hearing Impared

    For thorough communication ...

    1. Look directly at the Librarian when speaking.
    2. Speak clearly in normal tone of voice. (your lips are being read)
    3. Be prepared to repeat yourself when asked to do so.

    Follow these 3 simple steps for a smooth and flawless conversation.

    Thank You!

    But before puting up a sign like this have it OK'd with your employer first. Upon given the
    go-ahead you might just find ... it scares a certain percentage of people away so they end up querying another librarian! It would not only clarify your situation but it might just cut down on your workload!

    But then again if 95% of your coversations go well then I would say there wouldn't be a need for any sign what-so-ever. It would only serve to draw attention to your disability which I don't believe is your end goal especially in the workplace. If you were having trouble with a majority of patrons, then I might say "give it a try".

    Take into consideration too that come 5pm when work lets out and people flock to the supermarkets and stores in hordes this chashier might just see more people pass through their line, each complete with a jabbering set of new lips, in one hour than you see in an entire day at the library?

    Stores also are relatively very noisey as compared to that of the quietness of a library. This then gives you an advantage the cashier doesn't have even if you both have the same degree of hearing loss.

    All in all, sign or no sign, I am sure you will still get those few people who would undoubtedly question you with "If your deaf how can you be talking to me?" along with those who find it so hard to repeat themselves (it's not like you asked them to pick up a 50 lb. box or anything) I have come to the consensus that it's just an unfortunate unavoidable part of being hearing impaired.

    Let us know how things turn out if you decide to go with the sign.

  2. I really understand you and feel for you since I have a 50% hearing loss in both ears. People, not all, can be so cruel and inconsiderate.

  3. I've tried the sign. Did what Rob suggested and explained how to communicate with me. I never even thought to check with my employer about using one. My manager loved the sign.

    It's OK but I can't say I've noticed a significant difference. I'm lucky, I work in a great environment with very accommodating staff and managers and a surprisingly adaptable and friendly group of students, staff and faculty. I found that just being upfront as soon as I have trouble hearing someone, has helped a lot. I let them know that I need them to repeat and I may need them to write out a word if I don't get it the second or third time. Almost everyone has been accommodating without being difficult about it. So to summarize, signage is OK but not significantly different from telling people about your hearing issues and letting them know what you need from them. -- Ro

  4. Hi Megan,
    FYI - I've closed the shop.


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