NHS England Advisor Jennifer Stanley, 35, has had hearing loss since birth but concealed it at work. Eventually, an understanding line manager encouraged her to be open about her hearing.
“For almost 10 years I actively hid my hearing loss at work. I didn’t want to be known as ‘the deaf one’ or for people to treat me differently. I really worried that people would only see my hearing loss and not see me as a professional to be taken seriously. I felt that I had to prove to my employer that I was worth the extra bother of employing a disabled person. More than anything, I didn’t want people to think that I was stupid.
I had negative experiences which had made me even less open about my hearing. One line manager was unwilling to make adaptations to the phone call set up and told me I had to use the phone more rather than e-mail. Another line manager had almost total disregard for fire safety adaptation I needed and insisted that it was my responsibility to make sure I could hear the fire alarm by always wearing hearing aids.
After many years I started to realise the negative impact that hiding my hearing impairment was having on colleagues’ view of me. They thought I was quiet and reserved (friends know that I’m really not!) and I wasn’t putting across the dynamic, professional image that I wanted. When I did tell people about my hearing, it was usually at the point in a conversation where I was already struggling and the other person was probably getting fed up not knowing why I wasn’t following.
Eventually, age, acceptance and a supportive line manager encouraged me to be open about my hearing. I found out about government Access to Work scheme and booked myself a workplace assessment. The assessor came to my place of work and talked through all the challenges and problems that I had. To my surprise they had solutions to suggest both in terms of technology and raising awareness of my needs among my colleagues. They reassured me that I was worth the bother and that my employer wouldn’t mind making an effort for me.
Things are so much better for me at work now but the practicalities of coping with hearing loss are a significant drain on time and energy. I find the effort of having to constantly be working out what is going on around me, without the vital audio clues, so, so tiring. This is especially true in situations with lots of people and lots of listening involved.
I now realise being open is actually the best way to make sure that I come across as capable and competent. My colleagues are supportive and know that if I’m two steps behind in the conversation it’s because I haven’t heard, not because I can’t keep up. I also discovered the range of technology available to professionals and the simple adjustments that can help me be effective at work. I feel that my open approach has actually earned me respect among my colleagues. For me, I’m surviving in employment. Surviving better than I ever have done before with any other employer, but there are still many barriers and challenges for me to really thrive.”
Our Working for Change campaign
Our Working for Change campaign aims to improve attitudes to hearing loss in the workplace. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, we need your help.