Coronavirus (COVID-19): information and support

About hearing loss and deafness

In the UK today, more than 12 million people are living with hearing loss. This can range from a partial to a total inability to hear. All levels of hearing loss can make communication in the workplace difficult if the right support isn’t provided.

Causes of hearing loss

There are many different causes of hearing loss, including exposure to loud noise, drugs used to treat serious illnesses, genetics or ear conditions. Some babies are born deaf. Most hearing loss, however, occurs naturally as part of the ageing process. It affects 42% of people aged over 50.

How hearing loss affects communication 

Hearing specialists categorise hearing loss using four different levels: mild, moderate, severe and profound. The terms ‘mild’ and ‘moderate’ can sometimes be misleading, though, as they don’t reflect the impact that these levels of hearing loss will have on the individual.

Mild hearing loss makes it hard to follow speech, particularly in noisy situations, or for long periods of time. Your employees with mild hearing loss may miss quieter speech and find it difficult to follow what’s being said in a noisy office or in meetings. They may or may not use hearing aids, depending on whether they’ve taken steps to address their hearing difficulties. 

Moderate hearing loss makes people mishear words and struggle to hear when there’s background noise and in group conversations. It’s likely that your employees with moderate hearing loss will use hearing aids, but they may still struggle to hear in noisy environments, such as when more than one person speaks at a time or at social events.

Severe hearing loss makes it difficult to hear speech in most situations, even with hearing aids. Your employees with severe hearing loss are likely to lipread and need assistive listening devices, such as a conversation listener, to help them communicate.

Profound hearing loss means it’s likely that hearing aids won’t help with hearing speech, but they may help with identifying which direction sounds come from. Some people who are profoundly deaf communicate through speech, lipreading, assistive technology and communication support, while others use sign language. Some people who do not use sign language may choose to have a cochlear implant, if it’s a suitable option.

People who use sign language as their first or preferred language are part of the Deaf community; they refer to themselves as being ‘Deaf’ with a capital ‘D’ to emphasise their Deaf identity. Sign language involves a combination of hand shapes and movements, lip patterns, facial expressions and shoulder movements. It has its own grammar and is structured in a completely different way to English.