"Pardon? Can you send me an email to confirm please?" I put down the phone, inwardly cringing at the awkwardness of it all. Looking around the office, I could see my colleagues happily chatting on their phones, speaking to each other without having to look over the computer screen and possibly unaware of the noisy air con that hummed loudly above.
I was stressed. Stressed about how being profoundly deaf was making life difficult at work. Over the last few years, I had started to notice a decline in my hearing. Having a cochlear implant resolved some issues but I began to struggle more and more at work.
I realised that I was hiding the extent of the challenges I was facing because I thought my employer would look unkindly on me. However, my workplace issues were stacking up. I struggled on the phone, finding it difficult to have clear and concise conversations, let alone take down numbers and letters. I would ramp up the volume of my handset, busting all possibility of a confidential conversation. Meetings were difficult - working out who was speaking, straining to hear them and being exhausted for the rest of the day. Sitting at my desk, I wouldn't hear people approach me from behind and got a real fright when they tapped me on the shoulder. Also, a lack of deaf awareness amongst my colleagues meant I would often miss out, not just on work-related conversations, but on the more informal banter. I struggled to get involved and felt lonely and excluded.
So, what could I do about it? I approached my line manager and explained the situation. A decision was made for me to undertake a Workplace Assessment. It would identify the impact of my hearing loss at work and offer solutions to improve my working environment and increase my productivity, well-being and inclusion in the workplace. It was organised by the Access Solutions team at Action on Hearing Loss.
A few days later, an assessor visited me at work. I was slightly apprehensive because I was worried that the solutions might have a massive impact on my team, causing negative feedback and reluctance to support me.
With a breezy happy-go-lucky persona (I was reminded of Mary Poppins), the assessor listened carefully during our two hour meeting and went through all of my issues, stress and productivity concerns. She asked questions that I never thought to ask myself, including how relationships with my work colleagues could improve with regards to my hearing loss. It almost felt like I was attending a counselling session; I felt so much better afterwards, knowing that I had the support of both my employer and this wonderful assessor.
We then visited my work station where she demonstrated a few products, including the Roger Pen that can be used as a conversation listener to improve clarity in meetings and also as a telephone adapter. She explained that I could stream phone calls direct into my hearing aids with the help of a hearing aid receiver. She recommended that I ask my audiologist for a hearing aid that would work better with the Roger Pen. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to start using these assistive technology products that would transform my working life in meetings, in the office and on telephone calls.
Finally, she asked how I felt about general deaf awareness training in the workplace. It would be on my terms and I could agree the right level of training for my colleagues. We decided that I would create an electronic leaflet with my personal tips on deaf awareness and email them out to my colleagues when reminders were needed.
While the assessor went to speak to my employer privately, I felt happy and excited knowing that inclusion would be coming back into my working life.
A few days later, I received a Workplace Assessment report with a list of recommendations, tailored to my needs. I also received a guide on Workplace Assessments to help me discuss the recommendations with my employer and apply for Access to Work funding to implement the solutions identified.
I am now in the process of applying for funding. Thanks to the Access Solutions team, my assessor and the follow-up report, my journey to inclusion the workplace has been a pain-free, simple and a happy one. Inclusion in the workplace – it’s coming back for me!