Hearing loss and my career

Naoimh Fox writes about the effect of a hearing impairment on her work and aspirations.

At the age of 24 I was diagnosed with a hearing impairment. I was in the final year of my PhD, finishing my data collection and writing up my thesis. While this had a huge impact on me emotionally, I successfully passed my viva a year later.

Two years on from completing my PhD I have been working as an Assistant Psychologist (AP). The transfer from working in isolation during my PhD to working with multidisciplinary teams required considerable adjustment. My work is based in a very busy environment that involves engaging with colleagues during team meetings, working one-to-one with clients, assessing children with behavioural issues and leading a number of psychoeducation groups.

Losing my hearing has been a huge struggle for me at times. I felt embarrassed, self-conscious and terrified about informing my colleagues and supervisors that I had a hearing impairment: I found it very difficult to even say the words. I decided that it would be easier for me to talk to colleagues individually rather than address groups of people. I then had to adapt my communication style in work and in social situations to follow conversation effectively. This had involved: reminding colleagues that I am hard of hearing and asking them to face me during conversations, asking people to repeat conversation during meetings and speak slower and louder during phone calls, and ensuring I sit closest to the main speaker during meetings.

I am in the process of setting up a support group for individuals with hearing loss who experience tinnitus. Through this, I plan to share my experience of hearing loss and tinnitus with others. I have developed my confidence and assertive skills by joining a local lip-reading class (even though I was the youngest member), and finding opportunities to talk about my hearing loss to improve my self-esteem. Over the past year, I have worked hard to develop my confidence and ability to talk freely about my hearing impairment. I am still in the process of accepting it, but talking to colleagues has inspired me to give a presentation to them on how to support people with hearing loss in the workplace: mainly by reducing social isolation and increasing self-esteem. Tips include:
1.    Make sure that you face the hearing-impaired individual during conversation and, if possible, that you do not sit with your back against a window or lamp. This makes it easier for individuals to lip read.
2.    Do not whisper or lower the volume of your voice, but do not raise your voice or shout. This can distort the sound and make conversation more difficult to follow.
3.    Be attentive to others during conversation to ensure they are not having difficulty listening. A puzzled or confused look may indicate the individual has not heard you.
4.    Say the individual’s name before starting a conversation. This can help the individual to concentrate and reduce the likelihood of words being missed.
5.    If the hearing-impaired person has difficulty understanding you, try to rephrase rather than repeating the original words over and over.

Although my hearing loss has been unexpected and life-changing, I have not let this affect my focus on obtaining my dream career. Instead, I have become more aware of and developed my strengths and abilities, which I believe has made me more confident. If you have a disability or impairment – sensory, physical or otherwise – don’t let it stand between you and your goals and dreams.

- Dr Naoimh Fox is an Assistant Psychologist working for the HSE (Health Service Executive) in Ireland
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