Hearing loss in the workplace: Q&A with Daniel Pistritto

Daniel Pistritto is an audiometrist, clinical coordinator and assistive listening device specialist at Blamey Saunders hears. He also has a profound hearing loss. He’s here today to talk about the impact untreated hearing loss can have on you in the workplace.

Daniel, tell me about your own hearing loss and what impact this had on you growing up.

My hearing loss began slowly when I was about 13 years old and only affected my left ear. I had surgery on my left ear when I was about 19 years old but developed an inner ear infection not long after which left me totally deaf in that ear. By this stage the hearing in my right ear had begun to deteriorate significantly. So for the past 25 years I have had no hearing in my left ear with my right ear getting progressively worse. The hearing loss in my right ear is now in the severe to profound range.

What sort of technology do you use to help you hear, and what sort of difference has it made to your life?

I have been using a hearing aid in my right ear for the last 25 years but because the hearing in that ear has continued to drop, I’ve needed to upgrade to more and more powerful hearing aids. At first I would only use the hearing aid during lectures, at work or when watching television or a movie. As time progressed I was reliant upon the hearing aid. Up until recently I also used a CROS aid in my left ear, which basically wirelessly transmitted sound from that side over to the hearing aid I wore in my right ear and while that was helpful in certain situations, like when I was driving the car, it wasn’t a huge amount of help in social situations. About 5 months ago I had a cochlear implant in my left ear and that was without a doubt one of the best decisions I have ever made. While I am still slowly learning to understand speech fluently through the implant, I can definitely say that I am hearing more now than I have in a very long time. I can walk through the park now and not only hear birds chirping but be able to tell that I am hearing 3 or 4 different types of birds based upon how different they sound.

Professor Peter Blamey actually led the development of technology that is in the cochlear implant to make sound clearer and natural. And that that technology is also used in Blamey Saunders hearing aids. Can you tell our readers a bit about that?

Professor Blamey worked on cochlear implants for about 20 years. Most notably he helped develop sound processing technology that makes speech sound as natural and audible as possible in noisy and quiet environments. It’s actually used today in headsets and to make telephone calls clear. It’s also in Blamey Saunders hearing aids. The processor is very selective and constantly analyses your listening environments in detail and makes automatic adjustments to match your personal hearing requirements. It was developed to deliver a truer to life sound quality than traditional “compression” hearing aid technology

Daniel, how can untreated hearing loss affect day-to-day functioning in the workplace?

Speaking from personal experience, you may find that you:

  • struggle to follow what people say during meetings
  • have to ask colleagues to repeat themselves
  • misunderstand what is being said
  • find it hard to understand someone over the phone
  • avoid socialising with colleagues
  • get confused about the direction sound is coming from.
  • find work mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting

When you have a hearing loss it can seem easier to ‘smile and nod’ instead of continuing to ask someone to repeat something – especially when you don’t want them to know you have a hearing problem. But you could end up giving the impression that you’re not interested in what they have to say – or you could end up agreeing to complete a task you’re unaware of. The other risk you face is that you can be overlooked for opportunities because sometimes it can be easier to ask someone else than to go through the struggle of explaining and then re-explaining it to you.

What advice would you give someone starting to feel their hearing loss is holding them back in the workplace?

First, make sure you go and get your hearing tested and start wearing hearing aids if need be. From there, life is one significant step closer to being easier. The sooner you get help with your hearing loss, the less impact it will have on your life. If you still find it hard to hear in your workplace after you get hearing aids, it might be best to speak to your manager about your difficulties. Your manager should explain your employer’s policy for supporting people with a health condition, and what the next steps are for making sure you get the support you need. There are also many devices available to assist you understanding on the telephone or in meetings. I use a remote microphone device designed to direct the sound of the speaker straight to my hearing aid, and cochlear implant. It can be put discreetly on the table during meetings and allows me to be 100% sure I can hear my co-workers & clients correctly.

How can employers make the workplace more accessible for staff or colleagues with hearing issues?

  • If you know someone has a hearing loss, it’s important that you look at them directly and make sure that they know you’re talking to them.
  • Seat them in such a way that they are facing the direction in which people approaching them will be coming from and ensure that there is sufficient and comfortable lighting.
  • Don’t sneak up behind, talk clearly and in front of them.
  • Echoing rooms are unhelpful, especially for meetings.
  • It is worth investing in soft furnishings to minimise the amount of reverberation in meeting rooms and the general office space.
  • For people with very severe hearing losses, look into having a loop system installed in meeting rooms or provide access to a wireless listening system.
  • Never say “never mind”. This is without a doubt one of the worst things you can say to someone with a hearing loss, especially if they have been struggling to understand a conversation. ‘Nevermind’ sends them the message that you give up.
  • Their hearing loss should be one of the 1st things you discuss with a person. Ask what style of communication works best for them.
  • If someone’s hearing loss is making work difficult, then refer to the government initiative JobAccess who are there to offer advice and assistance.

You can read more of Daniel’s blogs here:

How JobAccess can help you hear in the workplace

How to help someone with hearing loss find you

Daniel Pistritto reviews the Roger Pen

Audiometrist Daniel Pistritto talks hearing loss

Living with hearing loss

Communicating with someone with hearing loss

Communication for the hearing impaired

Never struggle on the phone again

Why do my hearing aids whistle?

What did you just say ‘yes’ to?

Never say ‘never mind’

Are you fire ready?

Cinema for the hearing impaired

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