hearing loss

Have hearing loss? How to talk to your boss about captions

We’re all experiencing Zoom fatigue, but it can be especially frustrating for people who have hearing loss.

You may not want to reveal your hearing loss in the workplace. Or maybe you serve on a public board or have been summoned for jury duty and feel a wave of anxiety about fulfilling your duties. Captioning is one way to make Zoom meetings – and all environments – more accessible for all.

The Americans with Disabilities Act provides protections to people with disabilities, including hearing loss. Employers and public entities cannot discriminate and are required to provide certain accommodations under the law.

Good managers are empathetic and responsive to employee concerns and know that when you provide your employees with captions, they can achieve their full potential. The same goes for public entities that make public access a priority. Read this personal blog “What say you?” by a woman summoned for jury duty – and why she’d have her own CART captioner if she ever wins the lottery.

When is it time to talk to your boss about the need for captions?

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, working from home – and the Zoom meetings that came with it – has become commonplace for office workers. Even post-pandemic, remote work is likely to continue.

Maybe you’ve been coping, worried to speak up even though the ADA provides certain protections. You may fear becoming the source of office gossip or worry your boss and colleagues will wonder if you’re capable of doing your job. An even bigger concern is being targeted for termination when the company decides to downsize.

These are some signs it is time to break the silence and talk to your boss about your need for captions:

  • You are struggling to follow along during a Zoom or other virtual training and meetings.
  • You feel it is affecting your work performance.
  • It is causing conflict or miscommunication with your colleagues or managers.
  • You are experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety or stress or losing sleep, especially as the workweek approaches.

 How do you talk to your boss about the need for captions?

While you may feel anxious or intimidated to bring the issue up with your boss, being prepared and having talking points will give you more confidence.

1. Do your research in advance and know the ADA requirements and what is required under the law.

There are some great resources on the Internet. This document by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission details Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the American with Disabilities Act.

According to the law, “The ADA requires employers to provide adjustments or modifications – called reasonable accommodations – to enable applicants and employees with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities unless doing so would be an undue hardship (that is, a significant difficulty or expense).”

Remote CART captioning services, which translates voice into text at real-time speeds, is included in the list of reasonable accommodations. However, an employer doesn’t have to grant every request for a reasonable accommodation. The law seems vague on how they prove “undue hardship” or what constitutes significant difficulty or expense.

2. Do not approach the conversation in a defensive or threatening way.

Try to be assertive, yet polite and professional. Gather appropriate documentation, if necessary, including medical records related to your hearing loss and a note from your ENT physician or audiologist, if you think it will help your cause.

Under the law, an employer can ask you to provide reasonable documentation to establish that you have a hearing disability, how the condition limits major life activities, and why a reasonable accommodation is needed.

3. Be specific about what you are asking for and what is your biggest concern.

Are the Zoom meetings the concern? The weekly phone call with your boss? What is the main issue?

You need to be specific so your boss understands the problem. If it’s an ongoing issue, start documenting how often you have Zoom meetings and when and why you can’t hear. You want evidence so you have a better chance of having the request granted.

4. Make sure you have a good case for why captioning is your preferred accommodation.

Your employer can opt for an easier or less costly option. It might be good to supply your boss with research on how captioning works and a few captioning providers, including Caption Pros.

According to the law, “The employee’s preference should be given primary consideration, although the employer is not required to provide the employee’s first choice of reasonable accommodation.” However, reasonable accommodations do apply to the benefits and privileges of employment. These include access to information communicated in the workplace and employee-sponsored training events.

In addition, an employer is not exempt from providing necessary accommodations because the employer has contracted with another entity to conduct an event. That means you’re still entitled to accommodations for outside training events, conferences, and team-building activities.

5. Besides reminding your employer about the ADA regulations, it is a good idea to share benefits about how captions can help others who may not have hearing loss.

Captioning can increase accessibility, engagement, and comprehension for all employees and ESL attendees. Some people prefer to read text and take notes rather than try to listen to multiple people talking, especially if they have their video turned off.

6. Gather some colleagues in your workplace that can help advocate for you.

Find a trusted ally or reach out to a disability advocate. Review your employee manual for written policies on equity, inclusion, and disabilities in the workplace.

Under the law, “A request for a reasonable accommodation also can come from a family member, friend, health professional, or other representative on behalf of a person with a hearing disability.”

7. Be prepared to follow up if your concern is not addressed.

It might be good to correspond via email or type up a letter so you have documentation of your request. Give your boss a little time and follow the chain of command if your request is ignored. You may have to go to your human resource department or your boss’s supervisor.

8. Do not be afraid to stand up for your rights.

Be Your Own AdvocateBe your own advocate and help advance the cause for equal opportunity in the workplace. The ADA prohibits harassment and retaliation by an employer based on disability, for requesting a reasonable accommodation, or for filing a charge of employment discrimination.

A commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion – and complying with the ADA – in the workplace and public agencies ultimately benefits everyone. Ensuring people with disabilities like hearing loss have the same rights and accommodations improves productivity, boosts morale, and fosters a positive work environment. Not to mention, it’s simply the right thing to do.

Visit Caption Pros to learn more about our award-winning captioners and services. Better yet, send this blog to your boss or human resource department so they understand the value of adding real-time captioning to Zoom meetings and webinars.