During National Deaf Awareness Week (May14-20), a Sheffield expert on hearing loss is urging bosses to listen out for employees struggling to hear - and admit whether they need help too.
There are more than 11 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss - one in six of the population.
“Many are trying to hold down jobs, but feel there’s a stigma to admitting to hearing loss so they continue to quite literally suffer in silence,” said Peter Byrom, an expert who has spent over 20 years in NHS audiology.
“They have a real disability which could well be hampering their career prospects and limiting relationships with colleagues and customers. In National Deaf Awareness Week companies need to become aware of workers who are struggling and encourage them to get help.”
Peter, who until November 2017 was the clinical lead for an adult audiology department at a South Yorkshire NHS Trust hospital, says bosses too are among the 6.7 million people whose lives could be transformed by hearing aids.
“Countless people running or managing businesses cannot hear properly in meetings, on the phone to clients and at networking events. They are handicapped by their reluctance to admit they have hearing loss,” explains Peter, who has run his private practice, Peter Byrom Audiology, for 12 years and now works out of Sheffield’s private Hospitals, Claremont and Thornbury.
“There is a still stigma attached to wearing hearing aids. People think it's a sign of age and that they will be ridiculed. Yet wearing spectacles for a sight impairment is the norm. And the latest hearing aids are so small and discreet, they can barely be seen.”
The newest in aid technology, the Lyric, cannot be seen at all as it sits within the ear canal 4mm away from the eardrum. It cannot be felt by the wearer and remains constantly in place for eight weeks at a time.
Solutions to workplace hearing loss range from on-site employee screening tests and encouraging more open conversations about being hard of hearing. Staff can also benefit from discreet microphones which can be attached to telephones and be placed on desks at meetings, says Peter, who also carries out Medico-legal work where noise is suspected of causing hearing loss and supports clinics for Ear Nose and Throat consultants.
“I have to wear a hearing aid myself to help me with my job,” he says. “I suffer from mild hearing loss and also from tinnitus. I realised I couldn't hear the whistling feedback when patients’ aids weren't correctly in place. It's helped with both problems and I want to transform other people's working lives.”