Editor’s Note: Today’s post is written by Blake Cadwell, a blogger with mild to moderate hearing loss. In this post, he shares his experiences heading back to an in-person office with hearing aids.
What I’ve Learned So Far
I got my first pair of hearing aids in mid-2020, right around my 30th birthday. I had waited nearly two decades to treat my hearing loss, but with my first child on the way and everyone wearing masks, I finally took a hearing test. The result—mild to moderate hearing loss.
My LA-based advertising agency had moved to a fully work-from-home model, so my hearing aid adjustment period happened mostly in the privacy of my own space. I put my hearing aids in every time I took a walk around our east side neighborhood and wore them in front of the TV while our baby learned to sleep. But for virtual work, I used them only sporadically.
As summer turned into fall, our team slowly started to return to the office, and it was time for me to take my new and improved hearing capabilities out into the professional world. For years my colleagues have known to speak up when asking me a question. I’ve told creative partners that I need to see their faces when they talk, and I’ve asked “What?” more times than anyone can count.
With the team still wearing masks at the office, my hearing aids didn’t feel optional. They felt essential.
New Approaches Needed with Masks
On one occasion, I removed my hearing aids while working alone in my office. A colleague gently knocked and stuck his head in the room. He was wearing a mask, and whatever he said might as well have been mumbled from across the street. I couldn’t hear a word. After asking him to repeat himself twice, I finally requested that he pull down his mask for a moment so that we could finish the conversation.
This interaction and a few others quickly helped me understand that my office coping mechanisms in a pre-mask world were not going to cut it now.
These are a few of the things I’ve learned:
- When I share that I now use hearing aids, people are receptive and happy for me. After all, many of them have been accommodating my hearing loss for years.
- Hearing through masks is challenging for everyone. I’ve found that this new reality gives colleagues more empathy for how it feels to miss words. This shared experience has sparked some natural conversations about my own experience.
- It takes trial and error to figure out what works best. For example, I am still getting used to using my hearing aids on video calls. Should I connect my hearing aids directly to my laptop via Bluetooth or simply turn the volume up loud enough to hear through the computer speakers. What works for you?
- I’ve spent a lot of time in my office over the years, but it’s like my ears are in a whole new world. I can hear conversations outside my window. I now know what day the trash truck comes and am now aware that the HVAC system kicks on around the same time every morning. Sometimes this new awareness is distracting but mostly, it’s exciting.
I’ve spent 10+ years honing my office life as a hard-of-hearing person with no hearing aids. I guess that it will take me at least a year or two to get fully used to the intricacies of how my new devices play at work. What I do know is that I’m looking forward to hearing more and spending less effort piecing together sentences that I just barely caught. Here’s to that!
Blake Cadwell shares his hearing loss experience and research on his blog at HearSoundly.com. After waiting almost two decades to take his hearing loss seriously, he got hearing aids in 2020. Blake has become passionate about sharing easy-to-follow research on hearing tests, hearing technology, and hearing health trends. He has spent the last decade in the creative field working for brands like Gatorade, Southwest Airlines, and Nike. He hopes to put this experience to use in destigmatizing hearing health.