Difficulties with Hearing Loss
Learn how people with severe hearing loss can seek work modifications, either on their own or by securing a Social Security residual functional capability (RFC) rating to restrict work conditions.
Dear Disability Advisor,
My 59 year-old husband has been experiencing severe hearing loss for the past couple of years to the point where it is impossible to carry on a normal conversation with him. But that’s not the worst. He cannot understand people on the telephone, has to watch television with the maximum volume and still cannot hear, and even has problems identifying traffic sounds while driving, such as horns, motorcycles, or even sirens. He wears hearing aids but they don’t seem to work very well. In addition to the frustration at home, he works in an office where he constantly needs to be communicating on phone and in person as well as driving to clients’ homes and offices. His hearing difficulties have resulted in some costly mistakes recently at work that add to our concerns. I worry constantly about what I can do to help him cope or even to figure out what he can do so that his life is not so difficult and upsetting.
Susan in Oviedo, Florida
I am sorry that you and your husband are experiencing problems with his hearing loss. You are certainly not alone since there are more than 48 million Americans who experience moderate to severe hearing loss. It is a problem that advances with age and affects not only the person with hearing loss but also everyone who interacts with a person with this disability.
Yes, hearing loss is a disability. Especially if the person needs to use “mitigating measures” which include hearing aids, special telephones, headsets, amplifiers, or even cochlear implants and still experiences limits to major life activities. If your husband is comfortable discussing his situation with his employer, perhaps some modifications to his assigned tasks can alleviate some of the problem at work.
You also can pursue assistance for work modification through Social Security. There are strict requirements for being identified as having profound deafness. To apply for assistance with Social Security, your husband’s doctor will need to provide details about his hearing loss, including test results of pure tone threshold in decibels across various frequencies and identification of speech sounds based on an audio reading test. If the doctor’s report states he has work and functional restrictions, your husband can use the information to apply to Social Security for a residual functional capability (RFC) that can either include restrictions on the work that he can do or qualify him for disability benefits.
I know that sounds like a lot of effort but you can start now by getting the details about your husband’s hearing loss and then make decisions together about how best to approach modifications in his work or possible apply for disability benefits. You can always talk to an experienced attorney about assistance with benefits for hearing loss. I applaud your initiative in wanting to figure out how best to help improve you and your husband’s situation today.
Jackie Booth, Ph.D.