Hearing Loss and Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Age discrimination in the workplace is already a substantial problem throughout North America. Employers may treat an applicant or employee less favorably or harass them because of his or her age, leading to an unfair and uncomfortable work environment. However, older workers with hearing loss face additional problems – they must overcome the stigma of age and the stigma of those with hearing loss.

Older aged workers are often stereotyped as unproductive, resistant to change, and slow to learning. As a result, many older workers receive fewer promotions and lower performance ratings. When a worker also has hearing loss, the stereotypes are magnified due to the association between old age and hearing impairment.

Although certain Canadian federal regulations protect the rights of workers to ask for accommodations due to their disabilities, workers tend to not reach out for support from their employers out of fear of what their manager(s) and coworkers will think of them. Research shows that workers will avoid “normatively inappropriate” behavior in the workplace, especially as they grow older. In other words, if none of the other coworkers are asking for accommodations, workers will refrain from doing so in order to “fit in.”

Additional research by David Baldrige and Michele Swift of Oregon State University have found that of those with hearing loss, older workers are especially resistant toward seeking accommodation from their employees due to solidifications of aging stereotypes by peers.

Disability increases as the workforce ages and employers must accommodate their employees’ needs. Workers with hearing loss should speak with managers and human resources about eligibility for disability accommodations, such as landlines with adjustable volume and telecoil-compatibility, open captioning for large meetings, and seating preference in meetings (i.e. closer to the speaker). If workers in need of disability accommodations do not ask for them, their output and performance is likely to suffer.