Conference Calls and Hearing Loss

Last week, I led two conference calls for the first time. That might not seem like a big deal to most people, but for someone who has trouble hearing on the phone, this was a major accomplishment.

In university, if I needed accessibility services (such as a notetaker to accompany me to class etc.), all I had to do was go to the Accessibility Centre on campus and request those services. When I graduated in 2017, the thought of needing accommodations in the workplace didn’t cross my mind.

Since 2017, I’ve worked at three companies. Two of these companies were on the smaller side with less than 45 people in the office. The last company, which I currently work at is larger, with locations across Canada.

In those smaller companies, I didn’t need much in terms of accommodation. There was no need for telephone conferences because everyone was in the same office!

So, I never really gave accommodations much thought, until I moved to the company I work at now.

My First Conference Call – With a Colleague

 When I was in training for my new position, I had to shadow my work partner, Amy, as she went about the day-to-day tasks that I would soon be doing. One of her tasks was to lead two conference calls with people from offices all across Canada.

I listened to Amy speak on a call with about five to eight people. I spent most of the call, not taking notes, but concentrating on what all those voices, varying in tone and pitch, were saying…and missed about 40% of the conversation anyways.

I used Amy as a crutch to get by on these calls (she re-capped the conversation with me after the call). Post #10 - Blurb

Amy was also going on vacation for two weeks. Which meant I had to lead the calls in her absence. Nevertheless, I freaked out.

The first thing that came to mind was how was I going to lead a call if I couldn’t understand what people were saying half the time? I needed an accommodation.

The Search for Accommodations

In high school, if you need accommodations, you go to your itinerant teacher who will help you out. In university/college, if you need accommodations, you go to the Accessibility Centre. In the workplace, if you need accommodations, you go to…your manager? Human Resources? I didn’t know what to do.

I had three thoughts going through my head:

  1. I didn’t want to depend on my manager to interrupt her valuable time to sit with me on these calls (even though I knew she would happily do so to help).
  2. I will be faced with these types of situations in the future, so I better figure out a way that is best for me sooner rather than later.
  3. I wanted to assert my own professionalism and independence in my career and I wasn’t going to let this stop me.

I approached my manager about the issue. She said, “not a problem, let’s figure out what would be a good accommodation for you.”

We bounced around a couple of ideas and shot them down just as quick:

Copy of Post #10 - Blurb 2

The Solution

After nixing all of those possibilities, in combination with my own stubbornness to not want to have to depend on others, we came up with a viable solution.

At the next conference call with Amy (the last one before she left for vacation), we disclosed to the team that I will be leading the next several calls, but that I have a hearing impairment, which is why I might ask them to slow down they speak or to repeat themselves.

Leading the Call

The time came to lead the call…and it wasn’t that bad. Here is a breakdown of how most of the calls went:

Beginning of the call:

I introduced myself again, and reminded everyone about my hearing impairment. Everyone was very understanding.

During the call:

It was a bit overwhelming at first, listening to multiple people going back and forth on the call. I did have trouble with:

  • Hearing people with any heavy accents
  • Discerning who was speaking (I called someone by the wrong name)
  • Trying to tune out the background noises of the call (beeping, people shuffling etc.)

There were moments where someone would ask a question, and I would ask them to repeat themselves. If I asked them to repeat themselves more than once, I told them to send me the question in an email with everyone in copy after the call and that I would answer it then. This was to prevent the call from dragging on past the 30-minute mark.

After the call:

Anyone that had any outstanding questions sent them to me in an email afterwards, and I answered them promptly.

Tips and Tricks on doing Conference Calls with Hearing Loss

Before the Call:

  • Book a quiet room in advance to minimize interruptions
  • Jot down any foreseeable questions or scenarios that might pop up
  • Ask someone that will be on the call to take down the minutes and send them to you afterwards

During the Call:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves or to slow down – this is your career – don’t put it in jeopardy by accidentally relaying the wrong information because you didn’t hear the question properly
  • Try not to strain yourself by trying to hear the conversation but focus on the general conversation flow – any missed information will be relayed in the minute notes after the call

After the Call:

  • Answer any outstanding questions as quick as possible via email
  • Ask questions or relay your own notes to compare with others on the call

If you have any additional tips on how to lead a conference call with hearing loss, comment below! I’d love to hear them.

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