October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
The history of National Disability Employment Awareness Month dates back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year to be National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1962, the word ‘physically’ was removed in order to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities—including invisible ones like hearing loss. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
In study results published by the CDC in August1, it found that over 53,000,000 adults in the U.S. reported any type of disability. However, the study only surveyed vision, cognition, mobility, self-care and independent living—it completely omitted hearing loss as a disability, despite it being the third most common health condition, behind only diabetes and heart disease.
In fact, about 48,000,000 adults in America live with hearing loss2, and 10,000,000 of those people suffer from hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise3. There are 4,000,000 people who work in harmful noise levels every day, leading to an annual total of 22,000,000 workers who are exposed to noise levels that could damage their hearing irreparably.
That’s where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) come in.
OSHA “sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards” and “provides information, training and assistance to workers and employers.” In short, OSHA is in place to ensure that all workers, regardless of ability, have the right to a safe workplace4. Meanwhile, the ADA “prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation” in addition to “[mandating] the establishment of TDD/telephone relay services”5—all of which includes the workplace.
[Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know has experienced violations of OSHA or ADA regulations or been discriminated against because of their disability—including hearing loss—you can file a complaint here: OSHA | ADA]
Finally, the US Department of Labor (DOL) recognizes that “people with disabilities need good jobs too.” In accordance with that acknowledgement, the DOL established a variety of agencies that can: “help people with disabilities find meaningful work and launch successful careers, help employers hire people with disabilities, and help federal contractors stay within the law when hiring.”6
The following DOL agencies provide resources and education pertaining to the employment and the rights of individuals with disabilities, both visible and invisible, including hearing loss: the Office of Disability Employment Policy, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the Employment and Training Administration and the Civil Rights Center. You can visit the DOL’s Disability Resources page to learn more.
Be sure to ask your primary care physician to perform a hearing test if you’ve been experiencing signs of hearing loss. If necessary, your doctor can also refer you to an audiologist to discuss treatment options. If you have hearing loss and are having trouble finding or keeping a job, the Hearing Loss Association of America offers a free Employment Toolkit on their website.
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1. Centers for Disease Control <http://www.cdc.gov/mmWR/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6429a2.htm> last accessed 10/1/15.
2. Hearing Loss Association of America <http://www.hearingloss.org/content/basic-facts-about-hearing-loss> last accessed 9/9/15.
3. Centers for Disease Control <http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/stats.html> last accessed 10/1/15.
4. Occupational Safety and Health Administration <https://www.osha.gov/workers/index.html> last accessed 10/1/15.
5. Americans with Disabilities Act <http://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm> last accessed 10/1/15.
6. United States Department of Labor <http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/disability/> last accessed 10/1/15.