Workplace COVID Regulations Impeding Hearing Loss Sufferers

Two weeks ago, a class action lawsuit was filed against Nike due to their possibly discriminatory rules against those with disabilities.

As people return to work, some companies have started to implement their own rules for controlling any potential spread of COVID-19. However, every company has its own method, and some are less effective than others.

While some people are praising their company’s steps towards a safer, more inclusive workplace, others take umbrage with the way their employers are handling such a volatile and complex situation. Let’s have a look at some specific examples.

What to do: Google

A lot of work-related communication is being done over video calls now. However, with poor connection, latency issues, and muffled sound, this method of verbal communication can be less than ideal for someone experiencing hearing loss.

However, Google, ever ahead of the curve, has started to implement voice-to-text technology on their calls. What this means is that you will be able to toggle an option on a call, and anything said by someone on that call will be transcribed into text that will be shown on screen.

Video chat

Google Hangouts is one of the biggest platforms that people use for remote meetings, so to have this option is a huge benefit for anyone who struggles with hearing the conversation on a work call.

Google’s voice-to-text technology was actually first used by doctors and responders to talk to patients while wearing masks, and was retrofitted onto their call system.

What not to do: Nike

One of the world’s biggest sports brands Nike is actually in the throes of a lawsuit due to their poor policy on masks and COVID prevention methods.

When Nike’s workers returned to work, Nike thought it would be a fun idea to enforce opaque masks branded with the Nike logo. This uniform-like restriction on the kinds of masks that can be worn on Nike premises has been met with a bit of backlash.

A lot of people with hearing loss like the visibility offered by facemasks with a clear window over the wearer’s mouth. This allows them to gain a lot of speech context from the shape of the speaker’s mouth, which can be a deciding factor in whether or not they understand what is said.

However, Nike’s resistance to these kinds of masks is a clear accessibility issue, as the opaque branded masks don’t allow for any mouth visibility.

This lawsuit stems from the fact that Nike’s insistence on their own masks violates multiple laws – like the Americans With Disabilities Act or the California Disabled Persons Act. These acts exist to ensure that no one is excluded from a workplace or institution due to any disabilities they may have.

To the future

There are a lot of ways we’re going to have to adapt to this new world. The sooner and more effectively a business can implement inclusive health practices, the less susceptible it will be to a cautious workforce or possible lawsuits.

Things like safe mask customization and video chat services that allow for subtitles are big steps in accessibility, and can only serve to make people’s lives easier.

Written by:

Duncan is an Australian-born American-raised creative writer with a passion for healthy ears. He continues to build upon his audiology qualifications with research and various courses.

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