Creating Connection for Those with Hearing Loss

Although often reserved about their condition, the impact hearing loss has on the senior community who are still working in Australia is profound. They may face new challenges and even discrimination in the workplace, leading to a frustrating end to what was previously a successful career. However, one company is proving that the way forward is one of inclusion and opportunity. A company known for its innovative approach to transport, Uber is now creating opportunities for different communities, including seniors and those with a hearing impairment.

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Uber first made waves in the traditional transport world with its inception in 2010 and in half a decade the ridesharing company has completely transformed the way people move from A to B, with more than 2 million riders and 40,000 drivers in Australia. The service is coordinated through a smartphone app, which matches those wishing to travel with a driver-partner nearby. Uber currently operates in over 425 cities worldwide. People love Uber not only for often being an affordable transport solution, but also for the community feeling it has generated around the world.

Due to the flexibility of the Uber platform, it’s also fast becoming a popular way for those over the age of 60 to wind down after a more fast-paced career and continue to earn an income. As a driver-partner, you choose which hours you drive, making it a great source of flexible income or a supplement to an existing income during the transition to retirement. Many seniors are embracing this flexibility, which fits in well around other responsibilities such as looking after family members and lifestyle choices like holidays. Beyond money, the secondary benefits are also appealing with senior driver-partners commenting on how much they enjoy meeting other people in their communities; not to mention the feel-good factor that comes from increasing the transport options available to those who are less mobile.

As well as creating connections for those who are looking for accessible transport options, Uber is also a staunch supporter of enabling people with hearing loss to access the Uber platform. Where traditional workplaces can be intimidating to those with a hearing impairment, with meetings and phone calls causing communication barriers and unhelpful colleagues or bosses leading to feelings of exclusion, signing up with Uber as a driver-partner is a great way to connect with the world and feel very much part of society.

For Peter, an uberX driver-partner who is deaf, the freedom and financial independence that Uber provides is what first attracted him to drive, which he has been doing since 2014. ‘I like that I can work at any time,’ says Peter, ‘it’s great to have such flexibility and freedom as it allows me to really enjoy my work and life balance. I love every minute.' Since Peter began driving in Melbourne, he has provided over 2500 trips to Uber riders and maintained an above average rating from his clients.

The philosophy of inclusion isn’t a new one for Uber, but recently the company introduced updates, developed in consultation with driver-partners and supported by Deaf Australia, to make working as a driver-partner even more accessible to those with hearing loss. These updates to the app mean that there is little to no need for verbal communication in order to provide the service.

Three significant enhancements were made to the app, all of which are now available as an option for all driver-partners. Where there was previously an audio cue that a new passenger was requesting a trip, the Uber Driver app now also signals this by way of a flashing light. Furthermore, driver-partners can opt to turn off the option to be called by the passenger, who is instead given the option to text their driver if they want to give specific directions about their pick-up.

One of the greatest improvements for those with hearing loss, however, is the fact that riders are now informed that their driver is deaf or hard of hearing. Frequently in the workplace, it is the reactions of others that can have the biggest impact on whether someone who is hard of hearing feels included in their environment. By informing the passenger ahead of time, both the rider and driver can adapt their communication to ensure the best possible interaction. The result is that both parties feel like their needs are respected, leading to a positive connection with each other.

Frequently thought of as an inconvenience, people with hearing loss face many obstacles throughout their day that can have devastating effects on the quality of life and ability to participate in society. Small everyday tasks can become frustratingly complicated when it’s hard to understand what someone is saying over the telephone or when miscommunications occur in public areas like restaurants, where disruptive background noise is present. Having trouble hearing alarms, doorbells and alerts can even lead to someone feeling that they might be in danger. These obstacles to participating in everyday tasks leave those with hearing loss often feeling displaced in their very own community.

Pioneering companies like Uber are fast showing the world the ways in which listening to others and thinking outside the box can open up new worlds of connection for individuals and communities. The workplace has long been the subject for many anxieties and frustrations for those who don’t fit into traditional working mechanisms, such as meetings and telephone calls – but it’s changing. With technology comes a brave new world with more autonomy and choice for those who wish to define what work means to them. Uber is just one example of how organisations that embrace diversity, and cater sufficiently for it, can thrive.