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Personal Insights

Deaf and Thriving at SAP

According to the World Health Organization, over 5% of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss. By 2050, this number is expected to double and impact over 900 million people.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be deaf? We asked several members of our SAP team that are part of the 5%. Read on to learn about their journeys, what it is like to be deaf at SAP, and what team members without hearing loss should know.

Meet Liliana, Lee, and Michaela.

Liliana, currently working in Inside Sales for SAP SuccessFactors in Chicago and Americas chapter President for an employee network for deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues, was first diagnosed with profound hearing loss at age 2.

“My deafness impacts me in a variety of ways during work – from the never-ending struggle of comprehending global accents during phone conversations to inevitable end-of-day Deaf fatigue. Especially now amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, I’m sure you’ve experienced “Zoom Fatigue” while working virtually. You know… the feeling of sore eyes, racing minds, boredom, and a sense of overwhelming exhaustion after being in back-to-back meetings all day. Heads up! Deaf people feel this way EVERY SINGLE DAY. Experiencing hearing loss in a hearing-dominate world is exhausting. Any break we can get from this constant effort is highly appreciated. For instance, sometimes it’s best to communicate simple things via email/text to avoid draining a deaf person’s energy levels.

One simple suggestion that I often share with my colleagues is using Microsoft Teams for virtual meetings. In the world of modern technology, video chats are an incredible tool. Many individuals with hearing loss often lip read, so turning on the video camera is a huge help! Also, Microsoft Teams has an intuitive closed-captioning feature embedded within the system, which is a huge help in virtual conversations among a global team where there are accents.

When I joined SAP, I was thrilled to find that we have a culture of compassionate individuals across diverse backgrounds. I feel compelled to admit, SAP has done its job to make me feel included. It’s not often that I feel included despite my hearing loss, but at SAP I am empowered to provide this different perspective on the world (challenges and all).”

Lee, a User Assistance Development Architect, based in Germany, is co-founder of the employee network for deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues. He began to experience hearing loss in his mid-30’s.

“Thanks to the advanced hearing-aid technology that is available today, I can operate more or less as before. In some cases, I need my colleagues to adjust, such as speaking more clearly or facing me when they speak. But because I am open about my hearing loss, most people understand and are accommodating. In meeting rooms with poor acoustics or online calls with poor audio quality, I have to concentrate harder on the conversation, which is very tiring, so I try to avoid wall-to-wall meetings or very long meetings. In online training and info sessions, I rely additionally on subtitles, where available, and on supportive lipreading. One advantage is that, I don’t have to wear a headset when I phone. The audio gets transmitted straight to my hearing aids.

In general, the deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues I know are quite resilient. We have to be! And we have developed our own strategies for coping with the isolation and stress that hearing impairment can bring. All of us are different, so the main thing is to ask – ideally in private – if there is something you can do to make things more inclusive for us – and for everyone. Because of the stigma attached to deafness, many people prefer not to disclose it and have their own strategies for managing. So don’t assume that everyone you know and work with has perfect hearing – not even the younger ones!

What most people don’t realize is that any of us can become disabled at any time. Whether that’s a loss of hearing, sight, or mobility, the world isn’t designed so that you’ll be able to carry on as before. So you need to develop resilience and a strong sense of humor to get through life’s daily battles. It’s really important to know you’re not alone. And being able to exchange with others with the same or other disabilities is very helpful and has become the basis for good friendships with people I may not have encountered before.”

Michaela, a Solution Architect and Retail Expert for Customer Success in Germany, experienced hearing loss in one ear as a result of a failed operation two years ago. She also has a son with hearing loss.

“A common misconception about hearing loss is that people question your intelligence if you have to ask someone to repeat themselves. The issue with deafness is that it is invisible, you cannot see it like you can for example, someone in a wheelchair. This can be even more difficult for people who are younger, like my son.

If you are working in small groups, look for a quiet place to discuss something. Not in the middle of the canteen at lunch. Speak clearly and look into the face of the person you are talking to, this helps everyone, not just those with hearing loss. In large meetings, leave space for people with hearing loss in the front and with good view where there are often live captions on a screen.”

Thank you to Michaela, Liliana, and Lee for sharing their experiences.

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  • Great Blog!  Thanks for sharing your personal Journey’s with us. Every video collaboration tool should adopt an intuitive closed-captioning feature embedded within the system. That would help to ensure no one participating is left out of the conversation, ever again.