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fearful

Disclosure of disability

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I am a critical care nurse and I have been employed in the same ICU unit for the last 21 years. During that time I have lost a considerable amount of hearing. I am now totally deaf in 1 ear and have about 50% loss in the other. I wear a hearing aide but there are still some limitations with the localization of sound, phone use and communication with other staff members when the environment is noisy. My co-workers are aware of this and understanding and when new people are hired I do have to tell them on a one to one basis that they need to speak directly to me and that I will not be able to hear them from a distance. I have in the past had to deal with some discrimination when my deficit was an inconvenience to a new co-worker so I fear this discrimination and ridicule in a new environment. I function without any difficulty in my unit because my familiarity with the sounds of my unit's monitors and equipment help me locate and identify the sources and I know which phone has the loudest volume control. I function independently and safely. I am now told that I will randomly have to take turns floating to a different hospital, with entirely different staff and equipment, when they need some help if someone is on vacation or sick or they are short handed. We were invited to an "Open House" to look around and familiarize ourselves with the unit. No formal orientation or introductions.

My question is what rights do I have to protect myself from having to disclose my disability to absolute strangers time and time again. This issue is very embarrassing and emotional to me. It is impossible not to be self-conscious about this defect, I am broken, and the fear of becoming completely deaf is very real and overwhelming. In addition to my feelings is the fact that I am concerned about my ability to function safely in this unfamiliar environment. Not being able to hear or localize sounds will make me the weakest team member and may jeopardize my ability to provide safe patient care independently.

Do I have to tattoo my disability to my forehead and strap myself to the flag pole at this other facility so that everyone that comes in contact with me knows I am disabled? Are there laws that protect me from this humiliation? Can they fire me for not wanting to put myself in that position?

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Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to that question.

So I suggest you do some thorough research on the US DOL's website about the Americans with Disabilities Act:

http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/disability/ada.htm

If that doesn't answer your questions I suggest you consult an employment attorney who specializes in ADA so you can educate yourself and be prepared for the eventuality where your job becomes an issue.

By the way, have you had an MRI? Single side deafness is often caused by an Acoustic Neuroma.

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