Here’s a very quick videoclip, summarising the observations that follow:-
I’m not deaf. I don’t identify as disabled – I’m merely hard of hearing, and I wear two hearing-aids. Most of the time I get along fine – my hearing-aids aren’t visible, and only people who know me, know I wear them. I’m a musician. I can hear pitch and rhythm well, indeed I can take music down at dictation with some facility – it used to be one of my party-pieces as an undergraduate. It’s possible that I’m not hearing the tone or sound quality as well as other people, but I certainly can hear it. It’s following speech that can be tricky. All those syllables, disappearing in people’s mouths before I can hear them!
In some situations, hearing’s particularly difficult. When large groups of people are all talking at once, whether it’s coffee-time or a conference break-out session, then I struggle. If a whole conference is divided into four groups in one large hall, and told to discuss something amongst themselves, then, boy, I really do struggle. I don’t know if I should generalise, but I’d hazard a guess that many hard-of-hearing people experience this. My hearing aids mean that my hearing is more omni-directional than the average pair of ears, and so sound comes at me from all directions. I’d rather have break-out groups in different rooms, so I only have to listen to one discussion.
Sitting round a large board-room table is sometimes tricky, too. I don’t lipread consciously – I didn’t know I even HAD a hearing problem until I was in my forties, so I’ve never had that kind of training. But I do know I can hear better when I see the speaker’s mouth, so if someone is at the other end of a table, and on the same side as me, I will be challenged.
What about the induction loop?, you ask. Not every room HAS an induction loop, and I’ve seldom found the induction loop setting on my hearing aid to improve a difficult hearing situation. And not every induction loop seems to work very well. I asked about one, once, to be told, “Well, it’s correctly wired-in, so it MUST be working.” (Ah, right. That’s okay, then. It’s just me being silly, and I should try harder to hear what’s being said. Do you know how HARD it is to try harder when your ears, even with hearing-aids, won’t let you hear better? It’s exhausting!)
But there are other situations when people could actually help, with only a little forethought. I’m not griping – obviously, people aren’t deliberately being hard to follow, they just haven’t thought. And I must state right now, some people speak loud and clear, not too fast, and the space doesn’t even need much amplification. But then, I’m one of the lucky ones, because my hearing loss is not bad. But here are my pet hates:-
- Presenters not standing near the microphone.
- Presenters standing halfway back a stage with no amplification.
- Presenters turning and talking to the OHP screen, rather than to the audience. (If the talking isn’t directed towards us, AND we can’t see their faces, things become impossible!)
- Presenters talking too fast.
- Presenters holding their paper so high that you can’t see their lips move. Please! Don’t. Do. That!
If there’s amplification, then in general, please use it. If the sound technician has any means of adjusting it for speech rather than music, that’s great. I realise it’s not always possible.
Also – I’m not very tall myself, so I am conscious of this – if it can be avoided, see if you can avoid hiding behind a tall lectern. Maybe stand a few inches to the side, and angle the mic towards you.
I only realised I had hearing loss when I became so resentful of accusations that I wasn’t listening, that I went and got my hearing tested. And there it was on a graph – I wasn’t Not Listening after all – I was Not Hearing. There’s such a difference! But to this day, if I’m in a conference and I miss a few words out of every sentence, it doesn’t take long for me to lose the thread of whatever the speaker’s talking about. And it still takes a while for me to realise that – hang on, I’m not being spectacularly stupid here, neither am I failing to concentrate – I actually cannot understand because I’m missing too much. In a conversation between a few people, you can ask for something to be repeated. In a lecture? Obviously not!
I’d like to suggest a code of good practice for conference speakers. In fact, it might be useful for other people like teachers, too. Because there must be loads of people like me out there. We’ll continue to struggle on – but a bit of forethought might make our struggles just a little bit less so!
Here are a couple of extra thoughts. If you’re playing a commercially-made, or internet-sourced video-clip to a group of people, please do listen to it thoughtfully first. If there’s verbal commentary over audio soundtrack, then it can be hard to pick out what’s being said. If the soundtrack is too loud, consider whether adding subtitles might be feasible.
And if you’re making a video-clip from scratch, then it would be great if subtitles were included from the outset. You can Google how to add subtitles to a YouTube video.
The bottom line is, it’s hard for anyone to stay engaged if they can’t hear what’s being said. And you don’t want that!