Sunday, 1 September 2019

Should You Announce Your Hearing Loss at Meetings?

Absolutely. Self-advocacy helps you get the job done. “Hi, my name is Shari and I am excited to be at this conference/retreat/class.” This is how it usually begins. We all go around the room and introduce ourselves, give a reason or two why we are here and it moves onto the next person. But at my most recent retreat, I decided to try something different. I began with the typical particulars, but I ended with the following. 

 “Oh, and I just wanted to mention that I have a hearing loss, so I will be positioning myself as close to the speaker as possible during the exercises (meaningful look in the moderator’s direction to make sure she heard this), and if you speak to me and I don’t answer or if I look at you like you have two heads, please don’t think I am rude, I probably just didn’t hear you. Please try again.” 

I had never done that before — made my hearing loss a part of my introduction in front of a group — but I know I will do it again. It worked famously! First of all, at the introductions, people are typically paying attention, so it was an efficient way to get the message out there, and it made me feel a lot less fearful of dirty looks from others in the group as I moved up close to the speaker at all of the events. A few people even came up to me afterwards and disclosed their own hearing loss or that of a spouse or loved one, which is always a good bonding moment for those of us with hearing loss. 

 Secondly, it made an impression. Later that day, the instructor made a point of putting me in a good spot for a particularly hard-to-hear segment of the class, and when I needed to ask people to repeat themselves, they seemed more willing to do so (at least the first few times). Thirdly, I felt much more relaxed. My fear of not being able to hear everything or that I might reply to a question with the answer to something else was gone. Everyone already knew I had a hearing loss, so they would expect a few flubs. 

The flubs might even be funny. Maybe… Lastly, I could ask for help as I needed it without a big explanation. For example, I was able to ask people to switch seats with me a few times so I could see (and therefore hear) better at various presentations and at the group dinners. All requests were met with a smile.

ATR:   Of course all with hearing loss or deafness must make the point they have difficulty following a meeting or indeed following anyone.  Many issues of discrimination are pretty much down to the fact we are reluctant to tell people what ability to follow the spoken word we have or even are aware what best works for us.  A lot can be put down to either denial or simply we don't know how much we miss.

It's important to prepare for meetings, vital you know how much detail you can take in, and via what format does this best for you.  Sitting there nodding away in ignorance means you will not be able to claim discrimination at all, and, would probably mean others thinking less of you or you being difficult. I know how much detail I can manage, that obviously diminishes via how I can feel on the day, or if the meeting is the type of meeting where people often talk over each other as this renders my primary format of lip-reading useless, if that happens I would not attend a meeting unless people started to listen to others and waited for a reply and ensured those who missed something (And that doesn't mean just us with hearing loss), getting that explained or simplified.  You really need to plan ahead.

Failing Lip-reading I would be investing in a speech to text format as I can read as fast as people speak.  Palantype being an absolutely brilliant way of following proceedings, it does, however, depend if the operator is up with your need and your employer willing to pay for it and the operator indicates to the meeting where he or she cannot work properly if others talk over each other.  In essence to tell a  meeting how they should conduct themselves properly so everyone is informed.  Simples!  Why do they make things so hard for themselves?

I don't use sign language, it detracts from the person speaking and I am not comfortable an Interpreter is signing everything said.  You also need an interpreter who has the right specialisation to cover the meeting content, anyone will NOT do, especially if the Jargon is technical in nature.  BSL Interpreters work on the basis of huge variations of deaf ability to take in information, so if you use a BSL terp sort yours out BEFORE you start and, stop an interpreter to ask for clarification if you feel that hasn't been done, own your terp, don't let them own you.

Lip-reading is a huge hit and miss method probably best relied on with low key conversational areas rather than at meetings and given the options of obtaining a lip-speaker are minimal to zero anyway.

Helping the mute to speak

Assuming they can sign first of course.