STC Special Interest Group for Accessibility and Technical Communication
This category contains information for hearing accessibility. Topics include prelingual and postlingual deafness for profound deafness and hard-of-hearing. Information is also provided for presbyacousis (old-age hearing loss).
My new mantra is "It's not just the volume. It's the clarity." This was my biggest "Ah HA" moment regarding my ability to hear and enjoy the Technical Communication Summit in Philadelphia last week. I realized that I was hearing the speakers' voices just fine but I was still not discerning each and every word they were saying, and that's when it dawned on me that it's not only a matter of speaking up, it's a matter of speaking clearly too.
But how do you tell someone to speak more clearly, especially when the issue is the person's accent or intonation? I recall the advice of Arthur Burtman, a wise man who has been giving Red Cross Fire Safety presentations for over 40 years. I once asked him to give me some tips for speaking to an audience of seniors. He said "SPEAK LOUDLY… SPEAK SLOWLY… AND DON'T TURN YOUR BACK TO THE AUDIENCE."
So much for my "Speak Up" sign. I designed this sign to combat my shyness of interrupting a speaker that I could not hear. My intention was to send a simple message ("Speak up, please") to the speaker who could then make adjustments in volume without disrupting the rest of the audience. But I know now that my sign needs to say "Speak up and speak clearly!" And it certainly doesn't hurt to retain a courteous "please!"
At this conference, I learned how far I've come. In the past, I would sit back, complaining to myself about how the planners were not accommodating me when in fact they did not know they were supposed to make accommodations. This year, I approached one of the planners and told her that I would like to attend the opening session rather than sit it out as I had done for the past five conferences. The planner walked me right up to the front of the meeting room and sat me down in front of one of the screens so not only could I hear the speakers I could see them as if they were standing right in front of me. Those visual cues go a long way to assisting my lack of hearing and being proactive works a lot better than just sitting on my butt doing nothing.
I learned a few other lessons that I would like to share with you so that adjustments can be made for next year's conference:
Two people cannot share one microphone. If two people must share the same microphone, the speaker must step forward and take command of the microphone and the other person must step backwards.
A forum is a difficult format for me to hear. There are no PowerPoint slides to provide backup to what I am not hearing and questions from the audience might not be repeated by the moderator. All presenters should be urged to produce PowerPoint slides as a text equivalent, and they should ALWAYS repeat questions from the audience.
The audio-visual people must be available to fix technical problems. In one instance, the speaker was talking into two microphones. One was at the appropriate level but the other was not, so the audience heard some of the presentation clearly and some of it too softly. The audio-visual person never came to adjust the microphone that was not working well.
Conference planners should provide assistive-listening devices to all attendees who need them. And while I have your attention, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) captioning would be a major benefit to many conference speakers, not only to those who have a functional hearing loss, but to those who can't hear the speaker because of the situation - the acoustics, their distance away from the speaker, side conversations, and so forth.
Overall, I felt I was very well accommodated at the Technical Communication Summit, and that was fine except that I had to really work hard to pay attention during the large audience-style gatherings. I am not used to paying attention at these gatherings because I am not used to being accommodated. So now I have to re-train myself to pay attention, but that's another blog entry for another time.
Update: These useful tips were originally compiled by Lori Gillen, former co-manager of the SIG, for participants attending the STC 2008 conference in Philadelphia. The tips are valuable for any conference at any time.
These tips can be used at any presentation, anywhere, of course! The tips are provided to help conference participants hear better and get much more out of their conference experience.
Sit next to one of the loudspeakers and make sure that you have a clear view of the presenter.
Ask someone to take notes for you during sessions.
If you think you will have problems hearing, let the presenter know beforehand, if possible, or at the start of the session, or at the very least when any problem becomes apparent. It's very frustrating for the person and presenter to only find out at the end that there's been an issue.
Tell the presenter what you need (speak louder, speak slower, face me please), and the speaker will try to accommodate you.
Make sure that you assess ahead of time what you think you will need. Do you need an assistive listening device or a note-taker? Do you need to sit close to where the presenter will be speaking?
After you assess your needs, be proactive in preparing your own accommodations. Meet with the presenter before the session and explain what you need. Ask if someone is available to take notes. In the assembly hall, ask if you can sit near the front.
Don't be afraid to be assertive. Politely indicate to the presenter to speak louder or slower. Or if audience members are being noisy, don't hesitate to tell them that they are distracting you from hearing the presenter.
Understand that the situation is not going to become perfect "just like that", in spite of everyone's best intentions. You may have to compromise, or even accept the fact that you will NOT be able to hear every word that the presenter says.
Update: These useful tips were compiled by Lori Gillen, former co-manager of the SIG, for speakers attending the STC 2008 conference in Philadelphia. The tips are valuable for any conference at any time.
The tips are provided to help speakers ensure better hearing of presentation content. These tips can be used for any presentation, anywhere, of course. Your audience will thank you!
Bring written content (slide presentation with useful content, handouts) to provide to your audience.
Provide a portable microphone for audience members to ask questions. Repeat the question before answering it so that the audience has another chance to hear it and to check that you've got the question right. Sometimes you can paraphrase and answer a slightly different or clearer question.
Be conscious of speaking more deeply, more loudly, more slowly, if requested to do so.
Face the person who requests it as much as possible while still maintaining contact with the rest of the room. Make sure that key points are always addressed to that person and look to other spots of the room for lesser points.
Try to avoid shouting. It may amplify your voice but it doesn't make the words more clear.
During group exercises, visit the person with hearing difficulties first when making the rounds of the room, to make sure that all has been heard up to the point where the exercise starts.
Think about how your visual presentation complements your verbal presentation. Make sure your slides present your key points rather than a bulleted agenda. You can do this by considering what notes you want someone to take from your talk and then put those on your slides.
Make sure that important terminology is on the screen. This enables attendees whose first language is not English to "hear" you correctly, even if your pronunciation is not clear or different from their own.
Suzanna Laurent, STC Fellow and former STC President (2005–2006) and former STC Director-Sponsor Region 5, sent us her personal story in 2008. She gave us permission to use it and we thought you'd like to read about how her hearing loss had affected her life and how a new technology had improved it.
I was talking with a friend one day whose husband works for the FAA and is able to fly free. However, because it is a free flight, there is only one seat available and at times another person can bump you off the flight. My friend had a ticket, so she got on the flight and had to come home without her husband. He flew home later. During our telephone conversation I thought she said, "Jack got drunk and they wouldn't let him on the flight." I thought to myself, "that doesn't sound like Jack because he doesn't drink much, and besides, this was an 8 a.m. flight." So, I asked her to tell me what she said again. She repeated "Jack got bumped, and they wouldn't let him on the flight." I told her what I had heard, and we had a good laugh about it, but it finally made me realize just how much I was missing in conversations.
In 1987, an Otogolist confirmed that I had an inherited hearing loss, and the only thing that could help me were hearing aids. It was a big shock, but I was so thankful there was some help available. I purchased and started wearing hearing aids in both ears. The difference was remarkable! Now my two oldest children wear hearing aids as well.
Consider for a moment what it would be like to talk with someone and not be able to hear the beginning and ending of some words. Sentences suddenly take on new meanings, like when you say "I can't go home right now," and the message that actually gets heard by a hearing-impaired person is "I can go home right now." The frustration can be monumental for the people on both sides of the conversation.
In the Fall of 1999, my daughter's Otologist wanted to know more about my hearing loss so he could better diagnose the changes in her hearing. I went back to have my hearing rechecked by the Otologist. After a thorough examination, the doctor asked me if I was a satisfied hearing aid user. I didn't even have to think about it, I told him "I am thankful for the hearing aids, but I still miss a lot of conversations. I can feel myself withdrawing from crowds and situations with noisy backgrounds, but that I knew there was no other choice but to wear them."
Then the doctor told me about a study in which he was participating, "Oh, you have a choice now, we are doing a study with an implantable hearing device that is designed for people with your level of hearing loss." I was so excited I couldn't think of anything else when I got back to work. I called my husband, checked out the web site and publication the doctor gave me, and called back to make an appointment to discuss the new device further. As a result, in January of 2000, I had a Symphonix Soundbridge device implanted in my right ear. The device was not for sale yet in the U.S., although it had already been approved in European countries. I now wear a small round device behind my right ear that produces vibrations that make me hear much better. In fact, the difference is remarkable. Now, I am not saying it makes my hearing perfect, but it is a remarkable device that allows me to hear much better now. To learn more about the device, visit Vibrant® Soundbridge™ middle ear implants It is now available for sale in the U.S.