Engaging with us: Communication Tactics for Venues.
A wish list from people with hearing loss, who hope to be included by you and your venues.
Whilst levels of hearing loss and ways of managing communication vary greatly from individual to individual, there are some general principles, approaches and tips which you should consider. This list was complied by Artlink participant Ann Thallon to share with art venues.
Planning / Welcoming / Communicating
Alert the public
People with hearing loss may not have the confidence to ask how your venue makes an event hearing friendly, so check that your signs, posters, website and publicity materials show that yours is a hearing friendly venue, where staff have had hearing friendly awareness training. Detail the facilities you have available, such as a hearing loop system, a notetaker, or a BSL interpreter.
Plan ahead for embedding hearing friendliness
When planning or developing events, build access solutions into the early stages. Normalise it!
What kind of event are you planning? An exhibition, which members of the public are to access independently, interactive event / talk / lecture? Be flexible in your solutions according to the kind of event. What barriers might there be? How can you plan ahead to reduce or remove those barriers, preferably in a cost effective way?
Talk to people living with hearing loss – get ideas from them and work together to come up with creative solutions. Invite one of us to meet you at your venue – or have an email conversation.
If you plan to use electronic notetakers or BSL interpreters for a specific event, book them right away – they’re in great demand! Include information about that invaluable service in all your advertising.
Plan your environment before people arrive – where will spoken parts of your event take place? What are the acoustics like? Background noise is a real barrier to being able to follow speech. Can you make any tweaks to make your environment more hearing friendly? Is there a quieter, less echoey part of a room for talking? Can you avoid things like working machines, background music, traffic noise from open windows etc?
Subtitles – check that any audio visual elements have subtitles or at least a transcript of verbal content to hand for us to pick up. Just turning up the volume or having headphones is definitely not the answer!
Any sort of visual help makes an environment more hearing friendly. Can you prepare a handout outlining the key topics covered in the event? Or a diagram, mind map or flow chart? Include technical terms, names, dates – all of which may be difficult for us to pick up if we come to them ‘cold’.
Having written context clues to help us follow the spoken word will reduce the cognitive load of trying to decipher enough of what you’re saying and allow us to relax enough to actually process the ideas you’re trying to impart. It’s not that your memory goes when you’ve got hearing loss – it’s just that listening and trying to make sense of sound takes up so much of your concentration that storing information often has to take second place. If you plan to read an extract of a written source during the event, can you have a spare copy for the people with hearing loss to see, as you read to everyone?
Creativity / Flexibility / Affordability
Induction loop systems – What about induction loops? Be aware that not all people with hearing loss use an induction loop. Your determination to be in a successful communication partnership with your visitors, being flexible in your strategies, will be of more value than a perfectly working induction loop. However, if you are planning on using one – do you know how to use it? Is the equipment fully charged? Can you explain its use to us, if we don’t already know how to use it? Have you been able to ask a hearing aid loop user to test out the equipment before the event?
Have a name badge for yourself, with your name printed large enough for people to see clearly. Picking up people’s names is notoriously difficult if you have a hearing loss – so if you want the people in your group to be able to get to know each other’s names, it will be very helpful (probably to everyone!) if you arrange clear name tags to go along with everyone introducing themselves.
Intentions – at the start of an event like a guided tour, be up front about the aim to have good communication tactics. If there’s to be some discussion, or question and answer aspects to the event, point up the good tactics you’re going to use for that – with one person speaking at a time. Explain that there is assistive technology available (if there is!) The more we ‘normalise’ making adjustments, the better – it’s not something to be hidden away. Encourage people to indicate if they’ve missed something and would like it repeated, or rephrased. But don’t expect everyone to want to draw attention to themselves by doing that! Build in time to get those who use equipment to get it set up.
Proximity /Visibility / Clarity
Be close enough to us when talking – more than a metre to a metre and a half away, our hearing aids won’t help us much
We need to SEE people’s faces to have the best chance of making sense of what you say, so have your face in the light, and face us when you speak.
Keep hand gestures away from your mouth – so we can use whatever lipreading skills we have.
It’s good to speak clearly and not too quickly to us– but not unnaturally slowly either. A good volume, without shouting, helps (too slow or too loud – and you’ll change your lip shapes which will make you harder to lipread) And please don’t drop your voice for dramatic effect, because we’ll definitely miss what you say!
We’re going to struggle if voices are competing with each other – people chatting on top of each other or changing the topic suddenly. You can help keep us included by flagging up a change of topic and maybe agreeing with a group that everyone will talk one at a time.
Check our eyes are on you when you speak. If you’re turning your back to point out part of an exhibit, for example, speak first, then turn away and point, then turn back to face us before you speak again. Ducking your head to check on your notes is fine – but please don’t keep talking when your head is down, or if you’re rummaging through a box.
Keep your feet still when you’re talking to us – don’t pace whilst you’re speaking! And when you’re taking us to another part of your venue, don’t say anything important as you lead the way, because we’ll miss it if we can’t see your face.
It helps a lot when we are clear about the context of talk – so please introduce the focus of your talk clearly – and flag up when the topic moves on.
Is the induction loop in use during a question and answer session? When we turn our hearing aids to Loop position, the speech is relayed directly from the speaker’s microphone into our hearing aids, and background noise, including other people’s voices, is toned right down. Only the person with the mic will have their voice picked up. So, if you’re leading the group and someone makes a comment or asks a question, it’s good to repeat what the comment or question was, so the person using the loop can follow what’s happening. Even better- perhaps you’ll have a roving mic linked to the induction loop system – so we loop users can hear via that as well.
A little note on microphone use…..for a lapel mic, just check that it’s not bumping against any ties or jewellery – feedback from that is nasty! If you’re using a hand help mic, then it should always be in front of your mouth, about a hand’s breadth away from your mouth – so if you’re turning your head, the mic stays in line with your mouth.
If you’re mentioning a time for a next meeting, or other such details, please give us a written note of the important stuff as well – or write it up somewhere where we can copy it.
Carry pencil and paper to use in case you get stuck trying to get a vital point across verbally. We’ll probably have pencil and paper with us anyway, for the same reason!
Achievable / Valuable
It’s all about communication for folks with hearing loss. Just relax and be aware that we will want to communicate with you and that, one way or another, together, we’ll be successful – it might take a bit of trial and error – but we’ll get there.
The key element is that staff have a determination to include as wide an audience as possible in an event. Then you can always find ways forward, build on success, and learn from experience. You should know how very important it is to welcome people with hearing loss. To be included along with everyone else at an event, is such a healthy, invigorating and enjoyable experience. The benefits last well beyond the actual event. And we’ll want to come back again!
Melanie Coulter, Electronic Notetaker firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign Language Interactions provide electronic notetakers and BSL interpretation
Note Taking Scotland provides electronic notetakers
121 Captions provides remote captioning
Hearing Link provide information and support covering every aspect of living with hearing loss www.hearinglink.org
Deaf Action provides a range of services for people with sensory support needs. They also offer training for individuals and organisations. www.deafaction.org.uk
Solar Bear is an accessible theatre company, working with D/deaf theatre makers to create stories that engage with everyone.